Bows, Rosettes & Cockades

Bows, Rosettes & Cockades

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:


  • 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.

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


Wrap around and pull the ends to form the first ti.e
Repeat to form a second tie... exactly the same way.  
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).

Fold the ribbon to create two loops. 
Cross the left loop over the right loop. 
Wrap the left loop around and pull to create the bow shape 
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.

Lay your ribbon flat and place a fine knitting needle over it. Bring the ends up, left over right, and wrap around.
Pull the ends tight to form the first tie. 
With the right side of the ribbon, create a loop, and hold it towards the left.
Bring the left end towards you, over the loop created in step 3.
Push the middle of the left end (as a loop) through the space and up to create the second loop. 
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.

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
Turn both ends of the longer piece towards each other to create a circle. Stitch these ends together. 
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).
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)!

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’.
Take the working end under the left end AND under the ribbon at the back of the posts. Bring forward over the top. 
Take the left end (from step 1) towards the right, and bring the working end over it,
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.

1. Place the centre of the ribbon at the front of the posts. Take the ends to the back of the posts2. 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.
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.

Rosettes and cockades

Rosettes and cockade decorations can also be made from ribbons. Rosettes are not as complicated as the ribbon roses of later periods. Instead, they are simpler, circular embellishments. Cockades, on the other hand, can be very complicated, and often require steaming and stitching. They are usually quite flat, and so are especially suited as hat and shoe decorations. Both are often finished with a covered or decorative button in the centre – sometimes even with a brooch. The following is just a small selection of what can be created.

Gathered rosette

Probably the simplest of all rosettes, this type can be easily and quickly made.

1. Use a running stitch along one edge of your ribbon 2. Pull tight to gather the ribbon into a circular shape and stitch the ends together.

This rosette can be used as it is – a rather unstructured rosette. However, you can use steam to fix the rosette shape in a more structured way. If done correctly, steaming will fix the shape almost permanently, so long as you take care not to wet or crush the shape.

1. Pin the very edges of your rosette to a flat pincushion, shaping and arranging the gathers as you proceed. Take care to insert the pins at the edges, or in the depressions, so that you do not mark the ribbon too much. When you are happy with the shape of your rosette, steam it by holding your steam iron above the rosette and giving it a few ‘blasts’ of steam. Do not let the iron touch the ribbon.2. Leave the rosette to cool and dry completely before removing the pins. The rosette shown above was created using a polyester ribbon. The steaming does fix the shape somewhat, but it does not create the very structured look that can be achieved using silk ribbon.  

The image below left shows a silk ribbon before arranging and steaming, while the next (below right) shows the same silk ribbon rosette after steaming.


Looped rosette

The looped rosette is a little harder to create, but can be very effective, especially when finished with a smaller second or third rosette.

1. Take a length of ribbon and create a loop in one end. This loop should be the size that you wish all loops to be. Pin the loop in place.2. Fold the next section of ribbon up to create another loop the same size. 3. Turn the loop to the right of the first loop, holding the centre as you do so.
4. Pin the second loop into place5. Continue in this way until you have created a circle of loops, all pinned into place. (the back of the rosette)6. Stitch the loops into place before removing the pins and trimming the end. When you have had some practice with the method, you will be able to tuck the last loop under the edge of the first loop to create a uniform rosette. Initially, however, just practice getting the loops the correct size.

Pleated rosettes

In order to create pleated rosettes, you must first know how to create accordian pleats. The same method is used as for fabrics, but the job can be much more fiddly, as the narrow ribbon soon builds up bulk that makes it difficult to achieve a sharp edge. For those of you who have never tried accordian pleating, the flowing instructions should help.

1. Cut two pieces of brown paper, one (a) the width of your finished pleat, the second (b), double the width of your finished pleat. (NB. Widths less than 13mm (½"") are usually too difficult to work by hand.)2. Using (b), measure from the edge of the ribbon, all the way along the length. Mark each measure with fine pins top and bottom. 3. Fold the end of the ribbon over the paper (b) to the next set of pins. Using a damp cloth and a dry iron, press and steam the fold in place. (remember not to over-wet your cloth, especially with silk, and to leave the ribbon to cool before moving on).
4. When cool, gently unfold, remove the paper and the first set of pins. Fold the ribbon again – this time your fold will match to the next set of pins. Press as in step 3, taking care not to iron the crease made previously.5. Continue in this way along the length of the ribbon. Your accordian pleats are now halfway completed. 6. Turn the ribbon over. Fold the end over paper (a), meeting with the first crease.
Press as before, taking care not to press any of the previously created creases.7. If you are using a small length of ribbon, you can continue in this way, refolding the previously created creases to create a folded fan shape . However, some ribbons (especially stiffer ribbons or very fine ribbons) quickly build up and become difficult to press. If this happens, gently unfold and press each crease individually along the length.

Your pleated length of ribbon can now be manipulated according to the following methods-

Basic pleated rosette

With stiff ribbon, this creates quite a solid rosette (as shown) .

1. Stitch the centre of your pleated ribbon through all layers to secure.2. Pull out the sides, and pin the ends together 3. Stitch at the back to hold the ends of the ribbons together

Structured pleated rosette

The structured rosette can take many forms. It works best with ribbons which will hold well with steam, such as silk. In this example, I have used a penny to form the rosette around; you may choose not to use anything.

1. Arrange one edge of your pleated ribbon into a circle shape. As you arrange, gently fold the creases into place at an angle of your choice, and hold in place with pins. You can choose to steam at this point (holding a steam iron over the rosette and giving it a few blasts of steam – do not touch the ribbon with the iron if you wish to keep this effect).2. If you prefer, you can now arrange the outer edge of the ribbon, again folding into place and pinning, for an even more structured look. Steam as before. 3. When cool, remove pins and stitch the two ends together. If you have chosen to create the structured look of step 2, you may wish to press the rosette using a dry iron and damp pressing cloth to further flatten the rosette. 4. Finish with a button, and, if required, additional ribbon ‘tails’.

Some other ideas for you to try

Remember, many of the fancy ribbon embellishments that you see depicted, especially during the Victorian period, are often created using separate elements that are then layered to create a new decoration. Don’t look at the decoration as one item. Instead, try to break it up to see how it can be made. Don’t be afraid to sew bows, rosettes and extra lengths of ribbon together. Many hats are decorated with ribbons which are carefully pinned and sewn into place. You can also make many of the bows with strips of satin - pink the edges first to create interesting shapes.

Layered bows

Try layering different types of bows for a new look. 


A simple cockade can be made by using a structured pleated rosette and finishing with a button at the centre.

Looped Rosettes

Try layering looped rosettes, and finishing with a passementerie button at the centre. Try working a looped rosette without completing a full circle, then adding a button Add tails or bows to looped rosettes for more complex cockades. Using hand woven silk ribbon, the picture shows a rosette created using a looped rosette, and setting a smaller, gathered rosette at the centre.

Combination decorations

Combining all of the different styles to layer and create new shapes was very common during the Victorian period - try looking at images of bows, ribbons and rosettes by breaking them down into smaller elements.

With practice, you’ll be fully beribboned in no time!