During the latter part of the 17th century, reaction set in against the elaborate dress of the Elizabethan and Tudor eras. Charles I set the fashion for simple elegance. Decoration was to consist mainly of ribbons, lace and pearls.

By the mid 18th century, there was a general decline in embroidery. There developed an interest in introducing novel materials into stitchery which created quite a new effect: straw, quills, hair and ribbons.

The practice of embroidery with ribbon was originally confined to clothing, ladies’ dresses and men’s waistcoats.

A small implement known as a mellor, made of steel or ivory, was used for holding down the ribbons and to prevent them twisting whilst sewing.

During the 1820s, yards of satin or silk ribbon embellished the bodices and hems of ladies’ dresses. Narrow silk ribbon, often called China ribbon, was used, dyed in deep rich colours.

The popularity of ribbon embroidery spread to cushions, screen frames, workbags, pincushions and handkerchiefs. Worked on cream or black satin, the designs were most often floral and embroidered in satin stitch.

A revival of ribbon embroidery, especially for use in girls’ party dresses, took place in the early 20th century.

Today an extensive range of ribbons is available; satin, velvet, polyester, rayon, nylon, but it is silk ribbon, in varying widths, which is the easiest to work with.


Doris Strang