Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ecole Lesage & Luneville (tambour) Embroidery

A month ago, I was in Paris. This is said with a big wistful *sigh*, because it was so amazing.  My husband and I left on February 2 and I stayed two weeks in Paris, having rented a tiny apartment in the Marais district, about a fifteen minute walk from Notre Dame Cathedral. The reason for this trip was two fold. My husband wanted to visit his relatives in Germany and I wanted to further my schooling in the ancient art of tambour, or as they say in France, Luneville, embroidery. So, what on earth is tambour embroidery?  Tambour embroidery is a technique of stitching that uses a surgically sharp tiny hooked needle that is inserted into a wooden handle and held in place with a small hand tightened screw. The tambour hook is manipulated from above the typically sheer fabric with one hand, while the other hand is positioned under the embroidery frame opposite the needle and manipulates thread which produces tiny chain stitches on the fabric. The fabric is held in place on an embroidery frame, stretched taut. In addition to surface chain stitches, beads and sequins or paillettes are also incorporated into designs that produce dazzling effects and beautiful artistry.

I first learned of tambour embroidery through a French movie called Sequins.  In this film the young protaganist is an embroider using a tambour hook.  I fell in love with this technique and wanted to learn how to do it but it was years before I was able to take a class (or even find a class) where I began to learn.  Finally, I began to study at the University of Kentucky with Bob Haven.   By the summer of 2011, I finished the "egg" piece that is featured in the next several photos.  For what was a termed a beginner piece, it actually was quite technologically challenging, using a number of techniques that are not taught in professional school in Paris until a student is far more advanced.  I took one more advanced class with Bob, in which I mastered the most challenging stitch in tambour embroidery-- the satin stitched "pulled stitch", called Point tire in French, then studied and practiced extensively at home, and then went to Paris for further study.

In the photo above, gold lame is tacked down and then black bugle beads are chain stitched around using the tambour hook.  The metallic green threads are all chain stitched on the surface using the tambour hook.  
The finished piece is meant to be turned into a purse-- note the handles drawn over the piece.  However, I keep it on hand as a sample piece that can be turned over, handled and reviewed.
Silk organza is fabric typically used for tambour embroidery.  

So after several years of study in the USA, and after designing a few small pieces myself, and after much more practice and proficiency, I decided to go to the premier school for haute couture embroidery in the world-- Ecole Lesage, in Paris, France.  Here I am, freezing cold and shivering, but thrilled to be standing in front of the premier school in the world for this study!  If anyone does not know what haute couture embroidery is, one only needs to watch a runway fashion show from Paris or Milan, and witness the  exquisitely beaded and embroidered gowns, which are all hand stitched using the tambour hook.

I took a 30 hour course, doubling up as my time was short, two classes per day of three hours each class.  Most of the instructors did not speak English.  I went extra equipped with a French/English dictionary, a typed list of French/English embroidery and needlework terms, and alot of determination.  Here is my class project on morning one, day one, all framed up and raffia started.  The way it works at Lesage is this-- there are students there from all over the world, although at the time I was the only American and the only English speaker.  All students do not work the same project at the same time.  There are typically one or two class instructors at any one time.  The instructor will sit at your frame, show you how to stitch a particular section of the piece, will repeat as many times as necessary, then asks the student to sit down and try themselves, practice.  Then, complete the particular section.  Once the section is completed or if questions are needed to be asked, one must wait their turn until the instructor makes the rounds of the other students and can return to your station.  It was quite intimidating being one student amongst the best instructors in this field, but after a few days I relaxed and was able to work diligently and as quickly as the instructor demanded.  

This is my class piece as I left it at Lesage-- all gold chain stitches complete, all tube beads, sequins and paillettes stitched in place, but with work to complete at home in finishing the straight needlework in satin stitching flowers and leaves above.
Close up of work.  The gold cording is couched down.  
The pink and purple flowers are stitched from pearlized raffia, cotton thread, and metallic gold threads.
The gold thread is all tiny chain stitches.  The order from right to left is as follows- although this picture isn't the greatest-- line of bugle beads, line of gold sequins, gold thread chain stitch interspersed with bugle beads shaped as flower petals, gold sequins, bugle beads, gold sequins, bugle beads, and so on.  I will post a photo of the finished work when it is completed.  

