The Art of Silk Ribbon Embroidery
Silk ribbon embroidery is a romantic art that uses ribbon, floss or pearl cotton to embroider exquisite floral motifs and decorative patterns by hand. The silk ribbon lends a three-dimensional effect to finished work, a characteristic shared with the crewelwork, featured in our previous post. Both are known as dimensional embroidery: the designs sit up and off the backing, giving amazing detailed visual effect.
Silk ribbon is one of the most popular materials in embroidery.Unlike synthetic fibers, silk is a natural protein fiber with a flat and soft – but not slippery – texture. Easy to handle, its smooth surface reflects light to make designs twinkle, while its beautiful luster and drape make it suitable for furnishing.
Silk's high absorbency makes it comfortable in hot weather while its low conductivity keeps skin warm in cold weather. But only 100% silk ribbon has the best quality to provide enough flexibility and flow easily.
Silk ribbon embroidery not only makes beautiful wall hangings, but can also be used on practical home furnishings, such as sheets, pillows, quilts, rugs and upholstery. It can also add sophistication to plain accessories, like book covers or hats.
The History of Silk Ribbon Embroidery
Silk ribbon embroidery dates back to the 17th century, where it was first used for large rosettes on men’s coats and women’s gowns. France appears to have been the first to use it, during the English Commonwealth (1649-1653 and 1659-1660). Although silk ribbon embroidery was flourishing on the European continent, the Puritan government passed laws to control such showy art; meanwhile, the art traveled to America and became popular there.
In the 1700's, silk ribbon embroidery gowns took months to stitch, so only royalty and the ladies of the court could afford such expensive decorations, produced by official embroidery workshops. Later, due to the impact of other forms of embellishment, silk ribbon embroidery dropped in popularity. Fortunately, it was revived by couturier Charles Frederich Worth (1825-1895), who transformed the fashion industry.
In the Victorian era (1837-1901), silk embroidery ribbon was used in quilts, clothing and parasols. Pale pink, dusty rose, sage green and light violet were popular shades, like antique pastels.Women’s wardrobes expanded in the 19th century, as they changed outfits many times a day, including shoes. During this time, silk ribbon was embroidered on luxurious fabrics such as silk, satin or velvet.
In the meantime, the amateur embroiderer was on the rise again. As silk ribbon embroidery uses many stitches, Victorian ladies used this to show off their skill, but it was still exclusive to the wealthy.Silk ribbon embroidery became fashionable on reticules, caps and gloves; ladies also used it to decorate their shawls or blankets.
Techniques and Stitches
Silk ribbon embroidery may seem complex and daunting, but it is actually easy and interesting to do. Anything that can be embroidered with normal thread can also be embroidered with silk ribbon. No matter how heavy and complicated the design, the stitches that make it up are simple; just a few basic ones, used alone or in various combinations, can create a wonderful array of floral motifs.
Silk ribbon embroidery uses the same tools as traditional embroidery, though it does have its own unique technique – the best known being the ribbon stitch. Some common ribbon stitches are listed below:
A straight stitch is a stitch pulled through on itself like a small knot, useful for making a bud.
A whipstitch is like the straight stitch, but with the ribbon wrapped around the knot.
A Japanese ribbon stitch is made by bringing the needle up through the fabric, then re-entering it through the flat center of the ribbon.
Most silk ribbons are between 4mm and 7mm wide. Because of this it can be difficult to tie the end, so instead silk ribbon can be locked into place in the eye of needle.
Like crewel embroidery, it is essential to use a hoop or frame to keep the fabric taut, to keep the ribbon sitting flat and protect the fabric from shrinking and wrinkling. Furthermore, depending on the width of the ribbon, a needle with a fairly large eye and a sharp point is a must.The sharp point ensures the fabric is pierced, but not split. The weave of the fabric should also be considered; a tighter fabric requires a larger needle. Threading the needle with short pieces of ribbon can avoid fraying.
For work of high quality, knots or lumps are not allowed on the back; it has to be as smooth and as good looking as the front. There are times when the back will be visible, like a monogram on a handkerchief or a design on the lapel of a garment, making it necessary to pay attention to detail.
Today’s Silk Ribbon Embroidery
Silk ribbon embroidery has changed considerably in the last few decades. Modern techniques produce new choices for embroiderers today, assisted by digitized software to make their products. One example of the drastic contrasts that looks novel is silk ribbon embroidery applied on denim. However, in machine embroidery, the material is not as pure; synthesized fibers use different ingredients to make a large quantity of cheap “silk” ribbon.
Until recently, silk supplies were also hard to come by and expensive; nowadays, anyone can get finished silk ribbon embroidery items at their fingertips, and can afford to use these luscious materials. Silk ribbon embroidery can now be used to embellish almost anything.