A Sense of History and Hollywood: Reflections of a Ribbon Dyer for EMMA Film

Ribbons have always been used to signify beauty, fashion and celebration, they are among the oldest decorative materials in the world.  Some evidence suggests that ribbons would have been used for dancing, waved in joy during the Middle Bronze Age.  And yet ribbons are as relevant and cherished for celebrations today as they have been through history, connecting cultures across the world.

 The novel Emma would have originally been set in the Georgian era and so a modern remake of this classic meant a need for authentic artisan ribbons that would suit the style of the film, providing a colour palette that had continuity and could be repeatedly returned to throughout different scenes.

Silk ribbons in shades of dark lilac, bright yellow and amber orange displayed on wooden spools


It was so incredible to be asked to create the ribbons for Emma.  Working to very tight timescales I found myself dying hundreds of metres or ribbons in a very short space of time, even running out of time to create Emma’s actual wedding ribbon – at one point I considered rushing to Chavenage House in Tetbury to hand deliver it myself to the set.

Shades of orange and peach silk ribbons on wooden spools


But aside from the timescales, it was a complete honour to create something for such a timeless much-told tale.  For those who don’t know, Emma is a story by Jane Austen about a socialite (Emma Woodhouse) who entertains herself by playing matchmaker.  The theme of marriage and matchmaking runs throughout, leading to many romantic misadventures.


As someone with a family history in textiles and fabrics, my Grandfather and Great Grandfather owned D. M Lancaster, a three-floor fabric emporium in central Manchester in the twenties and thirties, sourcing incredible fabrics from all over the world.  My Great Grandfather was a cotton weaver and to be creating ribbons for a historic production such as this 100 years later is amazing for me, after all, textiles are in my blood.


My family history working with fabrics is the perfect placement for me to have created these ribbons, each hand-dyed, just as they would have been 100 years ago.  I was able to create new colours using traditional dye plants Weld and Madder with everything created and coloured personally by hand from my studio in Cornwall

Burgundy silk ribbons on wooden spool

Working closely with florist Tamsin Scott, the handheld posy for Miss Woodhouse at the start of the film was beautifully tied with my lilac silk ribbons.  The banquet scene which was something else entirely contained hundreds of metres of burgundy silk, it looked sensational and featured ribbons cascading from the wall garlands – it took three florists setting up the room from 5am to get it perfect with the fireplace prop assistants testing them so that they also had billowing clouds of smoke to contend with (movie sets are not all about glamour, darling).  If you have seen the film, you may also have seen that there was also burgundy silk around the neck of the unfortunate goose given as a gift to Mr Martin by Emma.


Months of research went into devising the flowers for Emma, with Tamsin and her team working out what would be growing in each season (as Emma was filmed with every season in just the one in reality).  The colour continuity throughout the film was amazing – a striking scheme of lilac, yellow and amber/burnt orange, even detailed in the earrings that worn. 

But I think what I love most of all – more than the colour and the novelty of being a part of such an iconic British novel and brilliant screenplay, is that I love the history that runs through everything, quite literally.  Creating these ribbons I felt connected to my ancestors and our sense of story, and to the makers across all of the centuries who would have been dying ribbons all of those years ago, that sense of creativity and story that is woven into all that we do as makers in the wedding and fashion industries.  Working with ribbons connects me to my roots and that is what I have always loved.