Learning new skills

Tambour embroidery and other musings.

I always love trying out new techniques and to stretch my skillset. In this time of lockdown, the number of opportunities that has arisen from online courses and activities is incredible. The choice is huge and I’ve been in a bit of a spin deciding how to use my extra home time productively. So, I have decided to join Somerset Scrubs, a community group making scrubs for local hospitals and doctors’ surgeries. I’ve just sent off for the pattern and hope to start making them this week.

But you really can’t beat the experience of travelling to new places to enjoy personal tuition in a physical workshop.

For some time I had wanted to learn tambour embroidery. This is a technique used mainly in couture, with a fine hook and single strand embroidery silk, a chain stitch is formed through fine fabric. It’s mainly used to apply sequins and beads. There were some stunning examples at the recent Dior exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, see images below.

I’ve tried to teach myself tambour embroidery from YouTube clips and books but you can only gain a thorough understanding of the intricate details from personal tuition.

Last autumn, before everything changed, I went on a course at the Royal School of Needlework and was taught by Sara Rickards of Well Embroidered at Hampton Court Palace.

She is so skilful and taught the traditional techniques that I had been yearning for. The two-day course was in one of the well-equipped, light and airy rooms tucked away in Hampton Court Palace, what a great place to be.

I thought I was patient but this was a steep learning curve. Although the actual chain stitch is relatively easy, once you get the hang of it; the fine tuning, turning corners, crossing over, and working with sequins and beads rigorously tested mine. But I did come away with a new confidence and a nearly completed piece (since finished) and an enthusiasm to stick with it.

I have since worked on a couple of pieces without the beads, but feel I should use this time to improve my practice – who knows, this could be the beginning of something – tambour embroidery on scrubs?

Have you added to your skills recently?


Joy Merron