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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?
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.
Ribbonwork Embroidery: Techniques and Projects is intended to be a little bit of everything, covering the main ribbon embroidery stitches, some project ideas and a lot of advice on design and planning and organising your own projects. There is a little bit of advice on how to combine ribbonwork with other techniques, such as silk shading and goldwork to create interesting effects. One of my favourite ideas is using stretched pearl purl with ribbon to make something that looks almost like a whipped backstitch but with far more oomph.
One of the things that will immediately strike you about Ribbonwork Embroidery is the huge amount of photographs throughout the book. If you find the legendary Embroidery Stitch Bible is an exercise in finding a magnifying glass to see what you need, Long’s book will come as a refreshing change.
It’s a small detail, but one touch I really like is that many of the photos are captioned with the size of the ribbons used in the piece. With few embroidery shops in the UK stocking many silk ribbons, the big challenge of buying online is having a ‘feel’ for the dimensions you are likely to need and this is a great reference point for the beginner.
As an object, I find the book a bit floppy and the cover is very easy to damage. The book is mostly bound well enough that, as long as you aren’t in the first or last quarter, it will stay open while you’re stitching. It’s a little annoying but easy enough to fix by just weighing the pages down.
Ribbonwork Embroidery: Techniques and Projects lives up to its name as a technique book with the guide. Rather than using diagrams, all stages of each stitch are photographed (rather than using hand drawn diagrams) and the process is broken down into sufficiently small steps that the guides are easy to follow.
I would have liked more side-by-side comparison photos of the difference between working a stitch with a twisted ribbon or flat ribbon can have a huge impact on the overall effect or guidance on how particular stitches can be used in a design. However, the troubleshooting tips and the advice in the text on how stitches can be modified by changing the tension or loop sizes, or can work with other components such as French knots or beads, is really useful and make the book an excellent text for the independent learner.
There is advice on the choice of needle for working particular stitches which is immensely important in ribbonwork as if you work some of the bulkier, dimensional stitches first, you’ll have great fun trying to dodge the huge mess and network of stitches that tends to accumulate on the back. Overall, the stitch guide is an area where this book really excels and there are very few stitch guides available with such levels of detail for ribbonwork. The stitch guide is divided into a section for the more traditional embroidery stitches that can be worked either in floss or ribbon and those unique to ribbonwork. All of the stitches required for the projects in the book are covered as well as many more to provide lots of inspiration when you are designing and exploring on your own. It’s an impressively comprehensive guide in terms of the number of stitches covered and an excellent example on how to do clear stitch tutorials.
Two of the chapters are devoted to designing your own pieces of ribbon embroidery. One chapter focuses on the aspects such as creating colour and stitch plans, thinking about the size of the project and materials sourcing. The other is on choosing colours, considerations specific to ribbon embroidery techniques, and a part that I really love, one how to dye or colour your own ribbons using marker pens for use. From a stylistic approach, I’m not really sure why the two sections have been separated as they contain complementary information.
The advice is very comprehensive and offers something of use whether you’re utterly terrified by the idea of making your own creations or you’re looking for the skills to make something a little more professional. I would have like a little more advice or suggestions on how certain stitches can really be used to their best advantage, particularly in conjunction with the wonderful stitch guide, but for a more general approach to developing a project from the first idea to the finished piece, there is a lot of food for thought here.
There are 10 project guides in total in Ribbonwork Embroidery, divided into beginners and advanced projects. What is very nice is they aren’t just ten different designs but vary from simple, quick ideas such as gift tags to some slightly more outlandish ones, including a ribbonwork clock. Although none of the projects are really anything I’d want to consider making, I really like that the projects span from pieces that can be worked in a few minutes to much more involved ones and the guides are very straightforward and easy to follow.
Although I think the project ideas are great, Sophie Long’s style is generally not quite my cup of tea, though I will definitely make an exception for her floral heart wreaths (pictured in this post) and her Roses Heart Kit that I have reviewed previously. While I love that her projects all feel very ‘do-able’ for your normal human stitcher who isn’t professionally trained and can’t spend 40 hours a week at the frame, I don’t find a lot of the projects particularly exciting. However, if you just want inspiration, that is what Pinterest and the wonders of the Internet are for. If you prefer the classic, intensely floral, incredibly over-the-top ribbon embroidery, I would recommend taking a look at Di van Niekerk’s website and some of her books.
An interesting chapter in the book is dedicated to different ways of ‘finishing’ projects. In this section, Long covers the traditional RSN-style mounting for sticking things in frames in wonderful levels of detail but also some more creative methods too, such as incorporating pieces into lampshades or cushions. I like her guide to using an artist stretcher as a quick and easy alternative to the more ‘proper’ approach to mounting. This is a great section, even just for the detailed step-by-step guide to mounting but with some excellent inspiration for different approaches too.
This book excels as a stitch guide and for the section on mounting techniques. Sophie Long’s writing style is really engaging and easy to read, and although it is definitely a photo-heavy book, it is full of wonderful bits of advice to really improve your skills at ribbon embroidery. There are very few books on this subject around, especially if you are trying to learn independently and all of the stitch and project guides excel in the clarity.
While the projects included aren’t really my thing, I would still absolutely recommend this book for embroiderers of all levels as there are so many useful titbits of information for the advanced and beginner alike, as well as some very creative approaches to using and applying the wonderful technique of ribbonwork. Sophie Long’s love and passion for the technique is very infectious just reading the book and is evident in how thoughtfully the content has been curated and presented. A very refreshing, creative look at one of the more satisfying embroidery techniques out there.
Author: Sophie Long
Publisher: The Crowood Press Ltd
Size: 26 x 21 x 1.3 cm
Weight: 640 g