Essential details such as embroidery, handmade lace, ribbon work and beading have been used for adornment on clothing, accessories and furnishings for centuries. The Rococo Period, popular in the mid 18th century showed gowns that were festooned with ribbons and embellished with flowers and embroidery. In the late 19th century the revival of floral embroidery and ribbon work were again highlighted in the designs created by The House of Worth. In the early 20th century Albert Lesage began producing extraordinary stitched and embellished fabrics and trims to be used by top designers such as Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, and Vionnet.
Embroidery was popular in many cultures, using a variety of materials, such as silk, cotton and linen threads; gold threads; chenille and woolen yarns. Silk thread embroidery was often enhanced with gold metal threads. Chenille yarns created a lavish, plush feel to the embroidered design, as seen in the sample on the left. Lace has grown into an elegant and sought after trim made in countries such as Belgium, France, England and Ireland. The first ribbons and trims came from Italy, and later France, which became known for its exquisite, high quality products. Beads (glass, semi precious stones and freshwater pearls) and sequins (metal, shell and later Mylar) were used in a design to enhance embroidery or ribbon work.
Floral embroidery is a descriptive term that was used for both thread embroidery (silk, wool or chenille); and ribbon work flowers (a piece of ribbon or fabric that was stitched with a needle and thread) see the sample on the left. The flowers were arranged in sprays, or as a single bud on men’s waistcoats, ladies gowns, shawls and other accessories. Popular stitches for the embroideries were satin, long and short, and stem. The chain stitch that could also be worked with a tambour needle is often used as the only stitch in the design.
Ribbon work flowers such as aerophane or crepe floral embroidery (used in the late 19th century) had the details of leaves and stems stitched in with thread embroidery. The ribbon, a thin silk gauze or crepe would be cut then gathered with stitches to form each petal of the flower. Narrow silk “China” ribbons were available in shaded colors, and were first used in ribbon work floral embroidery. This narrow silk ribbon could also be threaded into a large eyed needle and stitched into flower shapes (usually a straight stitch) with added silk thread embroidered accents. The combination of ribbon work flowers and silk ribbon embroidery gave the design dimension.
In the late part of the 19th to early 20th century, silk ribbons and threads became easier to obtain with instruction books, magazines, kits and patterns becoming more abundant. The woman who created the clothing for herself and her family would also have stitched other items such as handbags, boudoir dainties, pillows and quilts. These extravagantly embroidered and embellished items would have been considered ladies “fancywork”, a way to occupy one’s “leisure time” which she would not have had a great deal of.
- The Art of Silk Ribbon Embroidery by Judith Baker Montano/ Published by C& T Publishers; Copyright 1993 Judith Baker Montano
- Fashion A History from the 18th to the 20th Century Copyright 2005 Taschen/ This is a collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute
Resources for vintage ribbons, lace, and other treasures.
- Lacis- 3163 Adeline ST., Berkeley, CA 94703, (510) 843-7178, www.lacis.com
- The Store on the Corner- www.christenbrown.com