Silk Ribbon Embroidery
Taught by Nora Creeach


France, in the 1700's appears to be the first use of Silk Ribbon Embroidery. Only royalty and the ladies of the court could afford the elaborate decorations on their gowns using Silk Ribbon Embroidery. At that time there were official embroidery houses that produced these gowns. Many of them took months to stitch. It didn't take long for the Silk Ribbon fashion to reach England and spread to other locales.

The Victorian era saw a revival of Silk Ribbon Embroidery. It was used in Crazy Quilts, Millenary, clothing and on parasols. The colors of that time were shaded in antique pastels of pale rose, dusty rose, sage green, light purple and violet. The ribbons were purchased at dry good stores and ladies used the ribbons to show off their skill with the needle. It was still the prerogative of the wealthy although now they were stitching themselves.

The fact that Victoriana has become more popular in recent history can be a contributing factor to the fact that a new generation has become interested in Silk Ribbon Embroidery. Until recently supplies were very hard to come by and expensive. Recent development of synthetic fibers, as well as the traditional silk, are now available in ribbon used for embroidery and the average person can afford to use these luscious fibers to embellish their clothes and in home decor.

The ribbons need to be flexible and flow easily as well as being easy to manipulate and these are qualities provided by 100 percent silk ribbon. It is advisable that the ribbon be wrinkle free to give the best embroidery results.

This class will cover basic stitches used in Silk Ribbon Embroidery. You will learn to follow a pattern as well as design your own projects. I recommend that each of you prepare a sampler as your class project. This will give you an example of each of the stitches you will learn around the edge of the sampler and a design of your own in the center. The color choices are left to you so when complete you can frame your sampler, make it into a wall hanging or a pillow.

When I learned Silk Ribbon Embroidery we were not allowed to have knots or lumps on the back of our embroidered piece. It was to be smooth and almost as good looking as the front. I don't insist that you do it this way, but strongly suggest that you do at least learn how it is done. There will be times when you embellish something with Silk Ribbon Embroidery where the back will be visible. This is especially true where you have a monogram on a handkerchief or a design on the lapel of a garment. It is a personal prejudice with me that I do not like nor use the fabric patches in general use to cover the back of the design area.

Since this class is dependent on your learning and being comfortable with the stitches it can be advantageous for me to see your work. If you are having a problem use a scrap piece of fabric and "make the stitches you are having trouble with" and snail mail this practice piece to me. I will critique it and demonstrate on the fabric any corrections or suggestions. Include a self addressed stamped envelope and I will get it back to you as soon as possible. International students include a self addressed envelope, postage arrangements will be made on a per case basis.

Just for your information even though the stitch may be incorrect there is no way Silk Ribbon Embroidery can look bad. The most important thing to remember is to relax and enjoy yourself. Silk Ribbon Embroidery is an art that should be done in a relaxed state since it does look better if the stitching is a little loose.

Silk Ribbon Embroidery is three dimensional. The design of the flowers, leaves and greenery sit up off the background fabric giving interesting and sometimes elaborate detail. No matter how intricate the design the stitches that make up that design are uncomplicated and easy to stitch. Another advantage of Silk Ribbon Embroidery is that it is not as time consuming as other forms of needlework.

Silk Ribbon Embroidery uses a lot of the stitches found in traditional embroidery. It is known as a dimensional embroidery which means that some of the stitches are through the fabric while others sit on the surface. Victorian ladies used this art to display their needlework. During the Victorian time this type of embroidery was generally used on silk, satin, velvet and other luxurious fabrics. Bringing the art into the modern age it is being used to embellish almost anything. One of the major contrasts that looks really spectacular is Silk Ribbon Embroidery on denim.

Another major use of Silk Ribbon Embroidery is in the crazy quilt which of late has been enjoying a resurgence.


I received a great deal of help getting this class ready for you. My thanks go to the Bucilla Company who was kind enough to give me permission to use the pictures from their stitch pamphlet for the class and Burtine Kandall for testing the class and letting me know where additional direction was needed.

A very special thank you to my partner Ann Peterson for the typing, proofreading and generally keeping me on track. Without her continuing assistance this would have been an insurmountable task.

Some of the supplies you will use

Necessary Equipment:

Hoop - 3" and larger
Metal yarn needle
Sewing thread, color to match background fabric
Silk Ribbon in 2mm, 4mm, 7mm and 13mm. Colors of your choice
Silk Ribbon floss
Embroidery floss
Metallic thread
Fabric ink pad
Charms and embellishments


Although an embroidery hoop is not absolutely necessary it does give you a firm working surface. Your hoop should be large enough to contain the full design but no larger than necessary so you are able to reach the middle portion of the design from all sides. For this reason you want the hoop as small as possible but you don't want to crease the design in the hoop. I use a 3" hoop whenever possible.


