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:
Tie a piece of ribbon about your box and knotting where you want the bow.
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).
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 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.
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 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.
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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