Thursday, 17 February 2011

Stumpwork and Ribbon Embroidery - Where Does One Start?

Apart from those searching for my blog by name, most of the searches that bring visitors here seem to be connected to stumpwork and/or ribbon embroidery. Although I'm no expert in either, I thought a post on some resources for both styles might be useful to some.

First up - STUMPWORK

By far the most common websearch enquiry I see on my Analytics stats is for stumpwork wire, so if that's brought you here, let me help you at once and say that what you need is florists', cake decoraters' or beading wire, usually 28 or 30 gauge and you should be able to get it from any shop that deals in supplies for those crafts as well as generalist stores like Hobbycraft in the UK, Michael's in the States and so on. I ordered mine from Surbiton Sugarcraft, who do packs 50 paper covered wires in green and white, which will last for a good long time. Jilly Beads also here in the UK also does a fantastic collection of wires in many colours and gauges.Those closer to it, may prefer to look at Jane Nicholas' site, where she also sells wire of this sort.  The non-covered wires are usually to be 28 gauge and paper covered ones are 30.  I bought a pack of different coloured (silver, copper, pink and blue) beading wires from a discount bookseller and a small reel of green from an art shop!  Google search and you will find a retailer near you, I'm sure!

So, I hope that helps anyone needing wires for their work. If you are here for that, please leave me a link to your blog or photo album so I can admire your pieces.=) Finding blogs and bloggers who have an active interest in stumpwork (i.e. actually do it, not just admire it) is not easy.

The question I often see asked on stitching groups etc is how best to go about learning the basics etc. Whilst many experienced stumpworkers frequently share their favourite book titles, my advice is the same here as it is with any new technique that seems rather challenging to you: Get a kit and start with that. It's best, in my opinion, to get something that will talk you through the whole process plus provide you with all the materials you need for it so that you're not having to spend a fortune or drive yourself nuts trying to track down specialist items. OK, the most common things to look for seems to be wire, as above, but there are often beads and other things needed that you may not have to hand, or have in the right size or colour. These days, many of us are on a budget and it also, frankly, works out much cheaper to get a ready-made package in and work from that than to source umpteen new items yourself. This is especially important if you want to take your first tentative steps in any given technique and are not sure you'll take it on on a large scale.  Kits also make great gifts for a friend you feel is interested and, of course, to hint about for your next anniversary present....=)

Which brings me to another point about your first project(s): Make it simple. I know most of us have done it, bought a kit or set up a project that we loved the look of and would be delighted to be able to do, only to have it honestly outface us and paralyse us at the outset. I learned from experience that it's best not to set oneself a professional level project as a first attempt! So, try a small to medium sized design that you like, but that doesn't have to be the design of your life. Leave that one until you've more skill and confidence.

What about designs in books and magazines? I think they're great for most people, especially if they have a little experience. Those who buy that style of magazine are often keen and fairly accomplished embroiderers anyway with sufficiently plentiful resources so that they don't need to buy everything from scratch. However, I would still go with the kit idea to start with (there are kits available for some book and/or mag designs). See how you like it, then have a go at something a little more challenging. After that, you may even want to move on to working one or more of your own designs, but I wouldn't recommend that as a place to start to anyone but the most confident amongst us. I would say that I've reached a fair skill level in several styles, but I still feel extra 'aware' when I'm working my own design and not as confident of the outcome.

There are a few distinct styles in contemporary stumpwork and they tend to be seen in the work of the few prominent stumpworkers the world boasts. Probably the best known would be Australia's Jane Nicholas, whose style is pretty much what I like - lots of wired flowers and insects and tending more towards realistic interpretations of nature. A totally different style is worked by the UK's Kay Dennis, who does a good deal of figurative work and loves needlelace. To the best of my limited knowledge, Ms Dennis' work seems closest to the traditional stumpwork style, creating whole pictures and including plenty of people in them.

Moving away from pure stumpwork, South Africa's Di Van Niekerk has become well-known for her combination of small, simple stumpwork elements with ribbon embroidery and Australia's Alison Cole has pioneered some stunning work combining quite realistic stumpwork with goldwork techniques and has published two books on the subject already.  (There are, of course, several others who haven't published books, but who produce kits and designs such as Kelley Aldridge, Julie Anne Designs (available at Willow Fabrics and direct from her on e-bay) and so on.)

I own books by all four of the above ladies and you'll find a wealth of interesting information, resources and kits and supplies on the sites. Clicking on any of the names will take you straight there. Knowing a little of what each artist does in the stumpwork field may help you in making a decision on whose books to buy.

Another personal favourite when it comes to books is the 'A - Z of Stumpwork' by Country Bumpkin's team. Although I can only see myself actually working one or two of the designs, (and maybe some small elements of some others), this book scores in my opinion by the almost 40 pages of step-by-step photos of the stitches, wiring and beading techniques used in raised embroidery. For a good reference work, you couldn't do better than add this title to your stitching shelf. When it comes to designs that I would be likely to work in their entirety, I'd go for Jane Nicholas' books and you can get kits of all the needed supplies through her site. I don't think I'd try working her pieces as a beginner though.