A variety of needles are needed. The smaller needles for the smaller threads or ribbon but with wider needles you will need a larger eye that will pierce the fabric allowing the ribbon to follow without shredding. To judge the size of the needle to be used thread the ribbon through the eye. The ribbon should not bend or curl but should lie flat in the eye of the needle. Needles are sometimes difficult to locate. Crewel or chenille needles can both be used. The shaft of the chenille needle will be a little larger than the crewel and is better suited to firmly woven fabric as it will make the hole slightly larger and allow the ribbon to pull through with less friction and damage.

Chenille Needles:

These have a long eye and a sharp point. The lower the needle number the longer and thicker the needle. You will need Chenille needles in sizes 20 or 22 for 4mm ribbon to 9mm ribbon but an 18 will carry the wider ribbon more effectively. They are sold one size to a package or an assortment with several different sizes in the package.

Tapestry Needles:

These are very similar to Chenille Needles except they have a blunt point and are used for surface work. It is sometimes necessary to use an awl or large chenille needle to pierce the fabric at the beginning as you bring the ribbon to the top of the fabric and at the end when you take the ribbon to the back while using a tapestry needle.

Sharps or Betweens needles:

These are sharp pointed and small for hand sewing, tacking ribbon in place and some beading. They are also used when placing gathering stitches along the ribbon length.

Beading Needle:

Beading needles are used to add beads and small embellishments were a sharps may be too large. They can be short or long but will have a small eye to pass through the smaller holes in seed beads.

Metal Yarn Needle:

I recommend a steel yarn needle. This will not be used in the actual stitching but in some of the stitches it will be used to keep the ribbon smooth and to regulate the length of stitches and loops. Some people use a Trolley Needle (a spike worn on the finger, it sticks straight out from the end of your finger and is used to manipulate the ribbon. They are more difficult to find than a yarn needle and require you to become used to a thimble type projection on your index finger.

Sewing Thread:

Sewing thread matching the background fabric, the ribbon color or even in a neutral color can be used to tack some stitches in place and make slight adjustments where needed.

Silk Ribbon:

Silk ribbon is available in a variety of sizes, in 2mm, 4mm, 7mm and 13mm. Those used most often are the 2mm, 4mm and 7mm. Where the design is a little larger you will need to increase the width to include 13mm. There are even wider ribbons available up to 32mm and when hand cut they can be as wide as you like. Usually these are used in more advanced designs.

Silk ribbon is available in many beautiful colors, in solids, variegated and edge dyed as well as in dyers white (which is not a true white but more a natural used for hand dyeing your own ribbon. Specialty hand dyed ribbon is also available on the retail market.

In addition to silk ribbon you may choose to add organza or some of the man made substitutes for silk ribbon.

Silk Ribbon floss:

Silk ribbon floss is similar to a fine woven braid and is useful for a variety of embellishments in your design. It is available in several beautiful colors including metallics. It can be very effective used as stems and branches.

Embroidery Floss:

Embroidery floss is used for some of the mechanics as well as part of the design. It is available in cotton, rayon and silk. Any or all of these can be used in the same design to add texture. Perle Cotton in sizes 5, 8, and 12 can be used in place of the floss as can some of the specialty fibers used in Brazilian Embroidery.

Metallic thread:

Use of metalic thread in design

Metallic thread can be used alone or in conjunction with the other elements as part of the stitching or just as embellishment. There are several types of metallic thread and care must be taken that the type you choose fits the application where you wish to use it.

Stamps and Fabric Ink Pad:

Recent developments in the ink and ink pad that allows the needleworker to stamp a design and remove any portion left showing after the stitching by the use of a damp cotton swap has opened the available designs to include almost any rubber stamp on the market.

Victoria Adams Brown has developed a set of initial stamps in size 6" and 2" specifically for Silk Ribbon Embroidery. Elsewhere in the class you will see an example of the "N" stamp in the 2" size.

Charms and Embellishments:

Charms, buttons, tatting, bits of lace, crochet etc. are all elements that can be used to enhance and expand your design. From a simple small charm to a whole variety of these elements in one piece have been used. You, as the designer will decide how many or how few if any you will use.

Printing on Fabric:

Recently there have been many changes due to technical discoveries. One of these is the ability to print pictures on fabric. There are commercial pieces of fabric available that you can use in your inkjet or bubblejet printer. Some of these are treated to be permanent, others will need to be heat set or treated in some other way. A product called Bubblejet 2000 can be used to make your own printable fabric sheets where the ink becomes permanent. This allows you to print a design or a picture on a piece of fabric and then embellish the picture or design with Silk Ribbon Embroidery. More detailed information about using Bubblejet 200 can be found here.

Mother & father on their wedding day.

