Ribbon – o – rama

I always say that Gift Wrapping is about the rule of threes. The first rule of three is the balance between the shape of the object, the covering and the embellishment. Queen of the embellishments is the ribbon and as I have learned steadily wrapping my way towards 10 000 hours of expertise, not all ribbons are created equal. As much as you have to get the colour or pattern of the ribbon to suit the wrap, just as important (if not more so) is the consideration of the type of ribbon you are deploying.

So today begins my ribbon-o-rama – the first in a series of Daily Wrap Guides to ribbons from some one who worked hard to speak ribbon. Of the many many different types of ribbons, everyone has their favourites – the Martha Stewart team has narrowed theirs down to nine – now that’s what I call discipline. I have lots of ribbon wonderment, so I am going to start with eleven types of ribbon –  or my first eleven as I like to call it.

  1. Let’s start with Satin

Satin ribbons – which these days are rarely made of satin but of polyester- have a smooth, shiny finish and come in just about any width and colour. The term “satin” is  a type of weave which gives your single-faced, which is shiny on one side and dull on the other; or your double-faced, which is shiny on both sides and a heck of a lot easier to tie in a bow because you don’t have to constantly worry about the right side showing. The backside of the single face satin is usually referred to as the taffeta side. Satin looks fabulous for big occasions but the bigger the bow the floppier it will be, so you have to keep your satin ribbons for smaller parcels. Satin ribbons can be tied a number of ways – but I tend to tie them in a single bow,  a double bow, a Tiffany bow or a square knot.

2. Now to Grosgrain

Gros grain means coarse texture in French. The ribbon has a distinctive cross wire rib and is often deployed by milliners on hats. I love a good grosgrain ribbon. I consider them v v v French and I am a sucker for a saddle stitch grosgrain which is decorated with a contrast stitch running along both sides, or even down the middle. I find thin grosgain works the best in wrapping for tying little bows. The wider grosgrains look better as a tailored or three ring bow.

3. Time for Twill

Twill aka Herringbone ribbons have a distinctive V shape reminiscent of parquetry flooring. Twill ribbons are made of cotton or polyester and are known for their durability. I use twill ribbons for a more informal look and when whatever it is I am tying needs to stay tied, because twill ties well.


4. Jacquard

I love a good eponym and hence really love an eponymous ribbon. Jacquard is an ornate self patterned woven ribbon named after the 19th-century weaver Joseph Marie Jacquard which produces a pictorial effect. I am thinking formal here folks. Both sides of the ribbon have the same pattern, but in in reverse – giving a pronounced right and wrong side. This can either be a design feature or your worst nightmare when tying a bow. Some people also refer to Jacquard as brocade or damask – but I think that’s whole blog in its own right. Maybe two because I wouldn’t want to undersell either brocade or damask.

Jacquard Ribbon MacCulloch and Wallis

5. Your Sheers

Your sheers include Organdy, Organza, Georgette and Gossamer. This style of the ribbon  is characterised by its floaty see through look which suits a floaty elegant occasion. Sheers can have a monofiliment woven into the selvage. I am quite taken with the word monofiliment because it sounds scientific and looks great as in the copper example below.


6. Marvellous Metallics

Metallic ribbons have metallic threads. Once the threads were real gold or silver or copper reserved for real royalty and real clergy, but alas no more. Metallics are show off  and big event ribbons. They tend to be quite coarse and tie into a bow well. Metallic ribbons now include your metallic meshes – which are having a bit of a moment at the moment. You can also have your part metallics – just like the burlap and gold flek and edged wonder in the featured shot.

Copper Mesh Metallic


7. Velvet Crush

Velvet ribbons are all about formality and texture. They have a plush pile on one side and satin on the other side. You can have your traditional Gone with The Wind  velvet, crushed velvet patterns, as well as velvety ric rac which I think is better for a trim than a gift wrapping ribbon. I would use velvet ribbons for a special signature birthday in the cooler months. Velvet ribbons are not a summery look. Thick velvet ribbons look luxurious indeed. Metallic thick velvet ribbons look even more luxe.

8. Taffeta Triumph

Taffeta looks like it is  made from the finest of silk, but realistically is often made of rayon or polyester. When I think of taffeta ribbons I think of single coloured formality and a fabulous bow with the tails that can be placed just so. Nothing subtle. My mind also goes to shot taffeta or shot silk or changeant, or changeable silk or changeable taffeta  created from fibres woven from the warp and weft yarns of two or more colours to create an iridescent appearance. Taffeta ribbons fray like crazy, making the cut or finish really important.

Gorgeous taffeta ribbon on pansy paper

9. Wire Edged

Wire edged ribbons have fine flexible wires in the selvage along both sides. A wire edged ribbon holds a big bow shape beautifully, creating lots of volume. Wire edged bows tend to be quite thick – you don’t see them so much for finer ribbons. Clever things can pull the wire on the edges to create a ruffled look. Really clever things can pull the wire on one side to create a rose – this is showing off.

10. Pouncing on Picot

Picot ribbons have small twisted loops like feathers down both sides, which is why they are often referred to as feather edge. This can be a bit of a fussy look though there is no denying this type of ribbon adds texture and eye interest. My favourite picot ribbon was orange gingham with orange loops but most are plain satins.

11.Embracing Lace

Lace Ribbons are not generally my first point of call but lace ribbons are loved by many and they add a touch of nostalgia and (dare I say) shabby chic to a gift wrap. There are many different sorts of lace ribbons – different in fibre, width, pattern and colour. I don’t love tying bows with lace ribbon. I can however, warm to using lace in whites and creams as an accent.

So there we have it. My first grade first eleven. Which by a process of elimination means there’s a second eleven…which of course there is. I’m thinking your burlap and your raffia and your French ombre and your mesh and …and…and… this will be a selection nightmare. Any suggestions on nominees gratefully received.



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