Ribbon embroidery is a type of embroidery that is self-explanatory. At its most basic level, it is stitching with ribbon. However, this form of embroidery is so much more than that, especially when used to create stunning dimensional pieces. It's worth the time for stitchers to learn about this form of embroidery and how to work with silk ribbons.
Dating back to the 1700s, silk ribbon embroidery shows up on embellished clothing, home decor items, quilts and more. It has gone through various periods of popularity and continues to be a favorite of many embroiderers today.
One of the things that stands out about ribbon embroidery is the texture it creates. Rather than simple stitches on the surface of the fabric, the bulk of the ribbon results in embroideries that seem to jump off of the material.
Flowers are a very common design to work with silk ribbon embroidery, most likely because the ribbon allows you to stitch very lifelike florals. Often a single stitch with ribbon will look like a flower bud, and the addition of one or two more stitches gives you a bud with some greenery that reminds you of the real deal.
Creating full, exquisite displays of ribbon embroidery takes some practice, but it's also possible to start very simply, and just have fun with it.
Ribbons and Supplies for Embroidery
It's best to work ribbon embroidery with silk ribbons designed specifically for this type of work. It is possible to embroider with synthetic ribbons, but it can be more difficult.
Silk is very thin, which makes it easier to pass through the fabric and sometimes, as needed, itself. It is also washable, which is a good feature when you are making something that you might wear. If you do decide to work with a synthetic ribbon, test it with your fabric first to see how well it works its way through.
You can find ribbons for embroidery at your local needlework shop or online.
These silk ribbons come in a variety of widths and it's helpful to have several available to work with. The different sizes make a huge difference when it comes to the look of your stitches, and as expected, the wider the ribbon, the bigger the impact.
When choosing a needle for your ribbon embroidery, it's most important to have a sharp point and a large eye. Chenille needles in sizes 18-22 work well.
Pretty much any fabric that you can get a needle and the ribbon through will work for this embroidery, however, most stitchers recommend working with natural fibers. If you are working with a synthetic ribbon, you may want to use a fabric with a more open weave.
As you are stitching, if you have trouble pulling the needle through, use a larger needle to make the holes before each stitch or switch to a looser fabric.
Threading a Needle With Ribbon
Threading your needle for silk ribbon embroidery is a little different than with other types of embroidery, and getting it started is important.
First, you should only work with short pieces of ribbon to avoid wear on the ribbon. About 12 inches is a good length, though you can go a little longer.
Thread one end of the ribbon through the eye of the needle, then pierce the end of the ribbon with the needle. Pull the working ribbon down so that the short end draws near to the eye, locking the ribbon in place.
Starting and Stopping
In surface embroidery, there are best practices for how to start and end a thread and the same is true for ribbon embroidery.
Because the back of this type of stitching can get bulky from the stitching itself, it is okay to start with a knot.
If you'd rather avoid that, you can leave a small temporary tail on the back of the fabric, holding it in place as you make the first stitches. After a few stitches are in place, use a single strand of embroidery floss in a color that matches your ribbon and tack the tail to the back of a stitch or two of ribbon. Take care that the stitches don't show on the front.
Likewise, when ending you can finish with a knot and slide the tail of the ribbon under a stitch or two, then trim off the remaining ribbon and needle.
Or, follow a similar method as above, stitching the tail in place.
Basic Stitches Worked With Ribbon
Ribbon stitch is the most common stitch in ribbon embroidery. It's exclusive to ribbon embroidery, which, given the name, makes sense. This stitch helps form different flowers and other motifs, and while it can take some practice, it's one to learn.
Apart from ribbon stitch, if you have done any surface embroidery, you most likely already know most of the other stitches that show up in silk ribbon embroidery. And you'll love seeing how the same stitch can look so different when worked in different sizes of ribbon.
The photo above shows a few samples of basic embroidery with ribbon.
The top row, working from left to right, shows straight stitch and straight stitch with a twist, loop stitch (which is essentially a tiny straight stitch with a loop of ribbon left on the surface), french knot and french knot with a tail (also called pistil stitch).
The bottom row is a stem stitch and a single detached chain stitch.
Things to Watch For
You can see in the examples, and you'll find it as you start experimenting with ribbon embroidery, that a twist in the ribbon produces different results. This can be both good and bad. Use it to your advantage or watch out to avoid it when necessary.
One other thing to watch out for is jumping from one area to another. It's always undesirable to have a stretch of thread across the back of your work, but even more so with ribbon, which can become damaged as you go to add more stitches. It's much better (though more work) to end your ribbon and start again in the new location.
Now it's time to pick up your needle and some ribbon, then start stitching! Even your practice work will amaze you as you form gorgeous designs with a few simple stitches.
When you're ready to create your first silk ribbon embroidery, try this pattern for making a beautiful bouquet of silk flowers.