Many people look at silk ribbon embroidery and decide that it’s far too hard to attempt. The finished results, delicate flowers, seem to be comprised of complex stitches that many embroiderers feel is beyond their skill.
They couldn’t be more wrong!
Like all techniques, Silk Ribbon requires practice, and the difficulty and secret lies in the ability to make small, even and precisely placed stitches. Just like all forms of embroidery.
A Little History…
Silk Ribbon Embroidery has a surprisingly long history, going back to the 17th century, where you see it first as huge rosettes on men’s coats and women’s gowns. During the time of the English Commonwealth, it fell somewhat out of favour, due to the various laws passed by the Puritan government.
In the meantime, the art was flourishing still on the Continent, and it was brought back to England with the restoration. During that time, the stitching became smaller and shoes were embroidered to match coats and gowns. Naturally, the fashion and technique travelled to the Americas and also became popular there.
During the later part of the 18th and early 19th century, it lost a little popularity, as other forms of embellishment became popular. It revived somewhat with the success of the couturier Charles Worth, who transformed the fashion industry.
Women’s wardrobes expanded, as they sometimes changed their gowns up to seven times per day. For those of the highest fashion, that included changing their shoes, which, harking back to earlier fashion, had started to again be embroidered to match their gowns.
With the rise of the amateur embroiderer again in the 19th century and later, Silk Ribbon Embroidery became fashionable not only on clothes, but on reticules (small handbags), caps and gloves. Ladies also used it to embellish plain shawls and blankets, as well as other home wares.
It fell out of favour in the early 20th century, only to (again) revive in the 1990’s as embroiderers once again took out their ribbons and started to stitch with them.
Any stitch you can stitch with thread can be stitched with silk ribbons. The most common width of silk ribbons used are 4mm and 7mm wide, although stitchers are starting to experiment with wider ones, which are gaining in popularity.
The best known of the stitches used with silk ribbon, and the one unique to this technique, is the Ribbon Stitch.
You can find a wonderful illustration of this stitch at the Threads website – click on the “Five Basic Stitches” link.
Many people find this technique difficult because they are using craft ribbon, which is not designed for being stitched.
Proper silk ribbon is inexpensive and you will find it very easy to use. There are some synthetic ribbons that are manufactured to mimic the characteristics, and these can be identified as being labelled for use in apparel.
Some of the most common ribbons available are:
Bucilla: A German brand that is commonly available within the USA. This brand is either a case of love or hate it – some people find it very hard to work with. Bucilla offers 100% silk ribbon in a range of colours and sizes, as well as a silk organza ribbon.
YLI: A Japanese made silk ribbon, available in a number of colours and sizes. It comes wound on a re-useable bobbin, which keeps the silk flat and unwrinkled.
Mokuba: Another Japanese brand, however these are synthetic ribbons. They are, however, of the highest quality, and it is this brand I would recommend if you don’t want to use pure silk.
Offray: Makes both ribbon for embroidery and craft ribbon. It is widely available, but always be careful to select the correct type of ribbon for embroidery use.
Eterna / Yodamo: You’ve heard me rave about Eterna silk floss and thread, and now I’ll rave about their silk ribbons. A huge range of colours, and lovely to use. This is my personal favourite.
Of course, there are a multitude of other brands available – why not post on our forum with your favourite silk ribbon brand?
Tips & Tricks
I know that I keep harping on about using a hoop or a frame, but for this type of work it’s essential.
The hoop or frame will keep the ground fabric taught, so that your ribbon will lie flat and prevent the fabric from puckering.
In addition, you will need to use a needle with a fairly large eye (depending on the width of the ribbon) and a sharp point. The sharp point will ensure that the ribbon is pierced and not split when stitching.
Use a laying tool to ensure that your ribbons are kept flat when you are stitching, and also to help make a nice fold when required.
Uses for Silk Ribbon Embroidery
This type of embroidery not only makes beautiful pictures to hang on your walls, but you can also use it on a number of practical home wares and clothing.
I love using this technique to embroiderer sheets, and it also works wonderfully to fancy up a plain canvas hat.
You may also want to make a lovely bed throw or quilt, using the silk ribbon to embroider the plain fabric you use for it.
Like all forms of embroidery, your imagination is the limit!
Designers and Kits
The number of designers for this technique, and kits available have grown in leaps and bounds over the past five years.
Two of the best known are Helen Dafter from Australia and Victoria Adams Brown in the USA. Both of these ladies have produced wonderful patterns and kits, which can be purchased from your local needlework store. In addition, I know that Helen Dafter is a regular contribution to Country Bumpkin’s “Inspirations” magazine.
Silk Ribbon embroidery is a technique that is well worth trying – and a lovely way to add some touches to your embroidery. Why not give it a try today!
RibbonSmyth - the website of Victoria Adams Brown
Helen Dafter Embroidery & Design - the website of Helen Dafter
Welcome to Silk Ribbon Embroidery - since 2000, a place for Silk Ribbon enthusiasts to gather.
Roses are Ribbon & Violets are too - a website dedicated to Silk Ribbon and other Dimensional forms of embroidery
Silk Ribbon Embroidery Bible by Joan Gordon
Silk Ribbon Embroidery by Machine by Susan Schrempf
Embroidered Silk Ribbon Treasures by Helen Dafter
Is there anything that you would particularly like to see an article on? If so, please contact me with your suggestions.
© 2007 Megan McConnell