Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tambour Embroidery - Part 2 - Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More

After the first small sample of tambour, and some very kind encouragement from some online friends, I decided to try my hand at tambour embroidery again.  I found a picture that I like.  Yes, its ambitious, but gorgeous trumps ambitious any day in my book.  So using this as a sort of ideal model I looked around to find a project that was a little more of a stretch than my last project, but not so challenging that it would be a failure in the making.  I had found a line pattern of peacocks and flowers that was originally a free online rangoli pattern that I really liked.  One of those things I tucked away thinking that I will use this for something someday - well the something and the someday had arrived.
Peacock Rangoli Pattern

The next challenge was getting the design transferred.  This was not as great a hurdle as it might be as rangoli patterns are very often given with a series of evenly spaced dots so that they can be transferred to a grid of any size.  But an even greater help was some advice I got from the same online friends who recommended Solvy.  Solvy is a lightweight mesh-like fabric that you can draw on.  If you get the "printable" type you can even put it through your printer (not a special, fancy, expensive printer - a plain old regular inexpensive one).  It has a light adhesive so that, when you get your design on it, you can peal off the backing and stick it onto the fabric.  The adhesive is forgiving enough that, if you don't get it on quite right, you can move it gently until it's lined up.  Once you press it down you can put it into the embroidery hoop or frame and it won't shift.  It is a light sort of mesh fabric, very similar to the stabilizer fabric that you see on the back of machine embroideries and, as I worked, I found that it did stabilize the weave of the light cotton muslin I was using.  AND - for its crowning glory - when you are done with your piece, you cut off the big chunks on the edges and rinse it in warm water and it vanishes.  Not just gets soft so you can struggle and fight with it - I mean literally vanishes with barely a trace.  A quick gentle machine wash and it was like it was never there.  Yes, I am definitely in love with this stuff. 

So moving on.  I printed my pattern onto the Solvy, afixed it to the fabric and put it in the lap standing frame as tightly as I could without distorting the image.  That was about a month ago.  I can truly say that this project was a real learning experience.  Doing an image with a repetitive pattern helped me do something not only until I got it right, but until I was reasonably comfortable with doing it.  Doing a larger sized image helped me get comfortable with the tools in general - the feeling of the hook and the thread, the tension of the fabric, what the colors will and will not do.  I even added a few sequins and beads to make the eyes in the tail feathers.  On the down side of this project was that the problem I had finding the right colors of thread.  Thread this gauge doesn't come in all the colors regular thread comes in.  Tatting thread helped, but there is still a limited palette available.  When I do this again I will have to keep that in mind as I plan what I'm going to do.

My final impression is that I am not completely at ease with this technique, yet.  My tension is better but far from ideal.  I still have to focus and concentrate not to split and ravel the thread.  Sometimes I struggle and have to take the stitching out and redo a section.  And, now that I've taken it out of the stretcher and its been washed, I've noticed how bunched and crowded it it - especially the stitching on the birds' bodies and the orange fruit.  This reminds me of a kutch work project I recently did in which the stitching on the interweave looked too sparse and spread out until I took it out of the frame.  Then it drew together and looked perfect.  I think something like that has happened here.  When I stitched the elements, I made sure the rows were very close so that the color would be solid and no background would show through.   It is the nature of tambour work to have the pieces stretched as tight as the drum its named for.  When the piece was in the frame it measured about 5 inches on a side.  Once I got it out and even before I washed it, it measured a solid 4.5 inches - a contraction of almost .5".  I can see now that the natural contracting of the work once its released from the stretcher frame contracted the stitching together, leaving it looking crowded looking.  I will have to take this into account with my next project.
Peacock Rangoli Tambour Embroidery 4.5" x 4.5" cotton on cotton muslin - finished 9 Sept 2013
I may never be as relaxed with this as I am with picking up my needle and floss.  I think that one key element of a finished piece is that it should look effortless.  Your focus should be on the pattern and color and the effect of the workmanship - like the Persian medallion above or wonderful Regency / Empire white work.  My technique is definitely far from effortless.  That will come with "practice, practice, and more practice" just like my friends said.  But all-in-all I'm pleased with how it turned out, and it is definitely a good addition to my skill set that I may need in the future.  Now, I just have to figure out what I will do with it.  A piece doesn't feel finished until it becomes a "something".  Right now its just an exercise.  But I know that idea will come in its own time.


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