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How to make bows, ribbons & cockades at Gina-B Silkworks

Ribbon embellishments are a recurring feature across the history of clothing, from the heavily trimmed petticoat breeches of the seventeenth century to the tri-coloured cockades of Revolutionary France. The Victorians were obsessed when it came to ribbons, covering some 19th century gowns with a profusion of bows and rosettes.

This tutorial will show you how to make a variety of ribbon embellishments, from basic bows through to more complicated rosettes.

Note: This article was first published in Your Wardrobe Unlock'd: the Costume Maker's Companion, March 2009.

Flat, narrow woven bands and ribbons have long been used in the decoration of clothing and accessories. Originally woven by hand on small looms, plain ribbons tended only to be used as edge or seam bindings, while fancier, more time-consuming ribbons were used as decoration. These elements tended to be sewn flat to a garment as opposed to being tied in any decorative manner. Much of this had to do with the process of the decorative weaving: many used expensive metallic threads that caused the resulting ribbon to be stiff, heavy, and not at all suitable for shaping into bows.

By the 16th century ribbons, especially plain ribbons, were being used more decoratively. Initially they began to take the place of laces, first as bows that can be seen as opposed to simple ties beneath the outer garments, and finally culminating in the 19th century’s almost overuse of ribbons and bows.

A loom that could produce more than one ribbon at a time was invented in Germany sometime in the middle of the 16th century. Although not in common use, by the late 16th century some looms could weave four to six simple ribbons at one time, greatly increasing output. By the early 17th century, the Dutch had looms that could weave 24 ribbons simultaneously. The increased output reduced the price of ribbons considerably, and we can see this reflected in fashion of the period. Ribbons became decorative items as they became more affordable.

By the beginning of the 18th century the famous Coventry weaving industry in England had been established, which in itself was believed to have employed 40% of the population at its height. Similar industries in London and Staffordshire also produced ribbons in vast quantities. Not all ribbons were produced on multiple looms; fancier ribbons were still produced individually. But this increase in production succeeded in reducing prices even further, until plain ribbons (at least) were affordable across the spectrum of society.

Making Your Own Ribbon Embellishments

A huge variety of ribbons can be purchased today, of course, and in an even wider range of materials than ever before. Silk ribbons provide the most authentic look, but can be difficult (and expensive) to find in the sizes and colours required. The Victorians did use cottons for some ribbons, but generally speaking ribbons made from other materials continued to be used for binding or re-enforcing, not for decorative purposes. I have used plain, everyday ribbon as available in any haberdashers for the following examples, except where stated. Much of this ribbon is polyester or a polyester mix. This will enable you see what can be created, and hopefully encourage you to practice with affordable ribbons – you can then feel better about splashing out for that special project! Remember that very stiff ribbons do not work as well – avoid nylon ribbon if you can, though this is harder to find these days. Ribbons with a natural fibre content work better for the projects that require steaming, although some mixed fibres can still be steamed into place with good results.

Other equipment you’ll need:

Scissors

  • Good quality pins (glass headed are especially good, so that you can see the pin)
  • A firm pincushion, or piece of foam, art board, cork board, etc. (something which can withstand high steam temperatures – your ironing board will do if you don’t mind poking pin holes into it! If using any type of board, cover it with fabric before laying the ribbon on it to avoid any marking)
  • Fine needle and thread (a fine needle will cause less damage to ribbons)
  • Knitting needle or pencil
  • Two posts – ie, the Trimmings Table, warping posts, pencils or knitting needles propped upright, or clamps.
  • A steam iron, water, ironing cloth
  • Brown paper, or greaseproof paper [US: baking parchment]

Knot bow

The knot bow is best suited for little bows, and is first tied around an object to give it structure. It cannot be taken apart easily.

How to tie a knot bow How to tie a knot bow How to tie a knot bow
1.
Lay your ribbon flat and place a fine knitting needle (or similar) over it.
2.
Bring the ends of the ribbon up, right over left. 
3.
Wrap around and pull the ends to form the first tie.

 

 How to tie a knot bow  How to tie a knot bow  How to tie a knot bow
3.
Wrap around and pull the ends to form the first ti.e
4.
Repeat to form a second tie... ...in exactly the same way.  
5.
Trim the ends to create a bow shape.

Should you not want the little loop created after Step 1, you can choose to not use the knitting needle. Basically, you will then create a knot with long decorative ends.

Classic loop bow

The loop bow is one of the most common bows, and can be easily pulled apart. As such, it can be either sewn on to ensure it doesn’t loosen, or can be used when the ribbon needs to be untied. (Many of you will use this or a very similar method to tie shoes for instance).

