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Wrap it Up with a Pretty and Eco-Friendly Bow

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No plastic bows for you this holiday season! This step-by-step tutorial teaches you how to make your own from cloth ribbon.

Even if you’re trying to cut back on unnecessary waste in your household, you can package up beautiful gifts. When you learn how to make a bow out of ribbon or even some surprising household discards, you can dress up any gift with a little extra pizazz. Use these techniques to tie a Christmas bow or for birthday gifts. Or use extra wide ribbon to make decorative bows for events and weddings.

And be sure to check out these ideas for wrapping with less waste!

First lets talk about ribbon. You can buy rolls of ribbon in varying materials from craft stores. Stiff cotton ribbon works great, but you can use wired ribbon if you like. You can even cut scrap fabric — think old sheets — into strips and use that as your “ribbon” for making bows.

Making a bow out of ribbon is easy, though it does take a bit of practice to get all your fingers working in conjunction with each other. You can use any kind of ribbon (the designs that these folks offer are so much fun!).

There are two ways to secure the bow you make from ribbon. One, is with wire. If you don’t have wire on hand, a long bread twistie can work in a pinch. This method works well for tying a bow onto a basket. Florists use a wired stick to make a bow that can be tucked into a plant for giving.

The other method is to use a length of ribbon that matches the bow. This method works well to wrap the bow around a package. That’s what you’ll see depicted below.

How to make a bow out of ribbon

Start by cutting a length of ribbon long enough to go around your package, plus about 12″ to work with. Set this length of ribbon aside until you’re ready to tie the bow.

Make a half-twist  3-4″ from the end of the ribbon

Make a small loop (this will be the center loop):

Twist again and place the new twist onto the old twist:

Your thumb and forefinger will hold the bow’s center together as it grows, while your middle finger will manage the loop in progress. Now add another loop coming from the opposite direction:

Always fold your loop so that the unsecured end of ribbon moves toward the back, where you’ll secure it to the stack of “twists.” Keep adding loops, each time coming from the opposite direction, twisting and securing each loop at the center with your thumb and forefinger:

After the first three loops, start making each loop just slightly bigger than the last:

When your bow is full enough for you (a dozen loops is usually a good number), grab the length of ribbon you cut earlier. Make a twist about 6″ from one end. (This is where you’ll start to wish you had a third hand.)

Carefully place that twist right at the center front of your bow, under your thumb


Wrap both ends of the ribbon toward the back of your bow and tie (you just might need to use your mouth to hold one end of the ribbon at this stage).

Hold the bow with your thumb in the center loop and twist the bow into shape by pulling and adjusting each loop. To add the bow to your package, place the fluffy bow where you want it, and wrap the long ribbon end around the box coming back around to the bow, tying it to the other 6″ of the wrapping ribbon so that the tie is right at the base of the bow. Bring both ribbon ends around, under the bow, and tie again on the opposite side of the bow.

Tada! No plastic bows for you this holiday season!

You can use this technique to make a bow out of skinny ribbon, wide ribbon, what have you. I’ve even made bows out of strips cut from recycled mylar. This is the exact technique florists use for making those big wedding bows, except they use wire to tie them.

Eco-friendly: How to tie a Christmas bow from upcycled ribbon

Making a bow out of ribbon is a handy skill to have, but you can take it a step further when you get clever with some of your household cast offs. Most of the visitors to this site are trying at some level to cut back on disposable waste. Even so, certain things have a way of ending up in our cupboards. Once we’ve used up the food that’s inside, many of those packages end up in the trash.

package with curled ribbon

If you don’t want to give up the sparkle of the holidays but hesitate to buy shiny ribbon, look no further than your morning coffee. Bagged coffee often comes in a mylar package. The silver lining (literally!) to that disposable package is that a clever person can reuse it to make shiny curly ribbon to transform into a fluffy bow. No bagged coffee? Experiment with what you have. Bags of chips and crackers can work, too.

green tortilla chip bag

Cut the bag open and wipe it clean. Use scissors to cut the bag into strips that are about 1/4″ wide. It doesn’t have to be exact.

strips of a cut open coffee bag to make a bow

Drag the flat edge of a pair of scissors down the strip to test whether or not it will curl. I’ve found that holding the scissors against the printed side of the strips results in curly ribbon with the unprinted (shiny) surface prominent.

curled ribbon to make a christmas bow

You can assemble a bow from these strips either before or after curling them. To do so, gather the strips into a bundle with the ends aligned (or close). Find the center of the bundle and tie it together with a wire, twistie, or a single strip. (Some upcycled materials are strong enough for this, others will tear.)

hand holding shiny strips of ribbon

If you haven’t already curled the strips, use the scissors as described above. In this case, though, begin at the center of the bow and drag the scissors away from the center until all of the strips are curled. Use your fingers to gently twist and bend the curls from the center until they look good to you. Tie a Christmas bow onto a bottle of homemade coffee liqueur or a wrapped package.

Alternatively, you can skip making a bow and just use the curls as filler for a gift basket.

jars of jelly with curled ribbon tied into a Christmas bow

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

13 comments… add one
  • Sheryl Dec 15, 2011, 2:42 am

    Now, finally someone is patient enough to reveal this mystery that continues to elude me!

  • Alexandra Dec 15, 2011, 8:10 am

    Thanks for this lesson. Bow tying is something that has always eluded me. Cannot wait to practice this holiday!

  • Sonia Dec 15, 2011, 8:31 am

    Mahalo… bows leave much to be desired….

  • Kerry Dexter Dec 15, 2011, 1:22 pm

    my first job was making bows at Christmas for the gift wrapping section of a local store, and I learned exactly this technique. fun to see it again.

  • Vincent Dec 15, 2011, 3:15 pm

    Nice and simple but still not many people know how to do it. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell Dec 16, 2011, 2:21 pm

    This is such great information for this time of the year. Good photos to help too!

  • Jill @ The Prairie HOmestead Dec 16, 2011, 2:35 pm

    Boy oh boy, do I ever need this tutorial! I have been “bow-challenged” my whole life. Thanks for the great pics!

  • MyKidsEatSquid Dec 17, 2011, 4:19 am

    Great explanation. In high school I had a holiday job as a gift wrapper so I’m quite a pro with paper but not so much with bows.

  • renee miller Dec 17, 2011, 9:25 am

    LOL, I too learned how to make a bow by working at a florist shop (at Christmas time) and they too were mean people. Not all, but most.

    • Kris Bordessa Dec 17, 2011, 1:46 pm

      What is with mean people selling flowers?? Shouldn’t that be against the florists code of conduct?

  • Jane Boursaw Dec 19, 2011, 7:40 am

    Well, I’m glad to hear that SOMEone can make a bow, but I’m not sure it’s me. I might, um, stick with the big bag of bows you buy for $2 at K-Mart. Yeah, the ones that come in a big PLASTIC bag! I’m SO not a good attainable-sustainable reader this week before Christmas.

  • Jeanine Barone Dec 21, 2011, 5:41 am

    I’ve always been at a loss with bow making. Basically, I’ve given up after many inept attempts. Great to see this step by step.

  • merr Dec 21, 2011, 6:03 am

    I love this! Thank you, thank you!

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