Silk Ribbon embroidery on Crazy quilt blocks

Silk Ribbon embroidery on Crazy quilt blocks

Silk Ribbon embroidery has long been associated with Crazy Quilting. The richness of silk ribbon seems to marry well with the extravagance of Crazy quilting.

One of the pleasures of Crazy quilting is that you can incorporate all sorts of embroidery techniques. Apart from Silk ribbon embroidery you can experiment with all the surface embroidery stitches and techniques such as Brazilian embroidery, Raised work,  and beading. The use of these varied techniques combined with the abundance of charms, button, beads and doo-dads is one of the markers contemporary crazy quilting from the past. One of the reasons that contemporary crazy quilting is so enjoyable I the anything goes attitude as there are no rules in crazy quilting.  This means the technique is liberating for many traditional quilters and stitchers. Stitching skill is still celebrated but it is that celebration that crazy quilters feel free to develop their own style.

Old vintage quilts often display a number of techniques and stitches but today’s crazy quilters have access to numerous materials, threads, beads, laces,. A quick google search will throw up loads of information on how to use them. Via the internet modern embroiderers can discover and draw on techniques from throughout history and across cultures. These influences appear in modern crazy quilting but one technique that is to be found on crazy quilts is Silk Ribbon embroidery.


The image above is a mix of silk ribbon embroidery and ribbon work. It is part of bag I made.

Silk Ribbon Embroidery or its abbreviation SRE is a form of dimensional work that has delighted stitchers for a long time. The revival of embroidery in the Victorian style is in part the reason that silk ribbon embroidery has a new generation of stitchers working in this style. However it is a remarkably easy form of stitching. Floral designs of roses, daisies, and ferns lift off the back ground fabrics to produce interesting effects. Whenever people see it I often have the response “I couldn’t stitch like that”. Well I will let you into a little secret SRE is not that hard to do! Also it takes very little time. Two big pluses to aid its popularity today. The big trick with silk ribbon embroidery is keep the ribbon loose. Don’t apply too much tension. Let the stitches to be full and flop about a bit as then they will represent flowers well.

Ribbons available on the market vary in width. The most common being 2mm, 4mm, and 7mm. One tip however to have a successful looking piece make sure the ribbon is crease free. I keep my ribbons on these hand turned (by Jerry my husband) wood ribbon holders. If you wind ribbons around something it will keep them crease free. Just about anything will do, for years I used the cardboard toilet roll innards to do the task!

As for needles, the most common type used are Chenille needles as they have a sharp tip and a large eye. Chenille needles are commonly available in sizes 13 – 26. You need a largish eye as apart from threading the ribbon you need a needle that will make a fair sized hole when it pierces the fabric in order to allow the ribbon to glide through. If the hole is too small the ribbon will stress and fray causing the work to look tattered. If this happens change to a larger needle. With needles, the lower the number, the larger the needle so move to a lower number needle to stop fraying.

There are a number of discussion lists online two that are found at Yahoo are Silkribbon and SRESafehaven . These groups are friendly and helpful sharing their knowledge generously, so do try them out.

The first thing you need to know is how to Knot Your Ribbon. There are similar directions on how to thread and lock the needle here. Karen Kieppe writing for Threads magazine online has provided an article on Beginners’ Silk-Ribbon Embroidery This simple floral bouquet is another good beginner project as the article has clear stitch instructions that are illustrated with photographs.

Directions on key stitches used in this style of embroidery such as Looped Petal Flower, a Spider Web Rose and Japanese Ribbon Stitch can all be found online. You can find step by step instructions for a wyld Rose here Another stitch guide is provided by Ribbonsmyth and yet another illustrated guide is provided by Creative Needle Magazine.

Because silk ribbon embroidery is a technique that adds dimension to your work any area that uses this technique will draw the eye. As a technique it is remarkably loose and forgiving you can allow your stitchery to wander over areas. It is the combination of these two factors that allow you to use it to lead the eye around a block. Silk Ribbon areas on a block as a design element is what I call two for the price of one. First because of the materials used (silk) and the ease at which beading can be incorporated it is luscious so the eye goes to it at once. As I have already said it is also dimensional this just compounds the attraction. As a technique it attracts the eye and as such it acts as a point of emphasis in any block. Then just to add icing to the cake this type of stiching flows allowing the eye to move over the ribbon work and be lead to other areas of the block. So when I say this form of work is two for the price of one I mean it not only hooks the viewer in it also leads them on to something you want them to see.

For this reason I find that it is best to use this type of work only on sections of a block. I find blocks that are just ribbon embroidery lose their power because the eye slips and slides on that silk all over the place never resting long enough to take it in. As a technique it also an ideal problem solver too. If you place a spray of ribbon embroidery diagonally across a long seam you can prevent people from noticing the long seam as the eye focuses attention on the ribbon work.

For inspiration and ideas for traditional Victoriana styled silk ribbon embroidery see Helen R. Gibb. Another contemporary designer in this style and the inventor of the ‘Alton loop‘ see Marie Alton. I am not sure if this site is still being maintained as some sections seem to be down when I visited. However, another resource housed at this site is directions on the Griffin Rosebud designed by Mary Anne Griffin and the Melanie Rose . There is also a free pattern available here too.

Another free pattern for instructions on how to work a Fuchsia has been published by wyldwmn Who has also provided these Pansy Fan Needlebook Instructions. Betty Pillsbury has published a silk ribbon project in the Heritage Shoppe Journal of Needlework.

Browse through the past articles in CQ Mag online for ideas and more inspiration can be found at the samples of silk ribbon embroidery by Martina Weber on chatelaine.net. Don’t miss Rissa’s site Pretty Impressive Stuff as there is a section devoted to silk ribbon embroidery with heaps of resources listed there.

Ribbon work is different to silk ribbon embroidery but it is often combined with this type of embroidery as both techniques sit well together. Offray has published directions on how to make a traditional ribbon rose , an easier ribbon rose and a wire edged ribbon rose Another technique that is often included on block with silk ribbon embroidery is Ruching. It is simple an easy to do and easily embellished further with stitching and beading. You can do a lot with ruching and its variations. These violets published by Helen Gibb are a development of ruching if you carefully.

That is it for today and although there are number of links in this post I am sure there are other resources online. Leave a comment if you know of any others that people would find useful. Do the same if you have any questions. I will continue this series later on in the week. Incase you have just landed on the site to put things in context, this series of posts was sparked off by this block. Other pieces in the series cover introductory tips, piecing and fabric selection, the design process and seam embellishment and how to transfer your designs to fabric.


  1. Hi,

    I am writing from India. I was browsing the net looking for sites on ribbon embroidery and came across your site. I am new to ribbon embroidery and all the information that your have provided on this topic was very helpful to me.

    Thanks a lot.

  2. WOW, this is just beautiful! I definitely have to go through more of your blog and see what other intriquing goodies I can find to inspire me more! Thank you so very much!

    Rose Anne B

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