 How to tie a classic loop bow  How to tie a classic loop bow  How to tie a classic loop bow How to tie a classic loop bow 
1.
Fold the ribbon to create two loops. 
 2.
Cross the left loop over the right loop. 
3.
Wrap the left loop around and pull to create the bow shape 
 4.
Neaten the bow by gently pulling the ends and the loops until the bow is the desired shape and tightness. Trim ends as required. 

 

Loop bow around an object

A variation of the loop bow, this time tied first around an object. This gives an extra tie so is good when connecting items such as sleeves (the garment being the ‘object’) or for sashes (the body being the ‘object’), so that the bow can still be removed but has a bit more stability, should it shift in use.

 How to tie a loop bow around an object  How to tie a loop bow around an object How to tie a loop bow around an object 
1.
Lay your ribbon flat and place a fine knitting needle over it. Bring the ends up, left over right, and wrap around.
2.
Pull the ends tight to form the first tie. 
3.
With the right side of the ribbon, create a loop, and hold it towards the left.
 How to tie a loop bow around an object  How to tie a loop bow around an object  How to tie a loop bow around an object
4.
Bring the left end towards you, over the loop created in step 3.
5.
Push the middle of the left end (as a loop) through the space and up to create the second loop. 
6.
Pull the loops to form the bow, adjust and trim ends as required.

Tailored Bow

This method is particularly useful for decorative bows that are to be sewn into place. It is a permanent bow, sewn into place rather than tied. It can be made with various layers and colours as required.

 How to make a tailored bow  How to make a tailored bow  How to make a tailored bow  How to make a tailored bow
1.
Cut two lengths of ribbon. The longer piece will be your bow, so the length needs to be double the width of your final bow. The shorter end will make the ‘knot’ and can be trimmed accordingly
2.
Turn both ends of the longer piece towards each other to create a circle. Stitch these ends together. 
3.
Wrap the shorter end around the centre of the loop created in step 2, and stitch at the back. (Stitch it to the longer piece if you wish, but do not go through to the front).
4.
The basic tailored bow. You can create a layered tailored bow by using cut strips of ribbon (as opposed to loops) as further layers if you wish.

Structured bow formed around posts

This bow is particularly well suited to large ribbons, including single sided ribbon, as the bow can be manipulated whilst still in place. It is not easily taken apart, so also works well for trimmings. In order to make this bow, you will need two posts of some type. I have used warping posts, spaced to the distance I wish my finished bow to be. You could of course use the Total Trimmings Table (these images were taken before it was released)!

How to tie a structured bow using posts  How to tie a structured bow using posts  How to tie a structured bow using posts 
1.
Place the centre of your ribbon at the back of the posts, and bring the ends forward, crossing the right side over the left side. This right side ribbon will now be called the ‘working end’.
2.
Take the working end under the left end AND under the ribbon at the back of the posts. Bring forward over the top. 
3.
Take the left end (from step 1) towards the right, and bring the working end over it,
 How to tie a structured bow using posts How to tie a structured bow using posts  How to tie a structured bow using posts 
then under it to form a tie. 4.
Pull both ends tight, and remove the bow from the posts. Trim the ends as required.  
While the bow is still on the posts, you could pull the ends at right angles to the posts to create a cross shaped bow.

Structured bow with double loops

This bow, worked in the same way as the one above, creates a rosette type bow. With some types of ribbon you can increase the loops even further to create quite showy bows.

 How to tie a structured bow with double loops  How to tie a structured bow with double loops How to tie a structured bow with double loops 
1. Place the centre of the ribbon at the front of the posts. Take the ends to the back of the posts 2. Cross over, and bring the ends to the front of the posts, crossing the right side over the left side. This right side ribbon will now be called the ‘working end’.   3. Take the working end under the left end AND under the ribbons at the back of the posts. Bring forward over the top.
How to tie a structured bow with double loops   How to tie a structured bow with double loops How to tie a structured bow with double loops 
4. Take the left end (from step 2) towards the right, and bring the working end over it, then under it to form a tie. 5. Pull both ends tight, and remove bow from the posts.  6. Gently pull the loops apart, and shape as desired. Steam may be used (see section below) to fix the loop placement if required. Trim the ends as required.

Click the link below to find out how to make rosettes and cockades


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About Us

Gina-B Silkworks designs and produces a variety of craft kits, books, DVDs and other items with an emphasis on handwork & passementerie (textile trimmings). We also stock a range of tools & materials for these crafts. Gina also makes bespoke items to commission.
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