Ribbon | Thread | Needles | Fabric
| Hoops | Scissors | Miscellany
Although silk is not the only material available for
embroidery, it is the most popular for many reasons. Silk has lovely drape and is
easily manipulated. It is all natural and very durable and cleans well. Silk ribbon is
available in a wide variety of colors, textures and sizes and can be hand-dyed and
over-dyed. The most common ribbon sizes are 2 mm, 4 mm, 7 mm and 13 mm. The
widest selection of colors is usually available in the 4 mm size and the majority of
designs utilize this width exclusively.
There are many excellent high quality synthetic
ribbons that are also good for embroidery, but these ribbons, such as Mokuba Heirloom Sylk
which is made of milk proteins, are designed to mimic the characteristics of
silk. There is a big difference between synthetic embroidery ribbon and craft
ribbon, even though some manufacturers make both. Always choose ribbon that is
intended for use in apparel. Craft ribbon is RARELY acceptable for embroidery.
The exception is for non-durable items, such as greeting cards, which are intended as
strictly craft items. Once you have worked with silk and high quality synthetic
ribbons, you will understand the difference.
Common brand name ribbons for embroidery:
This is often the ribbon
most people start with, because it is readily available in retail stores across the
country. They offer a line of 100% silk ribbons in many colors and sizes in retail
packages of 2 to 3 yards. They also have silk blend Organza available in several
colors and sizes. Despite the general complaints of many embroiderer's I still
consistently use this ribbon in many projects, because of convenience.
This is a Japanese ribbon
that is imported and distributed in the US by the inimitable Esther Randall in Utah.
It comes in a huge variety of colors and widths and is available by the yard, the roll or
in 5 yard retail packages. I have a large supply of YLI ribbons in 2 MM, 4 mm and 7
mm. This is a lovely ribbon for embroidery and the ingenious skeins keep the ribbon
wound, without wrinkling. I keep the bobbins for reuse with loose ribbon.
This Japanese ribbon
manufacturer has a full line of all sorts of ribbons and widths, although they are all
synthetic, they are perfect for this use. Heirloom Sylk (Azlon) is still sold by the
yard, but it was once offered in 3 yard and 5 yard retail packages. I have a large
stash of these retail packages that I was able to get on clearance at various shops, eBay
and distributors. I like this product and the way it holds up even under high wear
This large ribbon
manufacturer makes several ribbons appropriate for embroidery. They are typically
sold by the yard or spool and are available at most fabric stores. These ribbons are
NOT craft ribbon that is often available in retail stores.
This is a lovely ribbon
produced by a mother (Hanah) and daughter (Artemis). The ribbon is sumptuous and
delightful in a variety of interesting variegated shades. I was VERY pleased when I
finally made the commitment and purchased several hundred yards and a color
card! I have to admit, the colors are just incredible and the hand is very
nice, but I would not recommend bias-cut ribbon for items that are intended to be
laundered, because they will fray and lose luster.
I bought a
huge amount of ribbon from Carolyn Getter at Pink Peppercorns and I am very
pleased. Her hand-dyed silk ribbon comes in a variety of widths and
colors for your stitching pleasure.
This is a
lovely soft silk ribbon with extraordinary color, available in a wide
variety of colors and standard widths.
Hand-dyed 100% Silk ribbon in a variety of beautiful
shades and colors. The colors are very nice and the price is simply
There are a variety of
different silk dyes out there for you to try your hand at dying your own ribbon.
Many of these dyes are heat set by steam or microwave. There is lots of room for
trying new things with dying ribbon and fabric. I am probably going to add a page
about the difference between Acid, Fiber Reactive and Natural dyes and pigments.
Let me know if that is something in which you are interested and I will pull out my notes
and my old textbook from Georgia Tech!
There are as many thread choices as there are
ribbon! The most common types of threads are cotton, silk and rayon. I am
only going to list the threads I have actually used, although there are dozens more
This is a very large line of cotton embroidery floss.
Available in size 3. 5, 8 & 12.
This is the Anchor rayon floss. It comes in a
lovely array of colors and is four stranded, instead of six.
A three-ply hand-dyed pima cotton in
A single strand hand-dyed cotton in
A twelve-ply hand-dyed variegated
An opalescent synthetic thread.
A tubular nylon thread.
