How to Sew Ribbon – By Machine or Hand

Learn how to sew ribbon on fabric! Sewing ribbon is one of the original forms of decorating fabric. Dating back to the earliest times, it decorated and enhanced not only garments but braiding and curling hair. Ribbons were used for adorning lingerie, and decorating soft furnishings and hats. In Victorian times ribbons were used extensively. With gold and silver and made of silk, quality ribbons were for the nobility, while pedallers would sell cheaper ribbons at country fairs.

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How to Sew Ribbon

How to Sew Ribbon onto Fabric

Today ribbon can be made in a variety of fabrics, widths, and embellishments. There is velvet ribbon, silk, cotton, organza, and even synthetic ribbon or paper ribbon for gift wrapping. The ribbon industry just grew and grew into a vast array of fabric types.

Knowing all these variations and basic methods of stitching them to fabric is essential for understanding the best way to add ribbon trim to a garment.

Here are some tips to consider before you begin learning how to sew ribbon:

  • CHECK QUALITY – Ribbons add a touch of color and class to an item. Check the quality of the ribbon and if it has a front and back side to the design before you start.
  • PRE-WASH – Ribbons may shrink depending on the fabric or the weave so be sure you know if your ribbon should be checked for shrinking. Also check to see if it is colorfast. If in doubt, wash your ribbons before sewing them.
  • SEAL THE ENDS – Polyester ribbon does not shrink. However, polyester and other ribbons need a zig zag or singe with a flame at the ends to prevent unraveling of the ribbon.
  • STORAGE – Press iron or steam iron before you sew and even wind the ribbon round a piece of card to keep the ribbon flat during storage.
  • BASTING – Little strips of fusible web or fabric glue help to hold ribbons in place before you sew them.
  • MEASURING – A see-through quilting ruler is helpful when trying to accurately position the ribbon.
  • PLANNING – Stitch long lines of ribbon onto the fabric before cutting out the pattern pieces. This makes it easier to sew in place.

How to Sew Ribbon with a Machine

Step 1 – Preparation

THREADS – Choose thread to suit the type of ribbon you plan to sew. Polyester ribbon needs a polyester thread, while machine embroidery thread may serve a more decorative purpose. Choose the color to match or contrast depending on your decorative ideas.

NEEDLES – Choose the right needle size for the type of ribbon. Try out the needle size to check it will not snag or bunch up the ribbon.

CHECK TENSION – Take some time to test drive your sewing machine tensionstitch length, and choice of cotton, to get the right sewing technique to suit the ribbon and the fabric you plan to sew on.

EDGES – Decide where the raw edges will be concealed. The best place is in the side seam before the seam is stitched up.

FOOT – You can sew ribbon with your all-purpose foot or use an edge stitch foot with a guide that runs along the edge of the ribbon.

Step 2 – Sewing Ribbon

Sew along both sides of the ribbon.

  • Start at the same side for the beginning part of sewing each side of the ribbon. Sew from left to right on both edges.
  • Decide on the type of stitching before you start and practice on a scrap with your ribbon and fabric together.
  • Ribbons do not need to be neatened on the side, so you can sew them directly onto the fabric.
How to Sew Ribbon with a MachinePin
How to Sew Ribbon with a Machine

How to Sew Ribbon by Hand

Ribbons made of velvet and jacquard designs are best sewn by hand. Prepare the ribbon area in the same way you would for machine stitching. Use a fine needle and sew hand stitches close to the edge of the ribbon. Take tiny slip stitches into the ribbon and slip them through the fabric. Each slip stitch can be marked with a bead for added decoration.

Creative Ideas with Ribbon

Ribbon is so versatile it can be used to create and decorate all kinds of projects. Hand-stitched or machine-stitched ribbons are one of the easiest ways to create an attractive edging or decorative addition to pockets, hems, collars, and cuffs.

