How to make a bow… a step-by-step tutorial.
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My mother is a cross between Martha Stewart and the set-design-team for a 1940’s Hollywood musical: creative.
If you said to my mother— look, tomorrow I’m having three-hundred people to my house for Christmas… and I didn’t plan at all… and all I have is this loaf of bread and some glitter… You would get the glitteriest, sparkliest, most-spectacular loaf of bread you can imagine.
People wouldn’t even care that they couldn’t eat it because it would be so magnificent.
Sadly for me, I did not inherit her talents… It’s not just that I lack technical skill, it’s that I lack patience. My irritation-indicator kicks in precisely at five minutes of frustration.
However. There is one crafty thing that even I can handle: making a bow.
My mother can do it one-handed, while also juggling knives and flamethrowers.
But we’re just going to use both our hands. And maybe a stapler if things get out of control.
Apparently, you can buy something called a bowdabra which will make all your bows perfect and amazing, but let’s assume you’re like me and enjoy doing everything the hard way.
You need next-to-no supplies. I mean, you need ribbon. But hopefully, that’s self-explanatory. And you need a thin but sturdy piece of wire. I use floral wire. You could also use string if you have someone to tie it for you. Or just staple it into submission.
So, get some giant ribbon.
You can also get non-giant ribbon… I don’t know why you would, but this is a free country. Get whatever ribbon speaks to you. But make sure it’s wired on the edges.
People keep asking me where they can buy it… this extra-wide ribbon is the closest I found online.
If you’re like me, you already have a massive bin of ribbon.
All of which has just revealed itself to be undeniably hideous and unusable. And you will have to go to your craft store and buy new ribbon. That’s understandable. Just make sure it’s wired.
The ribbon I’m using this year is extra wide. Four inches, compared to regular holiday ribbon, which is usually 2.5 inches wide…
The regular ribbon will still give you a beautiful bow, and it’s what I usually use. But this extra-wide stuff is lined in red on the reverse side which I LOVE.
And I am nothing, if not the sort of person whose brain is clogged with these kinds of minuscule details that are both irrelevant and of the utmost consequence.
If you want to get extra fancy… you can add some wired, battery powered fairy lights to the bow. This is extra nice for a front-door wreath or tree topper.
Depending on the size of the bow you want, and how many loops you want it to have, and how many bows you want to make… you may need a couple of spools of ribbon.
If you don’t know the advanced-mathematical Fourier Analysis formula for the trigonometry involved in calculating this? I would advise you to get more ribbon than you think you need.
Or, if you’re like me, you can skip this step, run out of ribbon, drive back to A.C. Moore, realize that actually, you got it at Michaels, drive to Michaels, find they’re all sold out…
Obviously, no other ribbon will do.
Drive home. Call other Michaels, find out no one in a thirty-mile radius has it. Call your mother’s Michaels, then call your mother and ask her to go get it. Ask her to mail it to you. Be sure she uses priority mail because the Internet is waiting with bated breath for your über-stimulating post on DIY holiday bow-making.
HOW TO MAKE A BOW
Take your ribbon’s end piece. Make a loop that’s the largest size you want. Pinch and twist the ends together so it’s narrow. Here, you can cheat and staple that center bit together if you’re ready to commit to that size loop. Or, if you get the hang of it, you can just hold it together with your hand and at the end, we will wrap the center tightly with some floral wire.
The key to a good-looking bow is to get the center really scrunchy. If the center is as wide as the loops, it’s not a bow, it’s a pile of ribbon.
Make another equal-size loop on the opposite side. Pinch and twist. Again, you can staple to hold it secure. There is no shame in this. For years, my bows were full of staples in the center. We’re going to cover whatever mess you make there in the middle, so it doesn’t matter what it looks like.
At this point, with the two largest loops, you can go view it against your wreath or banister or front door… This will help you make sure that you’re happy with the size, in relation to the space. Or, if this is supposed to match another bow, compare with that for size.
