This article does include some information directly related to Regency apparel. But it is also the holiday season and for those of you who may be seeking unique gifts for your favorite needleworker, you should know about Ribbonsmyth. Or, if you would like a special and attractive gift for someone who appreciates fiber art, and at the same time would like to support research for the cure for breast cancer, the Art Bra calendar or note cards may be just the thing.
Ribbonsmyth is an online emporium offering an exquisite selection of needlework supplies, notions and books. Victoria Adams Brown, author, designer and teacher, is the proprietor of this unique and fascinating site. More than ten years ago, silk ribbon embroidery was a popular form of needlework, and one could find silk ribbon in most good needlework shops. But then the popularity waned and it became very difficult for those of us who continued to enjoy this lush form of embroidery to find the silk ribbons we needed for our projects. Fortunately, Ms. Brown established the Ribbonsmyth site, providing all of us with access to a wide selection of silk ribbons, notions and instruction materials.
Silk ribbon embroidery was not invented in the late 1990s, it was merely revived. The origins of silk ribbon embroidery date back to the mid-eighteenth century in France. It was at this time that narrow, soft, flexible woven silk ribbon was used to embroider primarily floral motifs on the richly embellished fashionable gowns and other apparel of the Rococo period. It was a delicate and labor-intensive form of embellishment, was therefore very expensive, and thus was found only on the most elegant garments worn by aristocrats and wealthy courtiers, of both genders. Justin Alistair, Duke of Avon, the elegantly dangerous hero of Georgette Heyer’s novel, These Old Shades, was just as likely to wear a waistcoat or coat embellished with silk ribbon embroidery as that which might have been found on the gown of the heroine, Leonie, dressed in her female finery when she accompanied the Duke to Versailles.
Silk ribbon embroidery fell out of fashion with the severe clothing styles which marked the French Revolution. But it had returned to fashion in England by the begining of the nineteenth century. Silk ribbon embroidery was often used on garments and accessories during the Regency, but by then it was confined to articles worn or used by women. No self-respecting Regency male would be caught dead in a garment embroidered with silk ribbon. One who did would certainly have been labeled a "man-milliner." However, silk ribbon embroidery was not used as lavishly on garments during the Regency as it had been at the French court of the Ancien Régime. Rather than covering a gown with floral motifs in silk ribbon, a Regency ball gown might have a small amount of silk ribbon embroidery as an accent. Perhaps it might be worked around the neckline of the bodice, along the edges of the sleeves or around the hemline. A lady might carry an evening reticule of damask or satin which was embroidered with a floral spray in silk ribbon. Or perhaps the vamp of her dancing slippers might be embellished with silk ribbon-work.
Most of the silk ribbon used for embroidery in England during the Regency was not smuggled in from France. It was actually made near London, by the silk weavers of Spitalfields. Though a great deal of silk ribbon embroidery during the Regency was certainly done by professional embroiderers for both modistes and milliners, it had also become a pass-time of many accomplished young ladies. These ladies might not work the ribbon embroidery on their evening gowns or bonnets, but they certainly might embroider other articles of their apparel. A lady might embroider her reticule or a particularly fine lace handkerchief, some even embellished undergarments or lingerie. Silk ribbon embroidery looks especially lovely when done on velvet, and the vamps of velvet slippers were often decorated in this way, in many cases as gifts.
The Ribbonsmyth web site offers a wide selection of widths and colors of silk ribbon for embroidery. But for those very particular needleworkers, it also offers dye kits with which they can custom dye the various widths of white ribbon which are also available from this online ribbon emporium. As a dyer myself, I can assure you that RitTM Dye, the old standard our mothers and grandmothers used, will not give very good results when dying silk. Different types of fibers require different types of dyes. Those on offer at Ribbonsmyth are specially formulated for specific fiber types. There you will find dyes for both silk and rayon. The silk dyes will give good results when dying silk ribbon, while the rayon formula works well for dying rayon items like the various white rayon trims and motifs also to be found at Ribbonsmyth. One thing I like about the dyes available from Ribbonsmyth is that they yield colors similar to those which might have resulted from the use of the natural dyes available in the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century. The colors are softer, more muted than the harsh colors which result when using the aniline dyes which were introduced in the 1850s. Those who re-create Regency-style garments and accessories will be pleased with the more accurate colors they can achieve using the silk dyes available from Ribbonsmyth.
As you peruse the Ribbonsmyth site, you will quickly see that crazy quilting is a primary focus for the use of many of the items they offer. Though I also enjoy crazy quilting, it is important to point out that crazy quilting was unknown during the Regency. It is a totally Victorian, and primarily American, fiber art form, which did eventually spread to England by the end of the nineteenth century. The crazy quilting craze actually originated in the crazing found on the Japanese ceramics which began to be exhibited in the west, particularly America, in the 1880s. The fine, irregular surface cracks on these ceramics inspired American needlewomen to replicate these irregular shapes in cloth. It was common practice for young women to save scraps from all of the fabrics used in their favorite dresses over the years, scraps which they would then use to make a crazy quilt they added to the other items in their hope chests. A great many men condemned this craze, as they felt it was a frivolous pursuit for young women, yielding items of little functionality, regardless of the fact that many of them were of great beauty. Fortunately, most women ignored these men, and continued to ply their needles, lavishing their needlework talents on these lovely and intricate works of fiber art.
Also at the Ribbonsmyth site you can find a link to this year’s Art Bra calendar and other Art Bra items. The Art Bra project was the brain-child of Victoria Adams Brown, the proprietor of Ribbonsmyth. Each year, talented fiber artists employ their needles to embellish a bra in their own unique style. Twelve of these whimsical garments are chosen, photographed, and the photographs used to produce a calendar. These calendars are then sold to raise money for breast cancer research. So, if you are seeking a unique gift for someone who appreciates rather outrageous, exquisitely fanciful and deliciously humorous fiber art, an Art Bra calendar might be just the thing. And you will have the additional gratification of knowing that your purchase of this special calendar will help to support the battle against breast cancer, which remains a significant threat to the health and well-being of so many women.
Ribbonsmyth is a wonderful resource for those who enjoy fine needlework and need a reliable source of good quality supplies. Those who reproduce items of apparel from the Regency will find many supplies which they can use to embellish their projects. You can also find various books and other instructional materials there, should you wish to learn some of these needlework techniques. Any of these supplies or books would make a lovely gift for a discerning needleworker of your acquaintance. For those who are not needleworkers, the Art Bra calendar or the Art Bra cards make a delightful gift, with the added advantage that their purchase supports breast cancer research. The Ribbonsmyth site will be well worth a visit or two this holiday season. Do take the time to treat yourself.