Rachel with a fine metallic threaded
One color of Rachel threaded through
A heavier metallic in antique shades. T
A 50% wool, 50% silk blend.
A twelve-ply solid color spun
A soft, fine metallic.
An angora-like blend.
The first thread most people use is DMC embroidery
floss that is so popular for cross stitch. It is a lovely mercerized cotton
available in an incredible number of colors and due to its popularity, it can be found
almost anywhere in the country.
DMC also has a line of rayon embroidery floss that I
discovered just last year. I used to have to order this product online, but its
increased popularity in cross stitch designs has convinced even my small local store to
carry a nice selection of colors. The last three digits of the color numbers
correspond to the cotton floss, so you can use your DMC color chart to order the rayon
floss, which is important, since I can't always *see* it in person to pick out my
You might still be able to pick up DMC flower thread
on clearance at some shops. It is a great single stranded cotton embroidery thread
with a wide range of colors. I particularly like it for bullions on even weave
DMC also makes a large line of perle cotton and
crochet/tatting thread. I use Perle cotton is sizes 3, 5, 8 and 12 in most of my
designs, but I have even used DMC tatting thread (30-50) in some designs. By the
way, thread sizing is counter intuitive, the lower the number the thicker the thread, so
size 3 is considerably thicker than size 30. As a point of comparison, the majority
of thread crochet is done in size 10 thread, which is also referred to as "bedspread
weight." I find that the thicker cottons make lovely raised accents and some of
the best bullions I have ever done.
Pure wool tapestry thread available in a wide variety
There are several types of metallic
thread, but Art. 280 and 281 are the most interesting by far. They
have a firm shape, almost like and omega style necklace and the color is
great. It really does seem like gold and silver in my designs.
Incredible Rayon threads in a variety of weights and colors.
Lola is a heavy, 3 ply thread and comes with 20.7 yards (19 meters) per skein.
Iris is a medium weight, 2 ply thread which comes with 16 yards (15 meters) per skein.
This fine weight, 2 ply thread has 21.5 yards (20 meters) per skein and is available in all colors.
Nova is a very heavy 6 ply thread and each skein has 10.5 yards (10 meters).
Pronounced Boo-Clay, this uniquely knotted thread is made with a 2 ply base with two other plies looping in and out making it a 4 ply thread. It comes 10.5 yards (10 meters) per skein.
Frost is a medium 3ply thread with 16 yards (15 meters) per skein.
Ciré is pronounced See-Ray. It is a heavy 3 ply thread with 10.5 yards (10 meters) per skein.
Eterna has a large selection of fabulous silk
threads. The most popular is the mini-twist, but they also make a stranded version
and various twist thread sizes from 3 to 8. I really like the way the silk thread
looks with silk ribbon, especially when I am using hand-dyed bias cut ribbon. The
possibilities with silk thread are limitless and Eterna has a full line of color and size
options. They also have a wide variety of over dyed products. One of my
favorite features of these products is that they are reasonably priced for silk.
Often costing no more than DMC rayon.
Most of us know Krenik because of their line of
blending filaments that are used in cross stitch, needlepoint and crochet. They also
have a line of embroidery threads, from cotton to silk. There is so much more to
this line that I ever imagined.
Rainbow has a huge selection of yarns
and threads! The best way to list them is to post the names and let
you look at the manufacturers website for more information:
Arctic Rays, Alpaca 18, Backgrounds, Bravo!®, Rainbow Cashmere, Chainettes,
Coronet Braid, Cresta d' Oro®, Crystal Rays®, Designer's Dream, Elegance, Encore!,
Faux Fur®, Fiesta!, Flair®, Frosty Rays®, Fuzzy Yarns, Fuzzy Stuff, Fyre Werks®,
Gold Rush ®, Hi-Lights, Grandeur, Matte 18, Neon Rays®, Overture®, Nordic Gold™,
Patent Leather, Patina®, Pebbly Perle®, Precious Metals®, Rainbow Angora, Rainbow Tweed,
Rainbow Linen, Razzle-Dazzle 6®, Rhapsody, Ribbon Rays, Santa's Beard & Suit®,
Silk & Cream, Sparkle Rays, Splendor®, Splendor Silk Ribbon, Subtlety, Super-Suede,
24 Karats®, Tiara®, Treasure Braid, Treasure Braid Petite, Treasure Chest,
Twedie 18, Ultra Suede®, Very Velvet, Very Velvet Petite, Water N' Ice, Wisper.