What are the main advantages of stumpwork? Well, it's an incredibly impressive style and you'll create things that will stun your friends and that you can be truly proud of. There are a range of different styles within raised work, so there's no need to feel constrained by a set method and, although kits and some materials need looking for, i.e. you won't find stumpwork kits on the shelves as easily as you'll get cross stitch or needlepoint, they can be sourced on-line, at specialist embroidery shops and also at needlework shows and fairs quite easily.

Disadvantages? It can be quite a fiddly style to work and thus also rather time consuming. It's also a fairly advanced technique and, whilst I wouldn't want to actively discourage new stitchers from having a go, it does help to have a fair background in flatwork etc. One or two of the larger beads and moulds needed for certain designs can also be a bit tricky to find.


This is something I have much less knowledge of, but it's something that brings a fair number of visitors, especially from Malaysia and the Far East. I've only worked a couple of small pieces myself and also a few small elements on band samplers etc have been in ribbon work.

Again, if you're looking for somewhere to start, I'd recommend the same place as with every new technique - get a kit and try with that first. Ribbon embroidery kits aren't that easy to find and one of the few places I know in the UK that deals with ribbon work to any great degree is Crafty Ribbons who I've met at several stitching shows and bought a few things from. The books I have on my shelf are by Ann Cox, who has a lovely style combining ribbon work, simple embroidery stitches and outside elements, such as painted backgrounds etc. Her website also sells kits and supplies. I also have a book combining quilting with ribbon work to make sweet bags etc, but that's the Chinese translation of a Japanese book and so won't be much use to many readers here!!!

Pros and cons? Pros are certainly that ribbon embroidery is effective in reproducing flowers and is very quick to work. Whereas it can take quite a while to stitch a small flower in other styles, you may need as few as 5 stitches to create a ribbon work flower complete with leaves! Like stumpwork, it's relatively seldom worked, so many people will be surprised and impressed with your creations.

Cons are really the limited repertoire - mostly flowers, limited availability of supplies and the expense involved in building up a stash. Although you can get organza ribbons at many craft places and I've bought some great bargain colour packs at fairs, generally speaking, you don't often come across silk embroidery ribbons (except on-line) and they can work out very pricey indeed, especially if you want to get a good collection. Bearing in mind that ribbon can be needed in 2mm, 4mm, 7mm or 13mm and that it uses up fairly quickly in comparison to threads, one can envisage needing a lot of colours in a lot of widths in order to have a reliable collection that will supply most needs and having to restock frequently. Still, if money is no object, or you can find a good value supplier, then this disadvantage won't matter so much.

I hope that info has been some use to folk and that the links provided are helpful as well. As I said, I'm no expert, especially not in ribbon embroidery, but as searches for both styles bring so many stitchers here, I hoped it would be of some interest.=)
All the photos on this post are from pieces worked by myself.

© Elizabeth Braun 2011


coral-seas said...

Great post, Elizabeth. Very informative and well written. I think that many of your visitors will be very pleased with this :-)

Rachel said...

I don't know whether it is still possible to get it easily (no LNS), but Coats brought out a polyester ribbon for embroidery, as a sort of "starting level". It doesn't behave as well as silk, but it does (maybe that should be "did") allow a beginner to "play" without being overawed by the fibre they're working with!

Cynthia Gilbreth said...

Very good post! Remember that you don't need silk floss for stumpwork. Cotton floss at 30 cents/skein can make some really beautiful items.

Embroidery said...

Every detail is perfection and I love the colors!

Sparklyjools said...

Great stuff - this could actually be a magazine article! Go for it hun.

Rosemary Poole said...

You are doing beautiful work.Eye candy for sure.Thanks for sharing with us and I think you are on a journey to Di Van Niekirk and Jane Nicolas Land.

Jill Krynicki said...

Have you ever used River Silks silk ribbon? I know it can be found in the UK from Lorna Bateman, embroidery teacher/designer.

I'm linking to your blog on ours because of your great ribbon tutorials. Thanks!

magicmoonmusings said...

Great info, thank you so much! So much beautiful eye candy on your website, too!

You probably have seen Susan Elliott's blog Plays With Needles, but just in case you haven't:

Her 'Tiffany' block in particular has some spectacular, delicate stumpwork:

Bagladyinstitches said...

You have a very inspiring blog. I am going to dip my toe into stumpwork after spending some years on cross stitch and other counted stitches, so this is quite exciting for me. I used to decorate cakes with sugar flowers and some of the techniques, such as wiring etc, are familiar to me.

I live in France and it is virtually impossible to get the same supplies of floristry/sugarcraft wires that I am used to. Can you recommend any UK suppliers that deliver to European countries?

Thanks for the clear tutorials too. I have bought a stumpwork kit but the instructions are not illustrated like yours!!!

Elizabeth Braun said...

Hi Baglady! The info you wanted was in the first section of the post you left his comment on!=)

Maureen said...

A long time since you wrote this article but thank you, I have just ordered a small stump work kit to start learning.