In my research into manipulated fabrics, I have often come across trimmings created using pleated or gathered ribbon, most often on hats, although sometimes on garments too. 18th century dress trimmings are usually made from self-fabric (strips of the same fabric the garment is made from) rather than ribbons. Box pleating is common, as are bias-cut ruffles.
Caracao (jacket) from Manchester Museums collection with pleated self-fabric trim
18th century box pleats started a journey of discovery for me when I started working in textile, investigating and experimenting with techniques to create contemporary work inspired by these old folds.
Pleat cuff pattern
Antique ribbons can be pretty special items in themselves, but when they are used to create interesting decorations and trimmings, ribbons become something even more amazing. Ribbons have been used for hundreds of years to decorate hats, dresses and accessories.
Corsage by Ruth Singer using vintage ribbon and 1920s techniques.
Beautiful ribbons were woven in Coventry (as well as other places) from the 1700s which were pleated, gathered and arranged to make stunning hat decorations, taking a bonnet from basic to beautiful.
Ribbon woven in Coventry. (c) V&A
Extra-wide ribbons were made specifically for trimming dresses and millinery and their designs could easily be enhanced by the methods of folding and stitching used, as shown in this example where the stripes are manipulated to create decorative effects.
Hat ribbon trim (c) National Trust
I recently came across illustrations via Pinterest from a German women’s magazine called Der Bazar dated 1871 on Google books which shows several fantastic pleated ribbon trims which I am keen to try out myself, and you can often spot folded and manipulated ribbon trims on original garments and in fashion plate illustrations in the later 19th century.
Der Bazar pleated fold illustration
In the 1920s, pleated and manipulated ribbons had another moment under the spotlight of fashion as ribbon pleated and folded into sunbursts and stars shone out from the sides of cloche hats. Cockades or trimmings were made at home, as well as by professional milliners. A hat could be updated and transformed with a bit of ingenuity and ribbon.
Hat (c) Metropolitan Museum
I bought the vintage hat below a few years ago and was intrigued by the folded trim. It took a few goes to figure it out and quite a few more goes for the technique to stick in my head – it is not at all simple, but I figured it out using weave lines in in the grosgrain ribbon as my guide.
Pleated hat trim
My version of the technique is in my book Fabric Manipulation, called Arrowhead folds. I used this technique to create the necklace below.
My book has lots of other ribbon folding techniques, many of them inspired by Indian ribbon work using real metal ribbon, known as Gota.
Detail of blouse with gota trimming (c) V&A
Gota work was traditionally used to decorate luxurious costumes and clothing in the 19th century alongside fine silks and metal thread embroidery. The pure metal wefts of the ribbon allow it to be folded precisely to create intricate 3D folds and twists, and the ribbon could also be embossed for added effects. Nowadays, most gota work is done in inferior plastic ribbon which has neither the sheen, weight or crispness of the metal ribbon, but still looks pretty gorgeous. I’ve seen real vintage Gota ribbon for sale at Cloth House, my favourite fabric shop in London.
I found a nice piece in a ribbon stash at the school I worked in yesterday; the widely-spaced folded-back zigzag ribbon fold detail was new to me – I am working on samples using different types of ribbon for different effects. The pointed Vs along top and bottom are one of the gota techniques I figured out a while back and it is included in my book.
I taught my favourite box-pleating technique to the students at Chateau Dumas earlier this month, using French vintage striped ribbon. The day after the workshop, the students visited the local hat-making museum and decorated their hats with pleated French ribbon. What could be more more perfect?
Pleated ribbon hat trim
Pleated ribbon hat trim
Pleated ribbon hat trim
Pleated ribbon necklace
You can find more ribbon work and related ideas in my Pinterest boards on Fabric Manipulation, particularly the pleating board and the appliqué board. One day I’ll have time to try them all out – in the mean time, please post links to any other interesting ribbon resources and if you have tried any of the techniques, please share them.
A shorter version of this post originally appeared on Mr X Stitch as one of my monthly textile history Pinning the Past columns. Explore the other columns here.