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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.
Experiments are fun things, especially when they have unexpectedly nice results. Today’s testing was trying out some Procion MX dyes on silk ribbon samples to see how well the dye struck and whether the materials from this particular supplier would be any good for creating my own range of colourful silk ribbons for embroidery.
I seem to have been doing a lot of ribbonwork lately and while thinking about some new designs of my own, it seemed like a good time to finally finish the Ribbonwork Heart piece by Sophie Long that I started a very long time ago… This is the piece that is on the front cover of her Ribbonwork Embroidery book that I reviewed a while ago.
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When one of my friends announced she was getting married, I knew I wanted to do something special and handmade for her present. When I saw Sophie Long’s ‘Roses Heart’ embroidery kit, I knew I’d found the perfect project.
I first tried ribbon embroidery at one of Sophie Long’s day classes (working on a larger ribbon heart design) and immediately fell in love with the technique. It looks incredibly effective and grows very quickly, ideal for making gifts to a short deadline. Another bonus of ribbon embroidery is you don’t need to obsess over every stitch; if you accidentally fold or twist the ribbon when making flowers, it just adds some variety to their texture and structure rather than looking like a mistake.
I’ve blogged before about how a country’s textile history often shaped its social and cultural history, as well as infrastructure and landscape, and Switzerland is no exception to that. While perhaps most famous for the St. Gallen embroideries and lace (and you can see some fantastic examples of that at the local textile museum), Switzerland also has a rich history of silk and cotton production and even passementerie, particularly in the Basel region.
Over time, I have grown increasingly fond of my Bernina. I wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss about them was about when I first bought it and I did have a few false starts with blunted needles causing endless aggravation but apart from that it has been smooth sailing and beautiful stitching. As well as being a great machine, one of the fun things about it is the ridiculous number of specialist feet you can get for it as well.
Having visited the wonderful world of Britex Fabrics, it was going to be very hard for my next crafty stop in California to be anything better than a disappointment. However, while Britex Fabrics might be the Aladdin’s Cave for the sewer, the small, unassuming Old World Designs in Menlo Park is probably the hand embroiderer’s Nirvana.
I’ve been to different places in the States several times over the years but so far, the West Coast has remained unexplored territory for me. When the opportunity came up to visit California, I obviously couldn’t resist going to find out whether there was anything on offer to rival some of the lovely places I saw in Boston on my last visit.
America tends to do big, bold and grand very well and Britex Fabrics in San Francisco is no exception. It is a multi-storey bonanza of all things craft related and has one of the best collections of craft gadgets I’ve seen outside of Japan.
There’s a quotation I can never quite remember, allegedly from a Chinese philosopher, about how if you really want something to be a success you need to put the same amount of effort in at the end as at the beginning. How many of us eagerly dive into projects with high standards and expectations but by the time the last stitches are going in have lost all semblance of enthusiasm?
For embroidery, the final steps aren’t the last few bits of satin stitch, but the process of mounting the piece. Even if you’re breathing a sigh of relief about finally being free of doing two thousand French knots and ready to throw the piece in the back of the cupboard, it’s a process that is worth taking the time to do.
When I finished the ‘Roses Heart’ piece, as it was going to be a gift, I really wanted to make sure the mounting looked professional and well-finished. However, I wasn’t relishing the thought of trying to mount and frame it myself. Poor craft time-management and life chaos meant I didn’t have much energy to devote to running around looking for frames and mounting board either.
Thankfully, help was at hand in the form of the fabulous Deborah Wilding who had agreed to take me through the whole process, from cutting the mount board to getting it into the frame. Deborah graduated from the Royal School of Needlework’s Future Tutors Programme in 2015 and teaches a large number of RSN classes, as well as privately.
I really enjoyed making my little applique cat but one of the parts I disliked about the project and applique more generally is the cutting. With an embroidery machine that thinks 1 mm is equivalent to a country mile, precision is the name of the game and I don’t think I’m going to be in competition with Swiss engineering any time soon… Luckily I don’t have to be, as of course Swiss engineering has the answer to all of my cutting woes, in the form of the Bernina CutWorks tool.