Monday, September 9, 2013

Side Trips - Tambour Embroidery

Larger concerns in my life have forced me to put aside work on the box for a while.  So I naturally turn back to embroidery.  In my life, I've probably done yards and yards of  blackwork / counted work / petit point / cross stitch by now.  You could even say I'm something of an expert of OCD coloring inside the lines and thinking inside any number of historically acurate boxes.  So this year I decided it was high time to try some very new things and revisit things I've tinkered with ages ago.  I need something new and interesting to occupy my imagination and expand my horizons.  I need to get outside my comfort zone and cultivate some new skills.  For a while I've been looking at tambour embroidery.  Its done in various forms in many parts of the world - from vibrant colors on felt in Persia (resht / rashti) to wall hangings in Uzbekistan (suzani) to white thread on shear white cotton gauze in 19th century Europe.  It is used in haute coutour to put glorious beads on transparent georgette and lay goldwork and jewels on fabulous gowns (zardosi).  It is done on leather (mochi barat).  It can go from miraculously delicate to incredibly sturdy.  It has about a dozen names.  In India it is sort of generally known as aari.  So I really need to try this.

Tambour Hook - closeup
As usual new crafts need different tools, and isn't part of the fun getting all these new tools to play with. It requires a different kind of frame - one that holds tension on the fabric very very tightly (it is called tambour after all, like the drum) and does not slip, and one that supports itself so you can hold the hook in one had and the thread in the other without bearing the weight on your hand.  I could have gotten a slate frame, but I've never used one of those either and I figure I just need one mountain at a time to climb.  Besides, I bought a frame like that at the quilt show a couple of years ago because I had an inking this was coming.  It needs a special hook.  Tambour hooks look like tiny crochet hooks except they are sharpened to a wicked point.  So I ordered one of those too.  It requires special thread - tightly wound, polished, mercerized thread such as sewing thread works well.  So does tatting thread and button hole twist.  It doesn't come in as many shades and colors as I'd like but I will make do.

Having my frame and tools firmly in hand I read the instructions.  There are several good tutorials online and even a few video ones on YouTube.   It's a deceptively simple process in which you stick the hook through the fabric, twist it around to grab the thread (making sure you get the whole thread not just part of it).  Then you draw it up back through the fabric pulling a loop of the thread up.  Then you do this again.  A few more times and you can see it makes a chain stitch.  Sounds simple right?  Well - not so much really.  The real trick is to hook the whole thread, not snag just part of it, and to draw it cleanly up without snagging the fabric weave.  This is not as easy as the tutorials and videos make it appear.  The other thing that some friends told me is "practice, practice, and then practice some more" - better advice was never given.

I tightened the fabric onto the frame, sketched a curvy line and bravely dug in.  What you see here is the result of several hours work - snagging the thread, taking it out, starting over, snagging it again, starting over again, and again and again.  The wonderful feeling of triumph when a few stitches in a row went in right - then the aggravation of snagging it again.  Using a hook like this is like learning how to hand sew for the first time.  It is a completely unfamiliar tool that is attached to completely strange tactile sensations.  I felt like a 5-year-old with my first ball of yard.  Awkward, unsure, frustrated.  But I finally managed a whole thing.  Round 1 - It did not defeat me.  My personal critique tells me that my tension leaves a great deal to be desired.  Mainly it is too tight - certainly it is not consistent.  The lines filling the flower are too far apart or far too close together depending on where you look, and they don't lay cleanly side by side.  But this is not a failed attempt.  In fact, that outside border was rather a nice touch.  I put in a row of dark blue and then zig-zagged over it with light blue.  So life could be worse, right? And with that in mind I will try this again (when I've caught my breath).  Maybe something a little more complex.  After all "practice, practice, and then practice some more".

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