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On Sharkey's Shelf: "The French Ribbon," an Exploration of the Ultimate Adornment

Unwrapping the colorful history of ribbon, from fashion to festive gift trimmings.

I’m utterly obsessed with wrapping presents. In my humble opinion, how the gift is wrapped is infinitely more important than what is inside. People seem to forget about the trimmings, the paper and the ribbons, because the gift itself can often detract from those elements -- but not me. 

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Photography by: Pointed Leaf Press

When it comes to ribbons, the bigger and more beautiful, the better. I am a big fan of ribbons, and reading a book completely dedicated to the topic is extraordinarily intriguing. 

 

 

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Photography by: Pointed Leaf Press

The French Ribbon explores Saint-Etienne, France, as the root of the modern ribbon-making industry. So much artistry goes into the fabrication of each individual measure, even today. Before the advent of modern machinery, there were passementiers who wove each ribbon by loom before passing them along to manufacturers, who were responsible for their sale.

 

 

 

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Photography by: Pointed Leaf Press

The book examines the ribbon’s impact on fashion, interior design, coiffure, and even candy over the course of nearly five centuries. It’s extraordinary how one adornment, one length of velvet or silk, has influenced culture so deeply. 

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Photography by: Pointed Leaf Press

Moreover, these antique ribbon designs could easily translate to a cloth pattern for a plush sofa, or a luxurious table runner. The inspiration the book offers is endless. These are archival swatches straight from the heart of France, complete with specifications, measurements, and footnotes, and vintage illustrated advertisements -- very rare indeed.

 

 

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Photography by: Francis Amiand

Ribbons aren’t just a frivolity, they’re a snapshot of society during a particular era. It’s lovely that someone has dedicated a whole book to something that many people ordinarily forget about. 

 

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Photography by: Francis Amiand

It used to be that when you started as a stylist here at Martha Stewart, you had a small bin of ribbons to serve as part of your tool kit. As you gained experience and years within the company, you amassed more and more ribbons. A real symbol of the history of your career is how many ribbons you have -- and I have a lot of ribbons. After 20 years, I’m very satisfied with my collection. 

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Photography by: © French Ribbon

Apart from my personal proclivity for them, ribbons remind me of one of the reasons I loved being a stylist at Martha Stewart. We really just have the best ribbons here.

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Photography by: Francis Amiand

It’s always been my dream to do a story on the ribbon collections of each stylist in the company’s crafts department. I can only imagine the wonderful stories attached to each stylist’s ribbon reserve.

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Photography by: © French Ribbon

I plan to keep my copy of "The French Ribbon" close at hand when wrapping gifts for friends and family this holiday season. Who couldn’t use a bit of Yuletide inspiration for decorating that picture-perfect present? 

 

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Photography by: © French Ribbon
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