The word grosgrain is French in origin. The adjective “gros” means thick or coarse while the “grain” part is derived from Old French graine meaning seed or texture.
Grosgrain has a distinct ribbed appearance. It’s because the weft (the threads that go horizontally) is heavier than the warp (the threads that go vertically) creating distinctive transverse ribs and a sturdy durable fabric.
Grosgrain fabric was originally made from wool, silk mohair or a combination thereof, was almost always black and was originally used waistcoats, jackets, petticoats, beeches, sleeves, jerkins and many other items of clothing, as a cheaper alternative for the fine-woven silk.
In the early part of the 20th century, it fell out of favour as a garment fabric and that’s when grosgrain ribbon, edgings and facings stepped right up. Think grosgrain for lapels of dress coats, morning coats, dinner jackets, school blazers and tuxedos. Think grosgrain for bow ties, cummerbunds and watchbands. Think grosgrain for millinery, top hats, opera hats and even homburgs.
During the second world war, grosgrain hemp, jute and linen were used to make seat belts and military webbing.
These days synthetic grosgrain is used extensively as heavy-duty webbing because the unique warp weft structure provides big strength and low curl. That’s why you see synthetic grosgrain around cargo, white goods and other packaging.
But the main use of aesthetic use of grosgrain these days if for ribbon. Unlike its monotone black forebears it comes in a range of fabulous colours and widths and can be used for gift wrapping or as an adornment for bonbonierre or produce gifts such as cookies, jam and relish.
Grosgrain ribbon is perfect for single loop bows, ribbon knots and flat bows. Because it is quite sturdy and thick it does not work quite as well for flouncy or multi loop bows.
Grosgrain ribbon does not tend to fray easily, but like most fabrics it can unravel if not cut precisely. That’s why we generally cut our ribbon with very sharp scissors to create with a pendant or flag look at the end.
Grosgrain ribbon can generally be ruched. Place it under a sheet of backing paper and gently iron. It will come up good as new!