18th century, 18th century court dress, court dress, projects

Ribbon Embroidery Up the Wazoo!

The plan is to do the embroidery for the robe de cour using ribbon embroidery. I hit on the idea as I was thinking of ways to speed this project up, and after I found a few examples of 18th century ribbon embroidery. You all helped out, and with what you came up with, I’m convinced enough that this is a viable, historically accurate option.

I put together a Pinterest board with all the examples we’ve tracked down. There’s not a lot, but there’s enough, including examples where ALL the embroidery is done with ribbon (some use silk floss and ribbon), and with the same kinds of raised dimensional flowers that are made today.

Also, I was gratified to find these two court gown bodices that feature dimensional ribbon flowers as trim:

Court bodice, 1770-1780, from the Palazzo Madama

Court bodice, 1770-1780, from the Palazzo Madama

Bodice Date: 18th century Culture: European Metropolitan Museum of Art

Date: 18th century
Culture: European
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Onwards! I really wanted to try to incorporate some “ombre” ribbon, but it seems like the only manufacturers (like Mokuba) make it only in polyester. Ew. So, solids it is… and that’s probably a good decision, as the source image I’m working from seems like the embroidery is more solids.

Luckily there are TONS of ribbon embroidery tutorials out there. Oddly, most of them seem to be Russian or other Eastern European countries, but luckily you don’t have to understand the language to follow what they’re doing visually!

Here’s a reminder of the embroidery in the design. The image isn’t high resolution, but I’m going with what I can glean from it:

embroidery plan

I started with a bit of experimentation on the roses:


Test rose in random ribbon. Ignore the different colors, it’s just what I had on hand.


What I thought was my first real rose, only to decide 1) it was too small, and 2) I needed a darker color in the center to better match the source image.


Bigger roses, with darker centers.

One nice thing is that I don’t have to be precise in marking my design. I started by drawing in the general swoops, then marking the rose centers with an X. I embroidered the roses first, then went back and added rough lines for leaves, buds, and stems, then embroidered those. Now that I’ve figured things out this far, as I’m working on the side panels I’m doing all the elements as I go along.


Almost finished front panel, minus a border.


Close up on the front panel.

I needed to get the shapes for the side panels, so I put things on my dress form and started using some white ribbon as a visual marker… only to discover that the pleats at the CF of my petticoat weren’t doing my embroidered panel any favors.



First attempt at layout on the petticoat.

So, I pulled the front of the petticoat apart so that it would have a completely flat front. This necessitated moving those pleats out onto the paniers, and piecing in on either side of the waist (but hey, piecing is period!).


Petticoat with flattened front — better display for the embroidery!

I’m now working on the skirt panels, and I’ll update you on those when I’m done-ish!

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  • Reply Megan Martin June 12, 2015 at 11:05 am

    That ribbon embroidery is just gorgeous! Added bonus that it seems to be going quickly. I can’t wait to see it at CoCo!

  • Reply Trystan June 12, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Holy mother of crap, that’s going to be stunning! Go you & your crazy hand-working self!

  • Reply Sanna K June 13, 2015 at 2:59 am

    Wow, that ribbon embroidery looks so beautiful already! Btw, I’m still in! And I’ve even managed to find the fabric for the gown I haven’t ordered yet because I’m not sure how much I’m going to need…

  • Reply Ari June 13, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    If you use wide-ish ribbon you could probably ombre it by wrapping it up tight and even and then dipping the end into a shallow tray of dye. I hope this makes sense.

    • Reply kendra June 13, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      It does, and I thought about it, but I’m worried the color will be blotchy and/or the ombre effect won’t be even! It’s okay, I’m happy with the solid ribbon. But thanks for the suggestion!

  • Reply Liza D. July 2, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Wow! That is incredible work. The dress is really going to be magnificent.

    As for ombre SILK ribbon, I may have a source for you. This guy (Kevin, I believe, in Seattle) imports pure silk ribbon and hand dyes it in a variety of colors and widths. It’s very reasonably priced, and if you call, you can speak directly to him and he’ll help you figure out what will work. No, I have no ties of any kind to the company.

  • Reply Cassidy September 16, 2015 at 6:30 am
    this is where i buy my ribbons from and because they are hand painted they look ombre but in a natural and realistic way

  • Reply Jody Regan November 5, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    OMG! You are just too cool for words! Are you going to teach a class on ribbon embroidery at Costume College 2016? I so-o-o want to learn to do this!

    • Reply kendra November 5, 2015 at 9:18 pm

      I was thinking about it! If not this year, then next.

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