• Flowing lines of continuous chain stitch
  • The difference between chain stitch and tambour is seen on the back. Tambour resembles a back stitch, whereas with chain stitch, there is a tiny gap between each stitch
  • Fabrics - range from net to silk, cotton, linen to thick woollen rugs
TECHNIQUE It is worked with a hook, an 'ari' in India, and in the West, a 'tambour hook', like a sewing machine needle turned into a crochet hook which is placed inside a wooden holder. Tambour hooks sizes 70 to 140, were as thin as sewing needles. A fine fabric - cambric, muslin or netting - is placed drum tight in a free standing embroidery hoop. The right hand holds the tambour needle whilst the left hand, below the work, holds the thread. The needle pushes through the fabric, catches the thread, pulls a loop back through the fabric and through the loop to create a continuous line of chain stitch.


Tambour is believed to be of eastern origin, worked in China, Persia, Turkey and India as early as the 14th century. (Britannica) The technique reached Europe about 1760 and was referred to as ‘tambouring’ from the French ‘tambour’ for drum, a forerunner of the modern tambourine. Named after the drum shaped frame which originally came from the East.

Its height of popularity in Europe was 1780 to 1850, to decorate the fine flowing muslin gowns, net wedding veils and scarves when, due to the Napoleonic Wars, it was difficult to obtain the highly fashionable French laces.

In 1782, an Italian, Luigi Ruffini, set up a workroom near Edinburgh, which led to massive production of ‘flowered muslin’ or ‘sprigged muslin’ (other names for it). Tambour work was introduced into Coggeshall in England by Monsieur Dago in1810

After 1809 when machine made net became widely available, there was a huge demand for tamboured and needlerun net laces. When fashionable taste turned towards more structured gowns in richly coloured silks, tamboured muslins were still used for veils, collars, fichus, cuffs and caps.

Tambouring was highly fashionable and an easy and elegant accomplishment for aristocratic ladies in their drawing room and allowed their delicate hands to be seen to advantage. Madame de Pompadour had her portrait painted showing her working on a piece of tambour embroidery.

With the advent of multi-needle tambouring machines in the 19thC, commercial enterprises and professional workshops were set up in Switzerland, Germany, Scotland, England and Ireland to produce endless lengths of embroidered fabric.

In the late 19thC, when heavily beaded clothing and trimmings became fashionable, Louis Ferry, a workroom manager in Luneville, France, realized that tambouring could also be a very efficient means of attaching beads to clothing. It became known in England as Luneville. Used on the flapper dresses of the 1920s along with beaded bags, scarves and fashion accessories. It is still used today in ‘haute couture’.

In India and Turkey, metal thread was often used. The main use for tamboured articles in Turkey was for covers which were part of the ceremonial life of a household – tables, floor spreads, barber robes, hangings and prayer cloths. It was a status symbol to have many embroidered covers.

The Indians of Peru also work a coarse chain embroidery, but their work is produced without a frame.

Tambour work was also called tamber, broderie en chainette, double Kensington stitch, point de Luneville, Beauvais stitch, hooked needle embroidery and often just ‘chain stitch’.


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