Tambour needle is the same as arhi or the cobbler's needle that is used extensively in Indian embroidery. It makes only one type of stitch - the chain stitch. For a long time I have had this desire to learn to use the tambour needle. So I bought myself a kit and began experimenting with it. I imagined that I would be sipping hot tea, listening to music, and working at ease at my homemade tambour frame. On the contrary, I was barely able to hold the thread in my left hand and twist the needle with the right! Eventually I did succeed, minus the tea and the music of course!
Last weekend, I sat down to embroider a small design using the arhi, mostly to see if I would last that long. Here is the result. Initially it was a little challenging but when I was about halfway done, I actually started loving it!
Click here to view a larger image.
In India, arhi was originally used in the states of Gujarat and Kashmir. Now it is used by craftsmen in other states as well. In Gujarat it is believed to have started by the Mochi community (Mochi being cobbler), which primarily stitched shoes with similar needles. This technique seems to have been passed on to the Ahir community which became quite well known for their Kutchi Bharat. Their work is quite stunning! I have some samples and I will post them in a few days. Generally speaking, embroideries from Gujarat are bright with mostly primary and secondary colors (Blue, red, yellow, orange, green and purple). However, white and black are also used in Kutchi Bharat. The chain stitch is very small and is done using either cotton or silk threads (I can't imagine working with silk thread without damaging it). Arhi work can be seen on clothing, bed linen, wall hangings, letter holders, bags and so on.
In Kashmir, the embroidery done with the arhi is called Kashmiri Kashidas and quite different from the arhi work of Gujarat. The designs are mostly paisley and the thread colors, lighter. Crewel wool is used instead of cotton and silk. I will post a separate article on Kashmir embroidery so you can see the difference.
Lastly, my thoughts on the Tambour: There is a learning curve in using a tambour needle, no doubt about it. But once you cross that, it is great for working large pieces of embroidery and fast. Tambour means drum (I think in French!). It is rightly named for a frame, because the fabric has to be held as tight as a drum in order to embroider with ease. It is best if you use a frame so you have both hands free. If you choose to work with a hoop, make sure that the fabric is taut and that you can rest the hoop somewhere so that both hands are free (it is not impossible, but will slow you down).
Try it -you'll enjoy the experience!
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