Hand-dyed 100% Silk Pearl in a variety of beautiful
and subtle shades. Size 5, 8 and 12 available in more than 30 colors.
I just love this thread and the price is simply unbeatable!
There are several needle types and sizes employed in
Silk Ribbon is most often worked with Chenille and
tapestry needles, because the large eye and sharp point are well suited to producing large
holes through which the ribbon must pass.
Bullions are best done with millinery or beading
needles, since the small eye and long shank are well suited to the many wraps. Many
Australian publications refer to these as "straws", but I have never seen them
packaged under that name. I even have a monstrous four inch one designed for doll
work which I use on tassels.
Wool embroidery can be done with virtually any
needle, but tapestry needles are best designed for this function. Always try to
use the right size needle for the wool you are working with. If the hole is too
small, the wool can be frayed and pill during the stitching process.
All of these needle types are available in a wide
range of sizes and often you will use many different needles in a single project.
Always choose a needle with an eye size appropriate to the material passing through
it. The thicker the material, the larger the eye must be.
There are as many fabrics suitable for
embroidery as there are threads and ribbons combined. Almost any fabric will work,
although some require stabilizer to support the weight of the embroidery. Some of
the most common fabrics I use are Shantung, Dupoini, Bridal Satin, Moiré, Velvet, Faille,
Peach Skin, Denim, Linen and other even weave fabrics. I also use some cross stitch
fabrics, especially the higher count linens.
Even though fabric can be the most expensive part of
this hobby, don't be afraid to try new fabrics. Just buy small amounts and do small
projects until you know if you are ready for the investment. If you have a
local cross stitch shop, look for marked down cut pieces if you want to try Belfast Linen
which can sell for as much as $75 a yard.
I find that the best way to find what you like is to
rummage through the remnants tables at fabric shops. Remember, even if you don't
crazy quilt, you can make something as small as buttons, ornaments or barrettes while you
are trying out the new fabric. I have found that many places will deep
discount their remnants down to $0.50 to $1.00 a yard, once they have sold enough of the
bolt at a profit. I have even found silks on the remnant table at these
prices. Sometimes the fabric on the remnant table is damaged, so be careful, but
most stains and picks can be easily covered by embroidery, or you can work around the
defects. A piece of fabric that is not appropriate for sewing my be perfectly
functional for embroidery.
Also, if you know a dressmaker or seamstress, they
will often bag their scraps for anyone who asks. Because I do a lot of work that I
donate to charities to help them raise money, my dressmaker gives me bags of scraps a
couple of times a year. This is a great way to get some unusual fabrics. This
is a real boon for people who do crazy quilting! Just don't be afraid to ask,
especially if you are a regular customer.
Also, you might want to try Fabric.com. They often have great sales and can be
counted on for excellent service and great product.
I used to get mad at my mom when she scolded me for
using her *good* scissors on crafts. Well, she was right, every scissors has it
purpose! :-) It is best to use very sharp fine scissors when cutting silk
ribbon. Do not use your embroidery scissors to cut paper or anything that might dull
the blades. Pick a special pair and put a huge tassel on it or create a chatelaine
to protect it. I am very forgetful, so I have three or four pair of good scissors
that can be attached to me in some way, but the pair with the giant tassel is *always*
easiest to find. I will often reach for the tasseled pair on the cluttered coffee
table, even when I have a pair hanging around my neck!
SRE, like most embroidery, is more easily done on a
taut surface. For this reason, an embroidery hoop is used most of the time. I
have a wide variety of the typical round plastic adjustable tension hoops available at any
craft retail shop. The general recommendation is to use the smallest hoop possible
for the job. Snap type hoops seem easier to work with if you are constantly
adjusting tension or moving the hoop around a large item.
In recent months, I have discovered the Q-Snap frames
and have been using them, because they are less likely to leave marks on the delicate
fabric and they make it easier to reposition your work. They are available in
sizes from 4 inch square to 17 inch square and extensions can be mixed for custom
sizes. Q Snap frames are made in Tennessee and are available in many fabric and
craft shops that carry quilting supplies. For some of the unusual sizes, you may
need to look for online suppliers.
