We Tested the 3 Most Popular Ribbon Types to Find the Very Best Bow

How to make the most of grosgrain, satin, and wired silk.

December 10, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

If you’ve ever taken a stroll through the gift wrapping section of Target, or even stepped into a Paper Source during the holiday season, you know that papers, bows, and tags can run you just as much as the gift that’s inside. Wrapping doesn’t need to be so involved, though, because, of course, there’s bows.

A good bow can dress up any gift, even one wrapped with something neutral, like butcher’s paper, or something reused, like newsprint. But purchasing premade bows in bulk is going to set you back quite a bit. The good news? Making your own is simple, meditative, and all the better to show off to your friends and family.

Different ribbons perform differently, though, which is why I tested three popular ribbon types—grosgrain, satin, and wired nylon—to find the best bows for each. To create an even playing field, I started out by tying all three ribbons (each about 1.5 inches wide) in my trusty method that worked so well for standard silk ribbon:

  1. Tie a piece of ribbon about your box and knotting where you want the bow.
  2. Fold a second length of ribbon back and forth (those will be the loops), pinching it between your fingers in the middle (that will be the knot).
  3. Secure the bow by tying the loose ends on the box around the pinched part.

I created six loops in each bow, and they turned out like this (cute-ish, but not their best selves):

So I took it upon myself to figure out some improvements by considering what the merits of each ribbon were and how to maximize them. Here's what I learned:

Wired Nylon

Wired ribbon is forgiving; it has invisible, bendy wire woven into the edges, so it's easy to shape (i.e. make prettier) once your bow is complete. And this wired nylon has an airiness to it, begging to be fluffed and puffed and pinched. Knotting it actually added volume to the final bow, and the tied part was covered up by shaping the loops.

Left (before): a 4-loop wired nylon ribbon; right (after): a much flufflier 6-looper.

My first go at this bow was admittedly sloppy (above, left)—I meant to make 6 loops but had actually only done 4, and as you can see it's a little raggedy. To tighten things up, I used the standard pinching method detailed above but added in those lost loops, and also made them smaller (smaller loops = perkier) so it would be fuller (above, right). As always with wired ribbon, futzing with the finished bow is a good idea.

Satin Ribbon

Left (before): crushed satin ribbon; right (after): perky satin bow.

Satin ribbon is thick, shiny, and smooth (with many of the merits of silk without the price tag), but it doesn't take well to knotting, which makes it pinched, sloppy, and flat rather than fluffy, and with too much focus on the knot instead of the bow. To lessen the tension around the knot, I made small slits on both sides of the bow right where it gets tied to the package, and also chose to make the loops a little smaller. When I secured this bow to the box (above, right), the loops were much more sprightly and there were no signs of crushed ribbon (the original bow is above, left).

Using sharp scissors, cut a little slit on both sides of the folded satin ribbon before securing the bow to the box.

Grosgrain Ribbon

Grosgrain is one of my favorite ribbons, but I think it's undervalued as a bow-tying ribbon (more frequently used for decorative purposes when making clothing) because it's so stubborn. Unlike wired ribbon and satin ribbon, grosgrain is hardly smooth and springy; it's ribbed, matte, and feels a little bit like paper.

Left (before): a knot-heavy grosgrain bow; right (after): a simple shoelace bow tied from the ends ot the original ribbon.

The pinch and tie method (above, left) did not result in an appealing bow—the knot was so massive and gnarled that it was taking all the attention (the horror!). It was clear to me that one less knot was in order.

Use the ends of your wrapping ribbon to tie a one-know shoelace bow (rabbit-ears style).

Instead of making a separate bow out of grosgrain and attaching it to a tied ribbon, be sure the original ribbon is extra long on both ends and then use those ends to tie a simple shoelace bow, making two loops and then knotting them together. Here are the finished bows!

What's your go-to ribbon and how do you tie a bow? Tell us in the comments below!

This article originally appeared on January 25, 2016. We’ve since updated it in December 2021 because it's wrapping season—hooray! (Just me?)
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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


mudd December 20, 2019
I tie not too shabby bows, but this article is great!
As far as store wrapping, I grew up in NYC, and most of the downtown dept stores did beautiful wrapping. One of the best was Fortunoff’s- not the Manhattan one, the big one near Westbury LI. Used to work right near there. Was sorry when it too closed (was bought from the Fortunoff family by savages who ruined it)
Judy B. November 18, 2016
My bows have expanded to include.....One of the most recent options: a variety of colors of tulle on rolls. Different widths offer options for combining unique color combos or different widths to make bows "pop". I am having so much fun with this new choice of "ribbon"
Josie November 1, 2015 age 10, I discovered the inherited gift of "artiste" and immediately informed my mother that I would happily take on "the annoying task" (her description) of wrapping Christmas gifts to place under the tree. I took note of a department store employee making a bow using the snipping-at-the-middle technique. I marveled as she unfurled the strands of ribbon into a beautiful decoration. I took the idea and ran with it...creating my own "masterpieces" by adding more folds and longer folds of ribbon to suit the size of the package. My mother was in awe of the pleasure that was abundantly apparent as I enjoyed "the task." The same held true with my affinity for cooking (at age 10.) Once again, "a chore" in her lexicon. God rest her soul, as I continue to wonder how I inherited these genes. As a second generation Lithuanian, my foremothers were, most likely, cooks by the sheer nature of workers and lovers of the land. A creative lot, by am I.
orinoco W. October 31, 2015
Very interesting post! So there really are stores outside the movies that provide pretty gift paper and real bows? In my world, you only get cheap ugly paper plastered with the name of the store, and a factory made stick-on bow. Nice to know that somewhere....
Amanda S. October 31, 2015
B&J Florist or M&J Trimming, in New York!
kat October 30, 2015
I'm pretty in love with the cutting a slit for the satin bow. I'm super gonna use this technique on my satins now!
Haute I. October 30, 2015
Do you have any tips for burlap ribbons? I want to use them in my garland and presents this year, but having a problem make a pretty bow. Thanks for any tips you may have.
Amanda S. October 30, 2015
I would definitely use burlap ribbon that's wired, and make the loops about twice as big as the ribbon is wide. For gifts, something smaller (like twine, or linen ribbon in a shoelace bow) might be nice!
Pat October 29, 2015
This all-encompassing article on bow-making is just one more reason I love FOOD 52. Instructions+pics=success. Great job, Amanda!
Pat from SC
Joan S. October 29, 2015
Love your descriptions of how to handle the different types of ribbon. I used to think it was all my fault but now realize it depends on the ribbon fabric and how to handle it to create a very pretty holiday gift presentation.
Saski October 29, 2015
Simply draw a bow onto the paper with coloured pencils or paint! An unexpected arty touch.
Amanda S. October 29, 2015
This is a very good idea.
Maryann December 22, 2015
Great if I was a good artist