I’ll admit now that although I’m posting about this nearly last, it was actually the first thing I worked on– it just took forever to finalize because 1) I was extremely indecisive about the design, and 2) That indecision forced me to place several separate orders for the various widths of ribbon, which took a while to arrive. But I finally figured out what I wanted to do, AND managed to get it done, so here goes!
As you recall, the plan was to stitch lengths of black velvet ribbon down the front of my skirt, with small gaps in the stitching to allow for attachment of ribbon bows when a dressier look was called for.
The first thing I did was go searching for velvet ribbon in various widths– I wanted the bows to be graduated in size, which meant I needed at least four different sizes to work with. After a bit of experimenting with ribbon I had in my stash I determined that the smallest bows would be made of 1.5″ ribbon, so that was a good starting point. I ended up doing my bows out of 1.5″, 2″, 3″, and 4″ ribbon. I also bought some 1″ with my initial order just in case I needed it (spoiler: I did not).
I will note that the bows were not actually tied, but rather were made from separate pieces to ensure they looked and stayed perfect (and to conserve every inch of my expensive extra-wide ribbon). Here’s how I did it, on a paper model because black velvet doesn’t photograph detail well:
First I stitched together a loop of ribbon, overlapping the ends by about 1/4″. I pinched the center into pleats and ran the thread through them once in each direction.
Next I took a length of narrower ribbon and wrapped it around the pinched center twice, offsetting it slightly to make it look more like a knot. For some of the bows I had to fold the center ribbon over a bit to make it a little narrower, for proportion’s sake. I stitched the center ribbon in place and tied off my thread.
Then I took a length of my original width ribbon and folded it in half with a point. With a new needle and thread I made a small stitch right in the center to keep things together. Flipping the folded ribbon over, I folded each side into the center and then back out again in a kind of accordion pleat, stitching the sides in place. This made the ends less flat, so they look more like they’ve been tied.
Finally, I folded the point down and stitched the whole thing to the back of the bow loops. I cut the ends on an angle and melted the edges to keep them from fraying.
In case you were wondering, each 4″ bow took one yard of 4″ ribbon plus about 9″ of 1.5″ ribbon to go around the center. The smaller bows took less, of course.
Next up was placement. I pinned the bows to the skirt to get a feel for where I wanted them to be, then marked the places with more pins. I wasn’t sure at first whether I wanted to use 1″ or 1.5″ ribbon for the vertical lines, so I tried out both to see which looked better.
I was leaning towards the wider ribbon, but was concerned it looked too heavy, so (as always) I vacillated until I thought of a third option, which involved two parallel rows of narrower ribbon. Back to ordering more ribbon… I tried 5/8″ at first, but that was too flimsy-looking, so I upgraded to 3/4″, which was perfect. It was around this time that I was designing the bodice embellishment, and I really liked the parallel stripes that tied the bodice and skirt together visually.
To keep my rows parallel while stitching, I stitched the first ribbon along the front panel seam, leaving open spots where I wanted my bows to be. Once that was stitched, I ran a length of 1/2″ scotch tape right next to the ribbon edge, using that as a guide for my second piece of ribbon.
I used a walking foot to keep things as smooth as possible, and just caught the edges of the velvet with my needle. The ribbon did wrinkle a bit anyway, but it turned out as well as I could’ve expected. The gaps are basically invisible from the front, so the ribbon looks uninterrupted.
Next up was figuring out exactly how to attach the bows– I knew I wanted to use snaps on straps, but wasn’t sure how my plan would work out. I tried just using black double-fold bias tape sewn into a strap, but it was really hard to wiggle it through the tight gaps in the base ribbon, and almost impossible once the snaps were sewn to it (even using the tiny 6mm snaps I’d selected). I tried stiffening up the tape a bit with a sewn-in strip of thin plastic, but it was still too tough to push it through both ribbons from one side.
I concluded that what I needed was a way to pull, rather than push the tape through from the far side– accordingly, on my next try I tapered the end of the bias tape and made a small handsewn eyelet at the tip. I ran a length of embroidery floss (it’s what I had on hand– any heavy thread would’ve worked) through the eyelet with a large needle, and used the needle to pull the bias tape through the gap in the ribbon. Voila!
I kept the plastic inside half of the strap (the half that goes through the gaps, not the half sewn to the bow) to ensure that the tape didn’t sag between the ribbons, and stitched the snaps in the appropriate places. Here’s the final arrangement (which I am seriously proud of figuring out!):
You can see that I ended up using two snaps per strap– one went between the two base ribbons and one went on the far side. The one in the center really helps keep the bow firmly in place. Once I had my straps all prepared, I stitched the bias tape to the back of each bow, near the top of the knot so the bow doesn’t tilt downwards from the center.
Here you can see how you use the threaded needle to pull the plastic-stiffened tape through the ribbon gaps, then fold the eyelet end over to snap things into place. It works perfectly, and now I have a skirt that works with the formal ballgown bodice, and will work with a white blouse or with the more casual daytime bodice I’m planning!
FYI, I ended up getting my ribbon from various sources– the 4″ from one Etsy seller, the 3″ from a woman in one of my Facebook groups, the 3/4″ on Amazon, and the rest of them from another Etsy seller in Hong Kong (they have the absolute best prices for all different colors/widths, check them out!). The ribbon was definitely the most expensive part of this outfit, though admittedly I have a whole bunch left over for other projects now in various widths.
Next I think I’m going to add a pleated black tulle ruffle to the hem of the skirt to lengthen it– I’d originally sewn it to wear with flat shoes, but now I want to wear it with heels and it’s much too short to do that without some added length! Hopefully it won’t mess with the overall look.