A tambour frame is used for tambour embroidery, a type of surface embroidery creating looped stitches made using a special tool called a tambour hook. This tool is hooked on one end, much like a crochet hook. The tool pierces the surface of the fabric, and the hook then grabs the working thread held on the underside of the work. A loop is pulled through the fabric, making a single stitch. The hook is inserted again a short distance from the first loop and the process is repeated along the pattern markings to work either a type of chain stitch embroidery on the right side of the fabric, or to attach sequins and beads to a project - with the latter typically worked from the wrong side of the fabric, with the right side held face-down in the frame and working from the back.
Because tambour embroidery requires access to both the front and back sides of the work in progress, a typical tambour hoop rotates 180 degrees by turning the hoop while secured to vertical legs or posts that have been inserted into the stand and held in place with screws. Knobs are used to hold the clamp assemblies at the tops of the posts, and another set of clamps holds the hoop in place on the frame. The angle that the work is held can be adjusted by loosening the clamps and turning the hoop until it is in the desired position - usyally about 45 degrees to the base.
The stand, which can sit on a table or your lap, holds only the outer ring of the hoop in place, preventing damage to the embroidery fabric and keeping both hands free to work the stitching. Your top hand holds the tambour hook, pushing and pulling it through the surface of the fabric, while the lower hand holds and feeds the working thread or beads to the hook.
While this set-up is marketed for tambour work, this frame is also ideal for other types of embroidery, allowing you easy access to the back side of the fabric to secure the embroidery threads when starting and ending a strand, keeping both hands free for stitching, and reducing the fatigue associated with holding the hoop in position for long periods of time.
The only drawback to using this type of frame is that it is not very portable. The hardwood stand does come apart if needed for storage or transport, but the item is too heavy and bulky for travel.
Other types of framed used for tambour embroidery include individual wooden stretchers with bands of twill tape, held in place at the corners with eye screws or metal c-clamps (very handy for large-scale projects), and slate frames of varying sizes. To work hands-free, these frames need to be mounted on wood trestles, supported between 2 tables, on mounted on 2 x 4 timbers or risers. I've also found that when working near a table or kitchen counter that the back end can rest on the counter with the front part of the frame resting in your lap.
Remember that when working with plain wooden hoops, whether they are mounted in a frame or held in the hands, the inside ring should be wrapped with strips of unbleached muslin. This will protect the fabric from damage caused by the wood, and will help hold the material taut in the hoop when tightening the eye screw. Be sure to remove the fabric from the embroidery hoop when ending your stitching session to avoid permanent or hard-to-remove creases in the fabric.
The version of a tambrour hoop shown here, manufcatured by and available through Lacis, comes with a sturdy oak stand and a 10-inch hardwood frame. An optional floor stand is also available.