Expand your skillset and bring exquisite, textured designs to life with the romantic art of silk ribbon embroidery! As an embroidery artist, I love how simply swapping out your thread for silk ribbon can totally transform a design and add a pop of three-dimensional colour and texture to any piece; it really is a feast for the eyes. Botanical scenes are the most common design you’ll find in the world of silk ribbon embroidery, mainly due to the realistic florals you can create with ribbon; springtime gardens, tumbling vines, wildflower meadows, blooming wreaths, dreamy bouquets… even just a single stitch can be carefully manipulated to look like a tiny rosebud on its own!
Some may say it’s a relatively young form of stitch work, but having been around for over 300 years, it’s still a staple favourite among fibre artists both past and present. In comparison to other forms of embroidery, ribbon embroidery designs tend to be much quicker to complete and even the simplest of patterns can look effortlessly elegant, thanks to the width of the ‘thread’, meaning it’s perfect for both absolute beginners as well as stitchers with experience. Read on to find out exactly what silk ribbon embroidery is, where you can source all the materials you’ll need, how to get started with this beautiful craft and more! Grab your fabric, needles, stash of ribbons and a cup of tea and fall in love with broderie au ruban!
Before we get into the ribbon embroidery techniques and tutorials make sure you’ve checked out our embroidery for beginners which features all the basics of embroidery. Oh and we have an embroidery stitches library so you can master every stitch out there!
What is ribbon embroidery?
Ribbon embroidery is a form of needlework that is exactly what it says on the tin – it’s embroidery, but with ribbon (predominantly silk) rather than thread. Of course, you can use other forms of synthetic ribbon, but the advantages of silk are that, due to the nature of the material, it glides in and out of your fabric with ease and won’t fray as easily as other ribbons might! Dating as far back as the 17th century, silk ribbon embroidery is an incredibly romantic, texturized and effective form of artistry, brought to life by its three-dimensional qualities. Originating in France, it was mainly used, in its youth, to add embellishments to men’s coats and ladies’ gowns which could take months to stitch. The 1800s saw silk ribbon embroidery decorating the quilts, shoes, accessories and more of society’s wealthiest and it was considered a great luxury only some could afford.
Today, it’s a popular form of needlework for floral artworks and clothing embellishments, with many artists still keeping the practice alive and encouraging others to do so through beautiful books, home décor projects and ribbon embroidery kits. The nature of thin and glossy silk in the ribbons makes it easy to manipulate your stitches without warping your fabric. Silk ribbons also come in a variety of widths, mainly ranging from 2mm to 13mm; each size will create different effects and impacts in your stitching, so it’s worth playing around with each width before you decide on the ones you use!
Where to buy silk ribbon for embroidery
High quality silk ribbon for embroidery can easily be found from a variety of online retail stores and brick-and-mortar haberdashery shops! Some of our favourite sources include Crafty Ribbons, Etsy, The London Bead Co., Ebay and VV Rouleaux. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your colour palette and choose a variety of sizes! Picking a range of widths and colours will add in all those fine details to give your design a really special touch. If you’re really stuck for inspiration, many retail shops offer ribbon bundles that include a plethora of colours, styles and widths, such as these lovely silk stash bags…
There are a few other things you’ll need in order to embark on your ribbon embroidery journey, some of which, if you’re already a seasoned embroiderer, you might already have in your sewing box!
Your needle will need to have an eye big enough to thread the ribbon in, but with a sharp enough point to pull it through your fabric – the ideal sized needles for this task is 18-22 chenille needles.
Generally, you can use any fabric for ribbon embroidery, but most stitchers prefer cotton, linen and calico due to their versatile and forgiving weave!
You needn’t worry about buying a particular embroidery hoop for your ribbon embroidery project, however, if you’re a newbie looking for recommendations, we love these sturdy Elbesee Beechwood hoops that come in a range of sizes!