Cord, Tassels and Trim
You will find that you use a variety of cording and
trims in this type of embroidery work. Again I highly recommend cruising the fabric
stores, looking for close outs on this type of thing to build your inventory. I also
recommend that you buy a bias tape maker and use it to make your own treatments for fabric
edges. When you find nice tassels on clearance, snap them up! Then add
your own silk embroidery, tatting and other decoration to personalize it. Rayon and
silk filament are expensive and I rarely spend less the $20 making my own tassels.
So sometimes I take the short cut and just decorate a mass produced one.
Buttons, Beads and Charms
It seems like I am always looking for something
special to add to my embellished projects. I buy a lot of buttons and decorative
charms and keep them in a Roly-Kit, that I can easily open and pick and choose style and
size. When looking for brooch hardware, be aware that much of it is sold as
charms. You will be buying a "frame" and then attaching a pin
Beads also make great additions to embroidery.
They add texture and dimension. I use predominantly glass beads and pearls.
Mill Hill has a lovely selection of colors and types in small amount for about a dollar a
package. I seem to gravitate to the frosted glass beads in this line.
I am especially fond of button forms that
are sold for covered buttons. They make lovely buttons, brooches and
earrings! The fabric is always pulled tight and the result can be
washed or dry cleaned. They come in a variety of sizes from 20 to
Interfacing and Stabilizers
Because so many of the fabrics used in SRE are
delicate and the dimensional embroidery can be heavy, I find that I use a variety of
interfacing and stabilizers. I like the no-sew iron on interfacing when I can afford
the added thickness. For other items, I use Sulky stabilizers.
The water soluble Sulky stabilizer is also an
excellent medium for transferring patterns. Since it is clear, place it over the
pattern, outline the project then place it on top of your fabric and work through
it. When you are finished, snip away the excess then use a damp cloth or cotton swab
to get rid of the remaining product.
I prefer all cotton batting for most of my projects.
It is just a personal preference, because I like the way it needles and I like how
easy it is to sew on a machine. I also use some low and high loft polyester batting,
but it is easily caught on sewing machine presser foots, cat and dog feet, you name it.
;-) I have much better luck with the cotton. There are also some
low loft stabilizer battings, such as that made by Pellon which are very popular.
Iron & Curling Iron
You will want a non-steam iron and
curling iron for craft projects and ribbon touch-ups! The only non-steam
iron I have been able to find is the Clover® Craft Iron. Many people on
the SRE list suggest the butane curling irons for straightening ribbon.
I use a plain old jumbo barrel (2" diameter) corded curling iron with
excellent results. There are also straightening irons commercially
available that would be good for this purpose.
Fabric Mate Pigment Fabric Dye
Superfine Markers with pigment fabric dye. The
marks are permanent after 24 hours or can be heat set anytime. These come in a wide
variety of colors and help create some interesting effects. I have used them on some
projects to do basic outlines of the designs I want to do, so that if any pigment shows,
through, it will blend with the pattern. I have also used them to paint on fabric
and add shaded backgrounds, a method favored by the incredible Helen Dafter.
Dylon and Zig also make fabric pens that
are great for transfers and fabric painting.
Sulky® Iron-on Transfer Pen
Trace or draw your pattern with the pen then iron it
onto almost any surface that can tolerate a hot iron. Available in black and white
OTT-Lite® - True Color Spectrum
There seems to be a unanimous opinion that this is
the best light out there and that it is easily worth the price. Think of it as an
investment. There have been hundreds of testimonials on the various embroidery
lists, and I myself own three!
Iron-on Fabric Sheets
These work in any ink-jet printer. You can make
your own iron-on designs either for backgrounds, as in art images, or to transfer a
Photo Frame Cards
There are a variety of greeting cards with opening
for photos that easily accommodate embroidery projects. You can emboss, stamp or
otherwise decorate the card then insert your work. They come in a variety of styles
and colors. Oval and heart shaped cut outs are very popular. It is a quick way
to make a lasting impression.
Greeting Cards for SRE
There are several vendors who make kits and cards
specifically for SRE. Marie Alton has a lovely line of card with oval and heart cut
outs and some embossing for effect. They are quick striking. If you are
adventurous, you can create your own cards with card stock, an art knife and
stencils. I prefer brass stencils to do raised designs and cut work, since they can
withstand more stress. Also, check out your local craft shop for blank
greeting cards for cross-stitch projects, some come complete with a piece of AIDA cloth.