Here are some creative sewing suggestions with ribbon:

  • Extra-wide satin ribbon makes a beautiful sash and bow. Stitch the satin ribbon into the side seam or stitch along the waistline.
  • Grosgrain ribbon adds strength to a button-down shirt. It can be stitched along the button opening as an added support for the buttons.
  • Bridal dresses are never quite complete without some ribbon. Ribbon is especially great for edging the delicate tulle used to create the bridal veil.
  • Narrow satin ribbon finds its way into all sorts of lingerie and sleepwear. Delicate straps or edging for the frilly nightie, ribbon is your best option because it is soft and will not scratch while you are trying to sleep.

How to Sew Ribbon Like Binding

One of the best uses of wide ribbon is as a binding for a baby’s blanket or a quilt. Ribbon can take the place of bias binding and add a distinctive finish to the edge of quilts and blankets. There is a gadget for this called a binder footand it is wonderful if you have one, but what do you do if you want to bind a baby’s blanket without a gadget to help you?

Using a Binder Foot to Sew RibbonPin
Using a Binder Foot to Sew Ribbon

How to sew ribbon like binding:

  • Start by choosing your ribbon. A grosgrain is recommended because it will not slip like a satin ribbon. If you have a grosgrain in the right color and at least ¾” (2cm) wide then this is the best choice for you.
  • When you have chosen your ribbon for the task of binding fold it in half lengthwise and press it into half giving you a double-sided piece of ribbon. This is going to make both sides of your binding.
  • Take the raw edge of the item you are making and insert it between the two sides of the folded ribbon. The ribbon should cover the raw edge of the garment on both sides. Use your straight pins and put them vertically to hold the fabric securely in place.
  • Stitch with a straight stitch so the needle catches both sides of the ribbon and encases the raw edges inside. Run a straight stitch along the edge, but check to see both sides are being caught in the stitching. A zigzag stitch is recommended as an alternative stitch to ensure that both sides of the fabric have been connected.
How to Sew Ribbon like BindingPin
How to Sew Ribbon like Binding

How to Sew Ribbon – FAQS

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

How to Sew Ribbon Ends

There are several ways to stop the ribbon from fraying or unraveling, or you can sew the ends.

  • CUT DIAGONAL – If you are in a hurry just cut a diagonal slant at the tip or a wedge. Fold the ribbon in half and cut your diagonal or wedge on the end and the ribbon should not fray or unravel.
  • HEAT – Nylon and synthetic ribbons can be sealed with the heat of a low flame. Avoid dangling the ribbon into the flame rather pass the ribbon over the flame and watch the heat of the flame melt the nylon and seal the ribbon.
  • POLISH – A touch of nail polish can seal the tip of a ribbon.
  • DOUBLE ENDS – If you are using the ribbon doubled then and easy line of stitches at the end of the ribbon will seal the end neatly.
How to Sew Ribbon EndsPin
How to Sew Ribbon Ends

How to Join Ribbon?

Joining a ribbon should be easy if you know how to join bias binding strips. It is the same principle.

Cut the ribbon diagonally across the tip to be joined. Cut the opposite side of the ribbon with another diagonal, so when you lay the two pieces right sides together, ready to stitch, the ribbon forms an L shape. The two diagonal raw edges will be sewn together across the top in a matching thread to give a neat seam join the two pieces.

How to Sew Ribbon onto Stretch

The ribbon you decide to sew onto a stretch fabric will be there for a decorative effect and, therefore, should not affect the fit of the garment. A non-stretch trim will alter the ability of the fabric to stretch. It is a good idea to baste the ribbon onto the stretch first. Check that you are using a suitable foot for the ribbon trim and select the correct stitch to suit the ribbon. A zigzag stitch is usually the best because it does have some flexibility.

Make your starting point from the center back to the edge and then back to the center back to the other edge. This prevents the stretch of the fabric from pulling the piece you are sewing out of shape.

How to Sew Ribbon – In Conclusion

With its wide variety of colors, textures, and widths, Ribbon is really a wonderful trim for any garment. Did you know that ribbons have featured so strongly in the lives of great men and women that Napoleon Bonaparte was known to say: “Men will risk their lives, even die for ribbons.”

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