Keep going with the loops. Alternate their placement, making loops that are somewhat opposite each other. Work around in whatever shape you want it to have. If you want it to be circular, with loops all around, or if you want it to actually keep a traditional bow shape but more dramatic, you can layer the loops on top of each other.
I’m making a really large bow, and it’s going to eat three yards of ribbon… Depending on the size of the bow you want and the ribbon you’re working with, you may need more loops or ribbon.
You will ABSOLUTELY have to do this a few times to get the hang of it.
At some point soon, you will want to throw it out the window– it’s an important part of the process… just keep going.
When you have all the loops you want. Or are in danger of losing control, it’s time to put a final loop in the center.
Fasten the center. I use floral wire, which is thin but sturdy. And it’s coated in dark green so it tends to blend in with most Christmas stuff… wrap it TIGHTLY around the center where your hand is holding all the ribbon together. You want to keep the center narrow and secure– make a couple passes around the center with the wire. Leave enough spare wire to fasten the bow to whatever wreath, door, banister, or gift you’re using it on.
If you don’t have wire? Or if you feel that your bow has gotten rowdy and unpredictable—you can just shove your stapler in there and go to town.
This has the double solution of securing it and making you feel like you have exerted dominance over that which has irritated you.
Don’t worry about keeping the shape of the bow. Once it’s really tight in the center, you can pull the loops around to wherever you want them.
At this point, I would like to offer the disclaimer that I am aware you don’t care this much about bows, or ribbon. Or DIY crafts in general. But I am unable to stop myself from continuing.
I am like this in person too— unable to substitute a brief overview, if a lengthy and detailed explanation is available to bore you.
Once you hang it, it’s time to really get in there and rearrange the loops. That’s what the wired ribbon is for— to hold it in the shape you want. Like Spanx, for your bow.
If you want to hang your wreath from matching ribbon, on a wreath hanger, you can still keep the ribbon flat by stapling the loose ribbon ends to a thick piece of cardboard, and then sliding the cardboard over the wreath-hanger’s end.
The cardboard keeps the ribbon at its full width, rather than bunched up at the hook… and the cardboard is going to be covered by your bow.
CONCLUSION: Critical Theory of Bow Making.
Now I give you the ultimate secret of bow-making:
Accept the bow you have made.
There is a fine line between perfect bow-ness and the point at which you rip it apart, start over, and then three attempts down the line realize that the first bow of the day was actually the grail of bows, and now you will never recapture it.
Yes, you will absolutely need to practice this before you get a really great bow… But at some point, you are going to think: it’s ALMOST right. I’ll do it again.
Just one more time.
DON’T DO IT. Almost is as good as you get.
This is essentially what Kenny Rodgers has been trying to tell us—know when to hold it, know when to fold it— a song mistakenly interpreted to be about gambling and the meaning of life… but actually about the challenges of Christmas décor.
all my holiday decorating posts
September 25, 2014 @ 10:16 pm
Great post and instruction. Still giggling at non-giant ribbon.
November 14, 2014 @ 8:21 am
I realize this is an old post but I just came across it, and am laughing so hard I am snorting coffee all over my keyboard. Thanks, Victoria, really needed that this morning! now I am actually looking forward to the bow-making session we scheduled at church!
November 29, 2014 @ 5:53 pm
Omg you saved my life today!! I have been reading bow tutorials literally for hours. One got me and it was ok. But I couldn’t recreate the bow when I decided I didn’t like it. Found yours and voilá!! Beautiful now with bells as a center. AND you are hilarious!! Love it. You are awesome!!!!
December 1, 2014 @ 12:16 pm
I actually Did read the entire post and appreciated it more than you know. Making 14 wreaths for church and with your help the bows are sure to be beautiful. 🙂
December 7, 2014 @ 10:34 pm
This would be awesome as a YouTube video…*hint* *hint*! Thanks for all of the tips. I sure did need a refresher course. I’d also love to see you make a bow that is smaller for a gift. I tend to think it’s a little different process.