I have collected a lot of Aleene's glue products
since starting this hobby! I keep and assortment of Tacky, paper and fabric glues.
Always test the glue on the fabric before going too far! While I do use a hot
glue gun sometimes, they are harder to control and the results may not last as long.
I only use the white or *cloudy* glue sticks.
Fabric Glue Stick Basting Adhesive.
You WILL need a temporary adhesive. The glue sticks and temporary sprays
work very well!
There are some wonderful spray adhesives on the
market these days. Even Sulky makes a temporary one for use with their
stabilizers. My favorite is Artist's Spray
Adhesive from 3M Corporation. It can be used to help position needlework for cards
or framing without warping and it can be used to temporarily adhere transfers and designs,
rather than using an iron method. Most of the adhesive are temporary to a point,
then they become permanent bonds. I use a light spray for temporary adhesion and
more through coating for permanent fixation.
Fray-check is a *must* for me when working with
ribbon. I never let a clothing project leave without placing a drop of this on the
backside of the project on every raw edge. Use a light touch to avoid staining or
soaking the item.
I have started to use Krylon and Design Studios Clear
Acrylic Fixatives on most of projects to protect them from dust and dirt. So far,
this has been very successful for me.
If you plan to use transfers, patterns or designs for
your projects, you might want to invest in a decent light box. Although you can use
a lighted window for free, the sun is not always out when you want to transfer something
and it is harder to work in the window than seated in front of your light box. I use
a desktop model that is large enough to do full size designs and it give you an excellent
working surface. I tried to use the light box I bought for embossing cards, but it
was so small and cumbersome, I resisted using it at all.
I have a set of these for turning fabric
inside out. They come in handy for everything from stuffing to squaring
edges. I highly recommend a visit to the notions section of your sewing
store for a set of these.
Don't laugh. I use this to steam set dyes on
ribbon. To my eye, steam set dyes seem more vivid than other heat set
dyes. I have recently started to experiment with steam setting Hanah/Artemis ribbon
to see how it works for commercial ribbon. I have the large steamer and put the salt
and water in the bottom and the ribbon in the steamer basket and let it run through two
cycles. The ribbon does NOT get splashed by the water, because the bottom of the
basket is solid in the center over the water reservoir. Just be careful when you
life the lid, so the condensation on the lid does not drip all over your ribbon. The
other great thing about this unit is that it can be plugged in anywhere, including my
office or craft room without fear of burning any surfaces.
Storage for some sort!
I have a variety of small chests of three
drawers, each clear and about the size of a ream of paper for storing threads,
an assortment of LARGE 3 drawer chests also clear to store yarn and fabric,
several ZAG organizer boxes with clear fronts that fit YLI bobbins perfectly,
a soft side cloth ring binder with photo protector sheets for storing Bucilla
cards, and on and on. Click here for a peek at
some of the insanity!
Okay, I finally had to admit that I was too lazy to
design a database for my threads, ribbons, books, magazines, fabrics and other
supplies. Then I saw "Organized Expressions....a Notebook and Diary for
Needleworkers." It is software that has many threads and some ribbon preloaded,
so that all you have to do is add the quantity in your personal inventory. I have
added all of my DMC materials, even the old and obscure tapestry wool I have been amassing
for over a decade, and all of the Krenik products, from blending filament to cords.
YLI ribbons and Mill Hill beads were already in there too, which was convenient. I
did add entries for Mokuba and Hanah, but it was pretty easy to do so. I sent a
letter to the database designer asking her to add Eterna threads to the software upgrade,
since they made their color chart and conversion charts readily available.
Speaking of convenience, now that I have loaded my
*personal inventory*, I can print it out and take the lists with me when ever I go
shopping, so I can keep from buying duplicates.
I bought version 2.0, then went to the web site and
downloaded the upgrade to 2.1 for free. They are making the 3.0 upgrade available
free of charge to customers who purchased 2.0 after 12/1/00. I am very, very pleased
with the product.
Note: I upgraded to version 3.0 and am very
pleased with the new interface and the fact that it is a 32-bit program and it can read
long file names when I browse to my back up directory. The only draw back to
upgrading was that I had already entered all of my YLI ribbon and because the numbering
changed, I lost all of those entries.
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