How to Create a Perfect Bow for Cosplay (shoujo style)

sewing the perfect bow

I am not good at tying bows. They always end up droopy, uneven, and upside down (somehow?). So for cosplay, I try to never rely on my ability to tie a pretty bow. Instead, I fake it. There are multiple methods you can use to fake a bow, but at its most basic, you’re just tying a loop of material in the middle.

If you’re looking for a tutorial to learn how to tie a beautiful bow, this one is not for you. However, if you’re okay with pinning or clipping an already-made bow onto your costume or into your hair, I’ll teach you a few different techniques based on the style of bow you’re going for. I also have some tips for keeping large bows from drooping and even making it look like your bow is tied to your costume instead of pinned on.

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finished bows make of fabric

Method 1: A simple bow with fabric

This method works well for thicker ribbons and fabric. You can even make giant bows as long as the fabric has enough structure. The basic idea of this one is to form a loop and then cinch it in the middle.

What you will need:

  • Fabric for the bow loop: Two lengths of fabric that are the full length of the bow you want to make.
  • Fabric for the center tie: A small strip of fabric to tie around the center of the bow
  • Optional fabric for the bow tails: You don’t have to have tails for your bow, but if you do, make them a little thinner than the width of your bow loop fabric.
create a loop with your fabric
Sew the edges of your bow fabric together to create a loop.
gather the center
Pinch the center of your loop and sew or tie it together.
add the center tie
Cover the center section with a small strip of fabric. When attaching the center fabric, twist is slightly to create a knot-like effect.
adding the bow tails
Pull the tails of the bow through the center. Sew them in place if necessary.
  1. Sew the bow loop fabric into a long loop on both ends. Fold over the raw edges to the inside of the loop and sew them in place (double turn hem style).
  2. Gather the middle of the bow. Hand sew the section.
  3. Add the center loop. Gather one end of the center tie and sew it to the back of the bow. Then slightly twist the center piece while you loop it around the middle of the bow. Trim the fabric and sew it to the back of the bow.
  4. Sew the front and back tails together. Leave a small space open, then flip the tails to the right side.
  5. Insert the bow tails if desired. Scrunch up the tails and slide them into the bow inside the center tie. You can sew the tails in place or leave them be.
  6. Sew a pin or hair clip to the back. Now that your bow is finished, you can attach a pin or a hair clip to attach it to your wig or clothing.
droopy vs non-droopy fabric
If your fabric droops like the image on the left, it need interfacing, if it stands like the image on the right, it the bow will work without interfacing.

How to keep your bows from drooping

A common problem when making large bows is that they tend to be very droopy and sad looking. This is because the material used to create the bows is not stiff enough to support the structure. If you want to create a large bow (or even a medium-sized one), you’ll need to apply interfacing to the wrong-side of the fabric.

Interfacing is a stiff material that you attach to fabric to give it more structure. The thickness and stiffness of the interfacing will vary, so for these bows, you’ll want a standard medium-weight interfacing to help keep your bows from drooping. I recommend using fusible interfacing because it’s easier to use than sew on interfacing. This glues the layer directly to your fabric to stabilize it, but remains flexible.

To fuse interfacing to the fabric:

  1. Cut out the interfacing in the same size as your bow fabric pieces.
  2. Place the interfacing glue side down on the wrong side of your fabric.
  3. Place a damp cloth (cotton) flat on top of your interfacing and fabric.
  4. Heat the iron and press it against the fabric and interfacing for 30 seconds.
  5. Continue step 4 along the entire piece of interfacing.

When applying interfacing, do so at the beginning, before sewing any of the bow pieces together. You can use interfacing for any of the three bow-making methods I go over, not just this first one.

the same fabric drooping at different sizes
Many fabrics will work well for smaller bows (left) even without interfacing, but if you want to create a larger bow (right), they will begin to droop.

Test if your fabric needs interfacing

If you are making a medium or large bow, you will almost always need to use interfacing to keep it from looking droopy, but it depends on the material you’re using and the size of your bow. If you’re not sure if your bow will require interfacing, you can test it before you take the time to sew the whole bow.

