How to add life to Ribbon Loops and Bows or, my hat looks like it has a dead fish on top the bow just lies there, how can I fix that?


One of the most often used decorative elements on Late Victorian and Edwardian hats where bows and ribbon loops. To a non-milliner trying to recreate some of these fantastic hats may seem a daunting task. Here are some tricks that simplify things.


Fabric Bows and Loops


First off if you want to give some life to bows made from fabric tubes. You can add such things as horsehair braid or stiff netting or wires inside the tube. I have examples of all three each will give you a slightly different look in the final bow.

To make a bow with this method you will need to double the finished width of the bow and add seam allowances do the same for the depth of the bow. Fold the fabric in half with the right sides together. Sew the tube closed then turn it right side out. Press the tube. I like to have the seam down the center back of the tube and not on one side. Slip a piece of light weight cardboard inside the tube before pressing this will save you from creating a ridge on the front of your bow caused be the thickness of the seam allowances. Add a piece of horsehair or stiff netting down inside the tube. Tack the open ends and trim the extra net away. Overlap the ends of the tube at least ½” or a cm then sew them together. A line the overlap with the vertical center of the bow and use the same needle and thread to sew a gathering stitch across the center of the bow. Cover this with another piece of fabric that has had its raw edges pressed under. Sew this closed in back.


The bow on this hat is filled with 6” wide horsehair as you can see it has lots of body and retains a wide loop where it folds back.


Horsehair isn’t what you might think of as braid and isn’t made from horsehair anymore. It is a very flat braid of loosely woven Nylon threads and has a resistance to crushing. It can be ordered from Millinery supply stores but wide stiff horsehair like what I used on this hat can be expensive. It works very well for this application because it takes the shape of the tube you put it into. When you pull on the ends it gets longer and thinner or push on the ends and it gets shorter and wider.


The Edwardian hat from all sides, this plum pinstriped wool hat has a complex bow with three loops and a feather pad. The back loop of the bow is a separate tube the fabric cut at 90° from the top loops.


If you can’t get horsehair here is the next best thing and it is very inexpensive it’s stiff synthetic netting by the yard. You can use it in the same manner as the horsehair just make sure that you cut your pieces the needed width from the get go. This will not stretch or compress, as the horsehair braid will.

The front view of this hat shows the two silk taffeta bows on a black lace covered wire frame Edwardian hat. The checked gathered ribbon loops where made by sewing a 22-gauge millinery wire down the center of the flat wired ribbon with a Zig-Zag stitch and then sheering the ribbon down the wire. The sheered ribbon on wire was then shaped into loops.


In these pictures of the front and side of the wire frame hat it is a little easier to see that there are two bows a black and a cream. There is also a bandeau under the brim made up of loops of the check wired ribbon. The bandeau helps the hat sit at an angle on the head.


You can fill your fabric tubes with stiffeners but if you want to be able to control the angle of your bow then, you need to add wire to the edge of the horsehair or net that you add inside of your fabric tube. This can be done using the stitch I have added to the article farther down where I discuss how to add wire to the edge of ribbon. To add wire to horsehair or net that will go inside a tube your stitches can be fairly far apart about ½” or so.

File written by Adobe Photoshop® 4.0File written by Adobe Photoshop® 4.0

The wires added to the tubes that make up this double bow are 23-gauge millinery wire. They give enough support so that the loops can be angle up to give what is a very wide hat some height.



Ribbon Bows and Loops


One of the simplest things to do to get your bows to stand up is to use wired ribbon. The wired edges on the ribbon help a bow keeps its shape. It is widely available and comes in a wide variety of colors and widths however, often not quite wide enough for large bows. I have started sewing two lengths together side by side to give a wider ribbon. In the two hats pictured below I used striped ribbon and overlapped it slightly to match the stripes then sewn it together by hand with a running stitch. The only draw back to this is that they can get out of shape with the slightest pressure because the wire is so fine, one can spend quite a bit of time fussing with the shape of the bows.


A wool covered boater with red/white stripped stand-up bow.