December 10, 2014 @ 1:30 pm
I may or may not try your method, only because I do not have the requisite basic skills! But your play by play is sooo funny!!! And I totally appreciate your honesty about practicing may or may not make perfect. It is overwhelming to see all the beautiful bloggy creations, which I love, and know how talented everyone is, and also know ……..me, not so much!! Thanks for your amusing tutorial!
December 16, 2014 @ 6:31 pm
Thank you! So easy to replicate! I don’t have any interest in a video, so your directions were absolutely perfect for me! Made bows for all the wreaths on my windows. Gorgeous.
November 8, 2015 @ 5:19 pm
It is now 2015 and I don’t know if you will read this, but that was such an entertaining tutorial! Thank you for teaching me how to make a bow……hopefully I can do it, but I was so entertained it doesn’t really matter! I am sure I can find a less entertaining , boring, bow making tute somewhere! God bless!
Sarah@The Teacher's Wife
November 30, 2015 @ 8:48 am
I love this tutorial so much! I chuckled the entire time….both at your dialogue and the image of me messing this up completely. Although, you have inspired me to think seriously about giving this a try! Thanks for sharing your skill and giving me a laugh at the same time!
March 26, 2016 @ 10:22 am
Thank you for the instructions. I have been making bows for years but am glad to have a instructions sheet. You have made my day. I am new with doing post. Have a great day and thanks again
April 17, 2016 @ 7:14 pm
Guess what I just stumbled upon today at Michaels? I couldn’t believe my eyes but it was your identical gorgeous ribbon above and it was 70% off per roll. I bought all four rolls. I was so proud! And shocked. Where have they been hiding it all these years!?!?!
April 17, 2016 @ 7:16 pm
and my email isn’t actually @yahoho.com lol That was a typo… and a funny one.
October 4, 2016 @ 3:34 pm
I love your humor and your bow… I certainly will use your tutorial in the future as well with my friends so they can understand the importance of knowing when to hold fold and staple.
I too have much difficulty in bow making. I will say though once a bow maker finds their niche…and perfects “their” bow…don’t ever stop making bows. It’s harder to learn the second time around … lol
Oh….and don’t waste your money on the BOWDABRA. You will only be MORE frustrated with bow making than before
October 4, 2016 @ 3:36 pm
I too have a tote box full of ribbon that leads me right to the store every time. Lol
October 11, 2016 @ 12:00 pm
I stumbled upon this tutorial in one of my bouts of incessant Googling, and I have to say thanks! I’ve laughed so hard reading this! You’ve described almost every one of my crafting ventures in this one post! I can so relate!!! I love it!
October 23, 2016 @ 3:02 pm
This is the best way to make Bowe I have found so far. I hope I able to follow your instructions in making it! I have very little patience too!
Thank you so much for pinning this!
My friend will thank you too, she is my bowe maker for everything!…LOL
October 26, 2016 @ 12:53 pm
Omg this was hilarious. Then I took a sip of coffee and read your comment about twitching like a meth addict and it almost came out my nose! You are hysterically funny and I am your new fan <3 I am just like you obsessing over everything so I can totally identify 🙂
November 11, 2016 @ 12:57 pm
Haha!! “Like Spanx for your bow”!!! Thank you. Leaving Michael’s $75.00 later, I know my wreaths will be gorgeous. The bow talk down was perfect. Thanks again!
December 3, 2016 @ 11:34 pm
This was the most amazing how-to post ever written! I’ve never read any of your other posts, but I just subscribed because I want to read what you write!
Thank you!!!! Thank you!!!! Thank you!!! For making crafts as fun and serious-not-seroius as they should be!
December 4, 2016 @ 12:04 am
Here’s the bow I made! Thanks again! https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10209264623586193&id=1040035088
December 4, 2016 @ 1:38 pm
Love your writing style. Yes yes the bow instructions were good too. Just what I needed. but your verbiage slays me:) “spanx for ribbon” — lol very clever!!!
December 4, 2016 @ 6:03 pm
Really enjoyed your article on bow making. Not sure I could do it by your instructions but loved the extraneous info. Great read.