This picture is my Mom and Dad on their wedding day. The picture itself was over 60 years old when I scanned and printed it onto off white silk fabric. The silk ribbon embroidery is done on the bouquet and boutonniere using straight stitches and Japanese Ribbon stitches for the leaves while the flowers are French, Montano and Colonial Knots. You will notice that one knot was pulled in handling a fact I didn't notice until I did the scan of the finished piece. If this should happen it can be repaired with a regular sewing needle and matching thread. Bring the thread to the front of the fabric, run a gathering stitch along the pulled area, pull to gather and take the thread to the back of the piece and anchor.


Any fabric may be embellished with Silk Ribbon Embroidery. Special care should be given when using any tightly woven fabric as it may cause your ribbon to ravel. This can be helped by using a larger needle and/or making a pilot hole with an awl. When choosing velvet it is better for the ribbon to pick a silk or rayon rather than a cotton velvet. It is possible to use only surface stitches such as the Spider Web Rose and the Shawl Collar Leaf, where the ribbon is not stitched through the fabric, if your fabric is very tightly woven and tends to shred the ribbon. Rip Stop Nylon is very bad for shredding silk ribbon.


Have a number of needles so you can thread each color you will be using on the project before you begin. This saves on ribbon, time and frustration since you will not have to keep unthreading and threading your needle as you change from one color to another.

I use a pill bottle on the table dropping the threaded needle into the bottle and allowing the ribbon to hang outside. This makes it simple and quick to switch colors as you stitch your design. When you have to put it away for a while it is a simple matter to flip the ribbon into the bottle and put the lid on it. When you come back you are ready to stitch in no time.

Preparing to Stitch

In Silk Ribbon Embroidery the tension on the ribbon should leave the ribbon slightly loose with a soft full look.

Your ribbon should be cut no longer than 12" to 18". If the fabric you will be stitching your design on is tightly woven 12" may be more convenient. As you pull the ribbon through the fabric the ribbon may ravel. Shorter lengths and larger needles help prevent this.

steps one and two of the needle lock

Needle Lock:

It sometimes helps to trim the end of the ribbon to a point. Insert the point through the eye of the needle a few inches. Bring the point of the needle up and pierce the ribbon one fourth to one half inch from the end. Grasp the long end of the ribbon and pull it gently until the ribbon locks in the eye of the needle. This helps prevent the needle from coming unthreaded. It also allows you to use more of the ribbon than if you had to have a tail.

Steps to make a soft knot in the end of your ribbon

Steps to complete the soft knot

Knotting the End of the Ribbon:

Take the end of the ribbon furthermost from the needle and make a quarter inch fold. Insert the needle through the fold pulling it down over the needle. Continue gently pulling the pierced fold down the ribbon. This will form a small soft knot at the end of the ribbon.

Insert the needle from the back to the front of the fabric, the knot will stop the ribbon from pulling through.

Steps 1 and 2 for making a finish knot

Finishing With a Knot:

Turn your needle and use the eye of the needle as your guide go under a previous stitch. Bring the needle through the loop pulling gently until the knot is tight. Take care not to tug the ribbon from the front. Clip the ribbon leaving a quarter of an inch tail.

Stitching Without Knots:

Initial stitched with out knots - front Back or the initial showing no knots

This method can be used effectively where the back of the stitching will show.
In this example all stitching begins on the front of the piece and
the ends of the fibers are caught and hidden underneath the
flower on the front so the back is as smooth and clean as possible.

Thread your needle using the Needle Lock but do not knot the end. Bring the threaded needle from the back to the right side of the fabric at the point you wish to make your first stitch. With your non stitching hand use one finger to hold the tail of the ribbon at the back of your project, you should have at least a quarter inch tail.

When you take the first stitch going from the right side of the fabric to the wrong side catch the end of the ribbon you were holding and pass through the ribbon tail This will lock the loose ribbon tail into your first stitch doing away with the need for knots.

As you near the end of the ribbon, to end without making a knot, take a single stitch through from the wrong side of the fabric behind one of the stitches where it will not show then take a single back stitch through the ribbon at the point just before the single stitch. These are small stitches and your ribbon will form a complete circle. Clip the ribbon leaving about 1/4 inch tail. This is used when you have finished stitching.

When changing colors take your first stitch through the tail of the previous colored ribbon and insert the point of the needle through the fabric where you wish to begin stitching the new color. As you return to the back catch both ribbons in the next stitch. When done carefully the back looks almost as nice as the front as seen in the "Sample" picture taken from both sides.

Sometimes it is not possible to interlock your stitches because of the placement of the design. In this case a regular sewing needle and thread matching the background fabric is use to tack-stitch the ribbon ends in place. It is a good idea when the design stitching is complete to "clean up" the back with tiny sewing thread stitches that hold the ribbon in place, fold under the raw ends and eliminate carryovers. If you have spent the money on good supplies and your time stitching the design a little added time spent on the back to make it as nice as the front is well worth the effort.

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Silk Ribbon Embroidery

Nora Creeach
Bluebonnet Village Craft Network

Virtual LearningCrafty College

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