Ribbon Embroidery for Beginners

Example of a purse that used ribbon embroidery techniques.

Embroidered silk purse designed by Christen Brown. Published in PieceWork March/April 2007 issue.
Photo by Joe Coca.

Ribbon embroidery is a form of needlework that is beautifully intricate. It has many of the same elements as traditional embroidery, but it’s done using silk ribbons instead of embroidery floss. The different textures and widths of the ribbons create gorgeous floral scenes and interesting embellishments on a wide variety of fabrics. Ribbon embroidery and traditional embroidery, done with embroidery floss, look stunning when used together.

Silk ribbon embroidery dates back to the eighteenth-century in France. It quickly gained popularity with both royalty and the women of the court, who used it to embellish their gowns and accessories. The fashion of embellishing garments and accessories with ribbon embroidery soon spread to England and the British colonies.

While the complex beauty of a finished ribbon embroidery project can make the craft appear daunting, it is actually much simpler than it seems. Silk ribbon embroidery uses many of the same stitches that are used in traditional embroidery. If you’re already familiar with traditional embroidery, you may already know many of the stitches used. Do keep in mind, however, that managing the silk ribbon adds a degree of difficulty not encountered when stitching with embroidery floss: One must be cautious that the stitches executed with silk ribbon lay just so and don’t become twisted. Designs are usually transferred onto fabric before stitching; stamped designs are also available.

One advantage of ribbon embroidery is the ability to cover a larger area of fabric in less time, and with fewer yards of ribbon, than you would be able to with embroidery floss. This is because the ribbon is wider than floss.

You can use ribbon embroidery to decorate and embellish almost any apparel or household item. Try it on clothing and accessories, linens, curtains, tablecloths, and more. Items embellished with ribbon embroidery must be handled with care. Ribbon embroidery is extremely delicate and can be easily damaged with machine washing and drying.

Ribbon Embroidery Tools and Supplies

To get started with your first project, you’ll need a few supplies. Take a look at our NeedleArts tools and notions and our needlework tools and supplies to find some of the items you’ll need for your first foray into ribbon embroidery. One essential thing you’ll need is an embroidery needle. A chenille needle with a sharp point will work well for ribbon embroidery. Make sure that you choose one with a large eye so that it won’t crease or damage your ribbon.

Next, you’ll need to collect a variety of ribbons in assorted colors and widths. Silk ribbons are the traditional choice for ribbon embroidery and will give you an elegant look. Satin ribbons and rayon ribbons offer a less expensive option and are also great for learning. No need to make your first embroidery mistakes using expensive silk ribbons. The ribbon widths used in ribbon embroidery vary and include: 2 mm, 4 mm, and 7 mm.

The next important tools you’ll need are an embroidery hoop and fabric. The embroidery hoop keeps the fabric taut while you work and helps your embroidery from becoming distorted. Many types of fabric can be used for ribbon embroidery. Use a sharp needle or awl to poke holes if you’re having trouble working with a thicker fabric. You can also use wash-away stabilizer to reinforce thin or stretchy fabric. Finally, you’ll need a design and marking tools to transfer the design onto your fabric.

Looking for iron-on embroidery designs? Check out our NeedleArts section to find lovely designs perfect for your project. Another great option includes our embroidery kits. Either select a ribbon embroidery kit or opt for a traditional embroidery kit and use your own ribbon to make a one-of-a-kind project. You may also want to add some embroidery floss to enhance your design with traditional embroidery. We also carry a selection of beads that would look stunning in your ribbon-embroidery project.

These essentials will get you started on your journey. Keep practicing, learn new stitches, and you’ll be an expert in no time.