Review: Ribbonwork Embroidery: Techniques and Projects

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Ribbonwork embroidery (or ribbon embroidery) is, rather unsurprisingly, the art of sewing with ribbons. This is often done in combination with embroidery floss and other materials. As well as being delightfully quick to work up, ribbon embroidery is excellent value in the effect versus effort department, with even the simplest of stitches looking very dramatic. Also, who couldn’t love something that involves getting to play with silk?

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I had the pleasure of taking a Royal School of Needlework Day Class with the author of Ribbonwork Embroidery, Sophie Long, over a year ago now. When I heard that she was going to be writing a book on ribbonwork embroidery, one of her specialisms, I was rather excited to say the least.

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RSN Day Class: Needlelace at the Fashion Museum

As well as the more intensive embroidery qualifications, the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) runs regular day classes as a way for people to try new techniques or get an insight into what it is like to study with one of the world’s most prestigious hand embroidery schools. Occasionally, the RSN teams up with other organisations to put on special classes on either different themes or different skills.

Recently, the RSN ran a series of classes at the Fashion Museum in Bath, with designs based on items on exhibition there. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Needlelace day class, stitching a small butterfly/dragonfly/questionable insect as inspired by a motif on an embroidered Elizabethan woman’s waistcoat.

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Tambour Beading Workshop

Tambour (seemingly known interchangeable as tambour beading or tambour embroidery) has been a technique that I’ve wanted to try for a long time. Tambour is usually a technique uttered in the same breath as ‘haute couture’ as it is often the technique of choice for adding the glitz and glamour to wedding and evening dresses.

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When you think of embroidery, you usually think of a needle and thread, but tambour is worked with a hook, very similar to a crochet hook. It’s also a little bizarre as you have the back of the work facing you as you stitch with the ‘live’ thread or beads underneath. The reason for its popularity though, is because when you’re not fumbling around like a true beginner, it’s an incredibly efficient technique for applying beads and embellishments to fabric.

When I had the chance to try a class with Tambour and Clutch, it seemed like the perfect excuse to learn something new. However, I never thought I’d feel quite as out of my depth doing chain stitch as I did starting tambour!

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Ice Dyeing

I’ve recently discovered the joys of sprinkle dyeing, where the dyeing process is reduced to 1) soak yarn at required pH, 2) dump powder dye directly on yarn, 3) fix dye as necessary. No solutions, no mixing, no syringing. I can actually clean up in less than five minutes after sprinkle dyeing, ideal for a busy schedule, dangerous as I am now drowning in very lurid sock yarns with no time to knit socks.

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While roaming around Pinterest one day, I saw some interesting looking fabric that had been dyed using a technique known as ‘ice dyeing’. The name sounds a lot more glamorous and complicated than the technique actually is. All you do is dump a load of ice on your fabric, put powder dye on the ice and wait but, for such an easy technique, the patterns it produces are actually very interesting.

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The Home of Saori Weaving

Although I was really in Japan for some hardcore temari studies, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a look for some weaving courses. It’s hard not to fall in love with the exquisite and wonderful world of Japanese textiles, in particular the world of 西陣織 (nishijin ori), the intricate weaving behind the most luxurious of fabrics.

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I’d done a weaving experience at the Nishijin Textile Factory where I made a scarf/table-runner hybrid with all the charm and textural properties of a bag of fleas. Past that, I haven’t had much luck finding short, drop-in weaving courses. That was until I had the opportunity to not only meet the creator of saori weaving but to study in her studio.

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Exploring Taiwan and the National Palace Museum

When Taiwan was discovered by Portuguese sailors, they gave it the name, ‘Ihla Formosa’ meaning ‘beautiful island.’ It’s an apt name for a place that, even in November, is still about 30 degrees and is host to some beautiful landscapes and fantastic flora and fauna. I love how you see orchids absolutely everywhere too and I really miss the delicious pineapple that is just as ubiquitous and also makes its way into cakes and sweets.

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Taipei and Yongle Textile Market

Being a tourist is often regarded as one of the most morally reprehensible things a person can be. No one wants to be the hapless soul, guide book in one hand, oversized Canon camera round the neck, clogging up the pavement taking photos of the local highlights, such as cracks in the concrete and public benches.

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Having lived somewhere was definitely a tourist trap in the summer I can sympathise with the tourist-hatred somewhat. I still have no idea how the floor can be so endlessly fascinating to squawking tour groups and quite why the secret to a good photography is maximum inconvenience to other passersby.

In the modern age of the smartphone and Google Maps, I’m usually fairly confident getting around independently. However, sometimes it’s nice for someone else to do the thinking, and as I only had a few days off for sightseeing in Taipei, I needed to be efficient about it and thus began my quest to see if it is indeed possible to take a photograph without causing a traffic jam and find out the local crafting hotspots.

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