How to do ribbon embroidery
The first thing you will want to do is trim the end of your ribbon into a slant – this will make threading your needle easier and will stop your ribbon from fraying as you do so. Then, to keep your excess ribbon secure as you stitch and to avoid wasting much of it, simply poke your needle through the middle of your ribbon and pull the excess through until it secures at the eye. Tie a knot at the end of your reem of ribbon and you’re ready to go!
Fundamentally, ribbon embroidery is just that, embroidery with ribbon, so you can keep using all your favourite stitches and marvel at the different effects you can achieve simply by using ribbon! The only other beloved stitch amongst ribbon embroiderers that you may not have heard of is the Ribbon Stitch – excellent for creating petals in floral designs! To do this, simply bring your needle up through your fabric at point A. Then, keeping the ribbon flat, pierce the ribbon with your needle, stitching back down into the fabric. As you pull and the stitch curls in on itself, you will see a perfect 3D petal shape form.
Additionally, with ribbon embroidery, you have even more control over how your stitches look through twisting the ribbon as you go. Manipulating the ribbon this way can add a lot of diversity to your piece; the tighter the twist, the thinner the stitch. You can twist the ribbon in virtually any stitch and couch it as you go to create a variety of surface designs.
Be bold with your stitches as you delve into your new hobby and don’t be afraid to play with a little trial and error as you get used to stitching with ribbon rather than thread. Download this Mini Bouquet pattern, transfer it to your fabric and follow these simple steps to make your very own floral beauty!
Stitch your own ribbon embroidery hoop
You will need
- A 5in embroidery hoop
- Fabric – 7in x 7in
- A variety of ribbons in different colours and widths
- Chenille needles
- Ribbon embroidery template (print and trace onto your fabric!)
- First, stitch all your stems using Stem Stitch – add in a little variety by twisting some of them!
- Next, add some Backstitched daisy petals – but don’t pull your stitches too taut.
- Add some Woven Wheel roses, again not pulling your ribbon too taut for extra texture!
- Add French Knots to the centres of your daisies as well as the centres of your Woven Wheel roses.
- Now, add leaves to all your sprigs that you stitched the stem for in step 1. Alternate between Lazy Daisies and Ribbon Stitches for the rose leaves.
- Take various colourful ribbons and stitch some Ribbon Stitched leaves around the bouquet and sprinkle some French Knots in the design.
7 of the best ribbon embroidery kits
Why not treat yourself to a beautiful ribbon embroidery kit and cut the hassle and fuss out of sourcing the materials you need, all the while making a beautiful, pre-designed hoop with expert guidance.
Silk Ribbon Embroidery Starter Kit
This design from NownowCrafts is ideal for beginners, with the pattern already pre-printed onto the fabric!
Large Garland Embroidery Kit
Choose your own fabric colour to complete this stunning 7in design on – ribbons are not included to give you full choice over your floral shades.
Springtime Ribbon Embroidery Kit
From Lorna Bateman comes this gorgeous Springtime design, perfect for stitching up in the garden as the days become warmer and brighter!
Spring Garden Ribbon Embroidery Kit
Choose from green or cream cotton fabric to complete this delightful pattern, perfect for beginners!
Chamomiles and Bluebells Ribbon Embroidery Kit
Featuring comprehensive, easy-to-follow instructions, this kit also includes digitally printed fabric so you can get straight to your stitching!
Pink Rose and Bluebells Ribbon Embroidery Kit
Create a fabulous, floral 3D embroidery piece in a beautiful colourway of pinks, greens and blues, with small, complementary accents of red.
Beginner Silk Ribbon Embroidery Kit
Choose from a variety of beautiful colours for your fabric base for this design, depicting a blooming bouquet of wildflowers.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our complete guide to ribbon embroidery and purchased yourself a new ribbon embroidery kit to make! For more embroidery goodness head to our free embroidery patterns and browse through our how to tutorials like our guide to crewel embroidery.