A black silk covered bustle era hat with black/white stripped prone bow. The black loops at the top back of the hat owe their shape to stiff netting. They where made with the same silk fabric tube as the twisted fabric that loops around the top of the hat. The twisted fabric has no interfacing at all.


A solution that would work so much better although it does take more time is to sew matching wire onto the edges of your ribbons. I have seen this done on period hats, fine cotton covered wire that is colored to match then sewn to the very edge of a ribbon with the same stitch that milliners use to sew the shafts of ostrich plumes together. Here is how it is done.


Color your wire with a permanent marker then sew it to the edge with a matching color thread. The stitch used is something like a buttonhole stitch except each stitch has a knot at the edge. Each stitch needs only be about a 1/4” to .6 cm or so apart.


Above is a picture of the wire sewn onto the ribbon. If the wire is colored to match the ribbon and the thread used is also a good match for the ribbon then the wire is difficult to see. I chose a picot ribbon not because it is necessary to use this type of ribbon but because it did make it easier for me to keep my stitches evenly spaced. I never counted on the loops getting caught in my thread which in the end made it more difficult that a ribbon without the loops.

Below is the finished copper colored straw boater from all sides.

Pictured is a small machine stitched straw boater with a green picot ribbon band and stand-up loops. Only the stand-up loops have the added wire. The pin on decoration is a twisted rye straw decoration I made in a class taught by Veronica Main.



Another simple way to get bows and loops to stand up is to starch the ribbon. A heavy spray starch and an iron is all that is needed. You will want to test your ribbon to make sure the spray starch does not discolor or take the sheen from the ribbon. To make a decoration of standing loops first match the color of your ribbon in a marker so that you can color the white cotton covered wire.

To find the right color I test the markers on paper. You can use two colors one over the other if a single one is not perfect.

This picture shows the colored wire and the silk ribbon before it was starched. It was very soft and limp.


Next spray and iron the full length of ribbon you will need to make the decoration. Fold the ribbon back and forth so that you have three pieces of three different lengths.

Crisp ribbon ready to cut


Cut the ribbon fold the lengths in half and finger pleat near the base and wrap lengths of wire around the pleats. You will need to wrap it tightly a couple times and twist it as well.


Ribbon loops


When you have all nine wired start bundling them together almost like a flower arrangement with the longer in back and the shorter in front.

Joined bundle


Use one more piece of the ribbon to cover the base and the wires at the base. Lay this piece across the base and tack stitch it at the edges.

Note the two stitches one on each side of the short row of loops.


Turn the bundle over and pull the ribbon up to cover the very bottom, tack stitch this.

Note the stitch in the center of the bundle with a thread hanging away.


Fold the ends of the cross ribbon up at an angle as in the picture and take another tack stitch.

Bundle before the extra ribbon has been cut away

Trim off the extra ribbon. Using the same needle and thread tack the bundle to the hat. You might want to stitch some of the loops to the side of the hat to better anchor the bundle and to control the position of each of the loops. Just be careful to not let you stitches show.

Bundle sewn onto the hat with the same thread






Another great use of stiff netting is to help support lace elements, such as this piece below.

Cut a piece or two of stiff netting the same color as and just a little larger that your piece of lace. By hand, sew the net to the lace with a running stitch quite close to the edge.

Lace over two layers of netting


Carefully trim away the netting beyond the lace.

Netting cut away


Use a permanent marker to color a length of cotton covered wire to match.

Coloring the wire

Fold the wire in half and push it thru the center of the lace.

Inserting the wire


With a matching thread pleat half of the lace to form a wedge. Use you thread to anchor the lace to the folded wire.

Lace pleated and tacked to the wire


With an awl work a hole in the hat where you will want to add the lace piece.

Awl in hat ½ way down

 Push the wire ends thru the hole.

Wired and stiffened lace on hat


On the inside of the hat use a button to anchor the wire ends by threading each end thru a hole and twisting them as shown in the picture.


Inside of hat with button and wires from lace



Finished hat from all sides