Simply take the pieces of fabric that are going to be the main loops of your bow and hold them together. Gather the fabric in the middle and see how the bow reacts. If it’s droopy, then the fabric will need interfacing applied, but if the fabric is more or less holding it’s shape, then you’ll be able to get away without interfacing.

Making a large bow with thin ribbon or material

For the most part, you cannot use a narrow strip of material to create a large bow. It works in anime, but physics just doesn’t work like that in real life. If you want to use a narrow ribbon to create an oversize bow, you’ll have to add some wire to help you trick gravity.

Sew two lengths of ribbon (or narrow strips of material) together lengthwise to create a long tube. Insert wire through the long tube and then use it to pose your bow however you want to. 12 gauge wire or a thick jewelry wire will work well to give your bow enough support to stay upright.

ribbon bows
Use this method if you want to see the two loops of ribbon when making your bow.

Method 2: A ribbon bow with visible loops

The downside with the first method of creating a fake bow is that it doesn’t create  two visible loops of fabric. Instead it has a somewhat flat appearance that is very pretty, but you might be going for a different look.

This second method works great for ribbon and narrower strips of fabric. The thicker your ribbon and fabric, the less this will work and you’ll want to use the first method instead.

All you need to get started with this type of (fake) bow is some ribbon and thread.

sewing the center
Pinch the ribbon in the center and loop your ribbon around. Instead of placing the end behind the center point, stack both ends of the ribbon on top.
add the center knot
Add ribbon to the center of the ribbon. Twist the ribbon as you wrap it around to create a knot-like effect.
adding ribbon tails
Insert the tails through the center knot.
  1. Cut a length of ribbon that is twice as long as you want your final bow to be. Place your finger in the very center of the ribbon and bend it a bit to create a small gather.
  2. Take one end of the ribbon and stack it on top of the center. Create a small gather in this end of the ribbon too. Then sew it in place.
  3. Take the other end of the ribbon and repeat step 2.
  4. Add the center ribbon or fabric. Cut a small piece of ribbon and wrap it around the center, creating a little twist for a more realistic look. Sew it in place.
  5. Sew the bow tails if desired. If you would like to add tails to your bow, slide a length of ribbon through the center tie.
  6. Add a hair clip or pin. Sew your clip or pin to the back of the bow and attach it to your hair or clothing.
flat bow
Making a simple non-looping bow

Method 3: A single-layer fake bow with fabric

This method for creating a bow is not even trying to look real, but it’s a little simpler and still looks great as a decoration. Rather than creating a loop, you will just use one layer of fabric and gather it in the middle to create the appearance of a perfect bow.

What you will need for this method:

  • Fabric for your bow: One piece of fabric that is the full length and double the width of your final bow (fold it in half to in step 1)
  • Fabric for the center tie: Two small strips of fabric to use for the middle of the bow.
  • Optional fabric for the bow tails: Two lengths of fabric that are slightly thinner than the width of the bow to be the front and back of the tails
trim the corners before turning right-side out
Sew the front and back of each of your bow pieces together. Make sure you leave a small gap in the stitching so you can flip them. Cut the corners before turning the bow pieces right-side out.
adding the center
Pinch the center and add the strip of fabric over the center of the bow.
add tails if you want
Add tails by inserting them through the center tie.
  1. Sew front and back pieces of your bow, tie, and tails together. Make sure to leave a small space so that you can flip them to the right sides.
  2. Gather the center and sew it in place.
  3. Add the tie. Make sure to add a little twist as you sew it in place, to make it look more realistic.
  4. Insert your ribbon tails if desired. 
Adding a bow to a waist sash
Tie your waist sash in a knot to effectively cinch your waist. Then pin the bow on top.

Adding a bow to a tied waist sash

So what if you want to have a bow tied around your waist, but can’t get it to look good? You can cheat and use a fake bow here too.

Cut the ribbon or sash at a length where you can still securely tie it around your waist, but there is not too much extra material. Tie the sash in a knot so you can cinch in your waist. Make your bow out of the same material you used for the sash or ribbon. Then all you have to do is pin your fake bow directly to the knot to give you the illusion of a perfectly tied bow.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been Cosplaying Since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years I've learned a lot of new skills that have helped me become better and making cosplay and looking good for the camera.

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