The old saying that there is nothing new under the sun was never more true that when applied to needlework.
Sometimes the old types reappear with new names, as when the tent stitch of the Assyrians comes to us as satin stitch; or the punto a groppo of the sixteenth century Sicilian workers masquerades as macrame; another example of this tendency towards re-christening is the broderie Anglaise of the present day, which we recognise with such pleasure as our old friend cut work, perhaps the earliest form of open-work ornamentation.
Ribbon work retains its old descriptive title, and is as dainty in its revival as it ever was in the days of le roi Solid, when swags of fruit and garlands of flowers wrought in ribbon helped to enrich the dress of both men and women, and added another touch of exquisite realism to a thousand decorative trifles.
The chief characteristic of all ribbon work, whether it be of the miniature or giant description, is its high relief; naturally the wider the ribbon the bolder may be the design and the more raised the effect obtainable. For this reason giant ribbon decoration should only be used for those purposes where a bold form of ornament is suitable and its outstanding surface will not interfere with the utility of the object. Considerable skill is required to achieve a satisfactory result, and the most successful efforts will be directed towards picotees and carnations, roses, dahlias, and other flowers whose frilly leaves lend themselves most readily to this style of decoration.
The giant ribbon, measuring about half an inch, whether in plain or shaded effects, costs about 1 1/2d. per yard. The best result is generally obtained by running the thread through the darkest shade, so that the pale edge is outstanding. The ribbon should be threaded through a coarse-eyed tapestry needle, and pulled up through the material at the commencement and through the back when the flower or leaf is finished. All the intermediate fashioning should be done by the running and drawing up with fine silk. Numerous invisible tackings will greatly assist in the formation of the petals. The stems of the flowers in giant ribbon work are generally embroidered, knots are some-limes used, and should be in rat-tail chenille or a thick make of silk, to accord with the boldness of the ribbon effects.
It is strictly in accordance with precedent that knots, embroidery stitches, and even small beads or sequins should be used, many of the old examples show ribbon bows held down with small beads, or a rich effect is produced if sequins are sewn on the background. They must be small and sewn at regular intervals. A good plan to achieve this without irksome measuring is to spread a sheet of stamps on the material to be worked, and to mark with a sharp pointed pencil the corner of each stamp through the perforations. If such squares are too large, a piece of paper can easily be folded into the required size, cut at the corners, so that the pencil can be used.
The material for this is about one-eighth of an inch wide, and is used for the finer kinds of ribbon work, where slightly raised and very delicate effects are desired. It is made in plain and ombre colours, and in Paris it is possible to get fine gold thread in the weave. The ribbon costs about 1/2d. per yard, and very small pieces work wonders in embellishment. When commencing a piece of ribbon work the embroidress will be wise to provide herself with a wide range of shades, especially in greens, for the foliage. Commence the work by bringing the ribbon up through the background material, but do not make a knot. A stitch of fine sewing silk will serve to hold down the end, if it is feared that it might work up. Use the ribbon like a piece of silk in ordinary embroidery, but always be careful in drawing the ribbon through that there is no twist, or the leaf will look poor and skimpy and will be ill-shaped.
It is not wise to take a long needleful of ribbon, as the constant passing through the stuff impoverishes it.
There are other methods of using the ribbon, all of which are well illustrated in our pictures. It may be laid flat and sewn down at regular intervals with tiny gold or silver metal beads; it may be run up into tiny frills to represent roses, as on the bag; or be used to form the petals by overlapping, as in the roses in the pole screen or tray decoration. All these methods were used by the ribbon workers at the end of the eighteenth century.
Though ribbon work is usually carried out in natural colours, very restrained and beautiful results are sometimes obtained by using only neutral tints. This ribbon work in white, mist grey, and shadow colours looked lovely on a panel for a white soft satin ball gown; while a pole screen, worked with roses and foliage in pastel shades, brimming over a basket in gold thread, was hard to beat in delicate effect.
Veil sachet embroidered in ribbon work, flowers in natural coloured shaded ribbons
Description of Coloured Frontispiece
Theatre Bag, measuring seven inches by nine, on ivory velvet. Louis XV. bow in pale heliotrope ribbon, caught down with French knots in silk of a darker shade. The same silk is crocheted tightly and forms the cord. The bag is lined with heliotrope silk.
The garland is worked in green silk, the leaves in rat-tail chenille in natural colours, the roses in three shades of rose ribbon.
Tea Cosy of white satin worked with picotee design in giant ribbon work; the leaves are in ombre ribbon and are stitched down with green silk, which also forms the stalks and calix. The ribbon for the flowers is of an unusual kind, with a dark edging most suitable for this special flower. It is drawn through the satin, then run at the edge and arranged so as to shape the petals; numerous tacking stitches keep them in place. A fine green silk cord finishes the edge of the cosy.
The Doyley is worked on rose petal satin, with an edging of machine-made Valenciennes lace and a feather-stitch border of white silk; the rose garland is in shaded miniature ribbon, the stalks in green stem stitch, and the leaves in ribbon.
The Tray is set in an old inlaid frame, which has once been a screen mounted on a pole. The brass handles are modern. With regard to the needlework covered with glass for protection, the outer forget-me-not border is wrought entirely with ribbon, a French knot being set in the centre of each flower. The larger leaves of the central wreath are in silk, the stems of the flowers and the buds; the rest of the blossoms are of ribbon. Very characteristic of the rococo work of the period when ribbon work was so much in vogue is the diaper pattern in the middle formed by fine gold thread sewn down and web-like ornaments in finest filoselle. The whole is worked on a rare old buff-coloured silk background, which harmonises well with the warm tones of the inlaid frame and the apricot tone of the Richardson roses, beloved of all rose growers.