A tambour hook or tambour tool is used for bead embroidery (also called French embroidery beading) as well as decorative chain stitch embroidery called tambour work. It has a small, bent tip similar to a crochet hook or rug hooking tool. The hook catches the thread on the back side of the fabric, pulling it to the front side to create loops or attach beads or sequins.
Many different types of ethnic embroidery styles use a tambour hook. These include Central Asian embroidery known as Suzani embroidery, to other parts of Asia and Europe.
In 19th century England, the hook was used in making very fine tambour lace. Many designers in the United Kingdom continue to specialize in tambour embroidery of some kind and offer classes in the various techniques.
Using a Tambour Hook
Tambour embroidery is worked on embroidery fabric stretched tightly in a frame. This is then attached to a lap or floor stand to allow the embroiderer to use both hands. The fabric should have a large enough weave for the hooked needle to pass through without catching as it comes back to the front. Sometimes tulle fabric is used for this type of embroidery.
A variety of embroidery threads will work for this type of embroidery, but stranded threads can prove tricky.
Chain stitch embroidery using a tambour hook is worked from the top surface of the fabric, with the right side of the work, facing the embroiderer. However, when a tambour hook is used for beading and sequins, the beads are threaded onto the working thread, and the design is worked from the back side, with the wrong side of the fabric marked and facing the embroiderer.
With either technique, the working thread is kept on the underside of the fabric. After pushing the hook through, you catch the thread in the hook and pull it to the front. There is a bit of a learning curve when working with a tool like this, but after some practice, it can be a speedy process.
Mary Corbet of Needle n' Thread has an excellent video tutorial for working with a tambour hook for chain stitch embroidery. She shows the tool in action on an open netting so you can see what's happening both above and below the surface.
Where to Find Tambour Hooks and Supplies
Tambour hooks can be difficult to find in your local needlework store, but Lacis carries a wide selection of specialty tambour hooks in varying sizes and materials. A quick search online will turn up a quite a few options as well.
Most tambour tools have a set screw which allows you to remove the needle to either replace it when needed or to change to another size of needle. A selection of needle sizes typically comes with the tool, but often there are even more sizes available.
Other tools have just one needle permanently attached. There are also tools that have a different type of hook system, similar to those used for rug hooking.