Beads of Sweat – hand-beading and sequin work

Vintage beading and sequin work on net.

Vintage beading and sequin work on net.

I love the way heavily-beaded gowns look. The texture, the way the weight changes the way a garment moves, the sheen, the sparkle.

Every time I post an example or run across another one I always ask myself the same questions: How was it done and how many hours of labor went into it? So I decided to investigate.

Beaded net has been around for a long time…a long time. Here are some examples, from Regency to the 1930’s, although beading started much earlier and continues today.

So, how is/was it done? There’s hand-sewing with a standard needle and thread, one bead/sequin at a time. I’ve done that and can attest to the hours it took me to complete a small area.

Then there’s tambour work, where a specialized needle with a hook is used to draw the thread around a bead and through the net, which is faster.

I was able to find some photos of couture bead work in process and give me a perspective on the labor intensity of the process when applied to complete garments.

The image above of a craftsman/woman/person working with gold beads on a stretched, sheer fabric is using the tambour technique. Here’s a video showing how tambour beading is done, including sequin work.

Naturally, how long it takes to bead and/or sequin any single garment depends of a number of factors – size of area to be covered, density of the design, three-dimensional elements, etc.

I found an example of a knee-length, sleeveless shift that was covered in sequins front and back in a straightforward diamond pattern. How many hours to finish the sequins on a relatively small and not complex dress? 800! And that’s work done by an experienced, professional who’s tambour needle can fly.

Tambour lace is created with the same tool, but I think this is enough for now.

And now the critical question – would I like to learn this technique? Of course! (Oh, dear.)

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4 thoughts on “Beads of Sweat – hand-beading and sequin work

  1. I love love love beaded net. Tambour beading is really hard. I took a class from Robert Haven (the gentleman in the video) he is a great teacher. He’s very patient and explains things really well, but the technique is tricky. There’s no little latch on the needle, so if you come up at the wrong angle you can lose the sequin and the whole row. It took me a whole day to do about two inches of sequins. But once you get it mastered it can be a whole lot faster. (not that I will ever find out, I’m too impatient) Word to the wise. If you do decide to do it, order a real tambour hook, they have then at Lacis http://lacis.com/catalog/. The clover needle just punches big holes in your fabric and is ultimately more frustrating.

    • Thanks for the tip! Just from his voice Robert Haven sounds like a great teacher, so I’m glad that’s the case. There just might be a class in my future – fingers crossed.

  2. Wow! So many gorgeous dresses!

    I sewed sequins on a full-head mask and gloves (and tail! 🙂 many years ago. It took months. I’m sure some of those dresses took years of woman-hours to complete.

    • I can only imagine…but there might have been more than one person working on pieces for a single garment at a time. I can’t see how any of them would get finished in a timely way otherwise. I once hand-sequined an entire T-shirt front (XL, of course) for a friend’s Halloween costume. Never again.

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