I am grateful I have such an indulgent husband that he gamely went along with me to the big needlework show in Paris, which took place after my class came to a close.  It is called l'aiguille en fete and was held at the Grande Halle de La Villette in Paris.  Basically it was a needleworker's dream.  A monster sized building stuffed to the rafters with vendors selling fabric, threads, patterns, kits, beads, and books.  Most items I would not have been able to find anywhere in the United States so it was a real treat to see what is offered in France at such a huge show and also to come home with a big bag of invaluable supplies for my future endeavors in tambour embroidery-- mainly thread and sequins.  Here I am pictured above the ground floor where all the vendors are packed in.  The second floor was just as thrilling.  It was all samples of couture fashion and embroidery, including two women with embroidery frames set up and one seated at her frame, demonstrating tambour embroidery. 

 My sweet husband at the needlework show, indulging in a much needed Stella Artois!

I love tambour embroidery.  Nothing thrills me quite so as much as sitting down to my frame and working, taking out my tools figuring out the best way to position a thread or bead or sequin, forming one stitch after another after another.  It is very meditative and the finished pieces are beautiful studies in an almost extinct art.  Coming this year, I will be offering beginner classes in tambour embroidery, in group or private study.  I also look forward to going back to France next year, same time, and taking another course.  One can never get enough (especially in Paris!).  After all, my first instructor told his frustrated students "the first million stitches are the most difficult!".


  1. Beautiful Post, my friend...I am honored to have been able to see and touch your stunning handwork ~ thank you ever-so-much for coming to my humble little class and putting up with us!
    see you soon , much xoxoxoxox!

  2. Hi Jennifer,
    Just found your blog today from Notforgotten Farm, what a wonderful post, amazing trip to Paris, one can only dream. I've never heard of the embroidery, beautiful work. I'm anxious to follow more.


  3. About all I can say is WOW! I would love to learn this technique too. Please post when and where the classes will be. Your work is stunning!

  4. Wow!!!! Such tedious work, but the result is amazing!!!! It's so wonderful that you got to study in Paris~ Can't wait to see more of your work~

    BTY, thanks for all your needlework shops tips!!! I would definitely try to visit them all~

  5. Fascinating! What an opportunity!

    I am going to be in Paris in May - end of month - and was hoping to find a shop that sold threads, DMC is made in France. Any idea where I could find Tatting supplies there/

    i have looked online and found a few shops to check out, but I thought I’d take a chance and see if you had seen anything on your travels.

    Too bad I missed that fabulous show!
    Fox : )

  6. Love your post. I have been going to Lesage for the past several years and will be returning in July to complete Level 4. I often wanted to go in Feb just because of this show but its so cold!! Best place in the world for sequins is Fried Freres 13,ru du Caire 75002 they have draws and draws of sequins!!

  7. Thank you so much for this blog post! I hope to take a class at Lesage next year in Oct 2013.

  8. You are so blessed to have such opportunities at classes such as these! Your work is beautiful--I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog!

  9. It is beautiful!!! how long you stay in paris to finish the course?

  10. Thanks so much for this, my intention was to go to Luneville to study tambour embroider, but i think I will go to Lesage after all. Great work!

  11. Jennifer- I don't know if you'll remember me but we talked a long time ago. I was designing the cross stitch patterns from my artwork and selling them for a while. I am in the process of getting my masters right now, and am thinking about Lesage to advance my stitching knowledge. Although I love the tambour, I don't know how helpful it would be in my art. I am wondering if you could say if there was a lot more to learn or if the primary focus is tambour. Kimberly

  12. Jennifer- I don't know if you'll remember me but we talked a long time ago. I was designing the cross stitch patterns from my artwork and selling them for a while. I am in the process of getting my masters right now, and am thinking about Lesage to advance my stitching knowledge. Although I love the tambour, I don't know how helpful it would be in my art. I am wondering if you could say if there was a lot more to learn or if the primary focus is tambour. Kimberly

  13. I didn't know I had a 'twin' out there! ;-)
    Kudos for you!!!

  14. That is my dream. Thank you for taking the time to write this out and allowing me to live vicariously through you :)