How to machine embroider ribbon

By on July 12th, 2020
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Ribbon is a versatile material. It can be used for ties, straps, trim, and probably countless other things I’m unaware of. It’s also fairly inexpensive and it comes in a wide variety of textures, shades and patterns. If you own an embroidery machine, it’s probably only a matter of time before you want to machine embroider ribbon.  But, wait – how do you do it? Is there some special technique required?  And why would you want to embroider on ribbon in the first place?

Let’s get to the bottom of this. 

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Why would you want to machine embroider ribbon?

Monogrammed hair bows are probably the most obvious end use for machine embroidery on ribbon. My girls are way past the age of wearing big hair bows, but based on what I see in my Facebook groups, there’s still a huge market for them. And, from what I’ve seen, the big bows are not just for the little ones. Collegiate and high school cheerleaders are all about the big bows in their school colors. 

machine embroidered hairbow
Photo provided by Sharah McCoy of Rose Bowtique Embroidery and used with her permission.

If you are thinking that machine embroidered ribbon belongs solely in the realm of oversized hair bows that coordinate with pint sized little girl dresses, I’m about to prove you wrong. There are many other clever and practical uses of machine embroidered ribbon. 

Personalized key fobs made from ribbon, webbing and key chain hardware are a craft show favorite, yet are really quick and easy to make. You can actually buy all of the materials and hardware to make them for next to nothing (1″ cotton webbing, 5/8″ grosgrain ribbon and key fob hardware).  They can be customized with different colored ribbon and webbing to represent the recipient’s college or sorority. Then you can stitch out a name on the ribbon which is wrapped around the webbing. You finish the key fob with a hardware clip and and a keychain attachment.

key fobs with names embroidered on ribbon
Photo provided by Lisa Gentile Eckhardt and used with her permission.

A simple, yet effective use for machine embroidered ribbon is to help identify suitcases.  These ties will certainly make your suitcase look distinct and the monogram will confirm it’s yours. There’s nothing complicated about this project. Simply stitch out a name or monogram on a piece of ribbon and tie it on to a suitcase. 

machine embroider on ribbon to help identify suitcases

Another fun use of machine embroidery on ribbon is to add a message to a package. There’s no need for a card when your stitch out your birthday wished on a ribbon! 

happy birthday machine embroidered on ribbon

Why is machine embroidery on ribbon difficult?

Ribbon can be slippery! And slipper fabrics can pucker like crazy. So, its essential that you get the ribbon to stay put prior to embroidering. 

Also, ribbon is typically long and thin, if the name or graphic you stitch on the ribbon is off-centered, then it’s really obvious.  Therefore, it’s important to position the design or lettering carefully on the ribbon prior to stitching it out. 

What kind of ribbon would you machine embroider?

There are basically two different types of ribbon you see most often: satin and grosgrain. Grosgrain ribbon is the kind of ribbon with horizontal ridges on it. is easies and wider is easier.

Grosgrain ribbon is slightly less slippery than its satin counterpart. But, honestly, if the ribbon is secured properly, puckering has not been a problem for me.

Where you may run into trouble is working with very sheer ribbon. Any type of sheer fabric can be challenging to embroidery on and sheer ribbon is no exception.

How to machine embroider ribbon?

The first thing you need to do before embroidering on ribbon is to decide how you will secure the ribbon in or on the embroidery hoop. Most people suggest floating the ribbon on stabilizer since ribbon is long and thin and can’t be securely hooped. 

My preference is to work with adhesive-backed tear away stabilizer.  I hoop a piece of it tautly in my embroidery hoop, score around the inside edge with a pin and then peel back the paper to expose the sticky surface. 

hooped adhesive backed stabilizer

Next, I lay the ribbon on the sticky back stabilizer parallel to the edge of the hoop. In the example, below, you can see that I have several pieces of ribbon stuck to the hooped stabilizer. 

If you don’t have adhesive backed stabilizer, you can also secure your ribbon to tear away stabilizer with spray adhesive. And if you are really worried about movement, or your ribbon is very thin, you can fuse a piece of Heat N Bond Lite on to the back of the ribbon and then fuse it to a piece of hooped tear away stabilizer.  If you do this – your ribbon isn’t going anywhere. 

You can also hold down your ribbon to the stabilizer by stitching out a basing box. This can also help you with placement of your embroidery design.  

floating ribbon on hooped stabilizer for machine embroidery

On each of the ribbons, I mark the center of the design or the word I’m stitching out using a disappearing ink pen

After I have the design loaded onto the machine, I press the button on the machine that positions the needle at the center of the design. Then I simply move the design around so that the needle lines up with the spot I marked on the ribbon. 

lining up design on ribbon - machine embroidery

The final step is to just start stitching.  Of course, you must be careful that the design or lettering you are stitching is appropriately sized so that it doesn’t run off your ribbon.

how to machine embroider ribbon

And that is pretty much all there is to it. Machine embroidery on ribbon is no big deal.

Good luck and happy stitching!

xo

Julie

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