Tie a Gift Bow in the Classic Style

How to tie a gift bow in ten steps.
Easy-to-follow illustrated instructions
plus extra tips and techniques.

Once you learn how to tie a gift bow that's round, full and puffy, get used to receiving compliments! It's a favorite accessory for the well-dressed gift. I learned these techniques at around 12 years of age (they're not awfully difficult), from a favorite auntie who always brought the best-dressed gift to a party. Let me show you...

The secret to success for beginners is in the ribbon.

Classic puffy bow made of satin fabric ribbon.Choose a fairly stiff, woven fabric ribbon because it's tough enough to withstand cutting, pulling and twisting. The shiny, paperlike "splendorette" gift ribbon used for most ready-made bows is tough, but it splits easily along cut edges when you get to Step 7.

We recommend that you get a feel for how hard to pull and twist before trying Splendorette-type ribbon. Choose a woven fabric ribbon that is fairly stiff (that bears repeating), with a satin finish if you like. Here is what you'll need to tie a gift bow that's nice and puffy:

  • Woven fabric ribbon: 3-5 yards/meters, depending on bow size
  • Curling ribbon (recommended) or other tie: 8-10 in. (20-25 cm.)
  • Scissors: choose a pair that's strong and sharp.

As we go along, notice that the instructions with an asterisk * refer to the extra tips below, listed by Step number.

How to Tie a Gift Bow

Tie a gft bow: begin by winding the ribbon.Tie a gift bow: Squeeze the ribbon circle at midpoint to form two loops.
1)* Hold an end of the gift ribbon between two fingertips as shown; extend your thumb for desired size of bow (wider spread for larger bow). Wind the ribbon around your thumb and back around your fingertips. Keep the ribbon aligned, and wind about 6 rotations.

2) Remove the ribbon from your fingers and adjust it to a smooth, even circle. Squeeze the sides of the circle together at the center, forming two loops. The ribbon ends should extend almost to the ends of the loops - trim the ends if necessary.

Tie a gift bow: Cut the corners off both folded ends but don't cut away the entire fold.Tie a gift bow: Open the circle, line up the notches and fold in half at the
3) Flatten the loops and make a tight crease at each end. Carefully cut off the corners on both sides of each crease, through all the layers of ribbon, forming a "V" with a blunt point - don't cut off the entire fold!

4) Open the circle, then squeeze together again with the cut edges at the center. This forms two new loops. Fold in half at the "V", with the loose end of the ribbon on the outside.

Tie a gift bow: Use curling ribbon to tie the notches tightly together.Tie a gift bow: The curling ribbon knot is at the bottom of the bow.
5)* Slip an end of the curling ribbon between the loops and around the blunt point of the "V." Tie all the layers together, as tight as you can, with a square knot.

6)* The knot and the loose outside end of the ribbon should both be at the bottom of the bow.

Tie a gift bow: Pull out the inside loop to about 90 degrees.Tie a gift bow: Twist the loop firmly toward you.
7) * With knot side down, slip the loops over your left index or middle finger and thumb. Spread apart finger and thumb to hold the bow firmly. From the loop on your finger, slip out the inside layer (either a loop or the loose ribbon end) and pull it straight out to about 90 degrees ...

8)*... and twist it firmly toward you. The twist keeps the loops separated at their base, so each loop can be adjusted independently. Change hands and pull out the next inside layer in the opposite direction, and twist firmly toward you. Continue pulling loops from the inside, in alternate directions, until all the layers of that loop are separated and twisted.

Tie a gift bow: One at a time, pull and twist all the loops.Tie a gift bow: Adjust loops until the finished bow is round and puffy.
9) Reverse the bow on your finger and thumb and repeat Steps 7-8 on the other side, until all the layers of the second loop have been pulled out and twisted.

10)* Spread and arrange the loops, easing one over another at their bases, into a nice round puff.
Wow, doesn't it look great!

Extra tips 'n techniques
to help you tie a gift bow

(numbered per the above Steps):

Step 1)

The size of a gift bow
is determined by the the distance between the anchors (e.g., fingers and thumb) around which you wind the ribbon into a circle. For a large bow, you can get a helper to hold up two thumbs, spread farther apart. Or, the Container Store carries an adjustable bow maker to help you tie a gift bow in the classic, puffy style.

To improvise, wedge two dowels (chopsticks?) into a thick styrofoam block or a "florist block" made of green foam. Or, set two wooden spoons upright in a kitchen drawer and hold it closed while you work. The size of your bow is limited only by the width of the drawer. These techniques can also help with Steps 7-9.

For an extra-large bow (bigger than, say, 6" diameter) you will need more ribbon, wound around more times. It may take 8-10 rotations or more to tie a big gift bow with enough loops to produce the puffy look. Wider ribbon will help, and the stiffer the ribbon, the better for making loops that are strong enough to stand upright.

If you tie a gift bow that's gigantic, let's say for a new car(!), use really wide ribbon and plenty stiff, so each gigantic loop will be strong enough to hold itself in place, exactly where you want it. Wired ribbon is probably the best (strongest), but omit Steps #3 and #4 and use a very strong tie/wire to hold the loops tightly together at the center of the bow.

Step 5)

Instead of curling ribbon,
you can use the bow ribbon or another tie that's not too wide or thick - try not to add bulk at the center of the bow (see #10 below). The loose ends of the tie can be used to tie the gift bow to a ribbon wrapped around the gift box. If you use curling ribbon, the ends can be curled and arranged among the loops of the bow. For a nice accent, tie in a few strands of curling ribbon in a contrasting color.

Step 6)

If you tie a gift bow with ribbon that can be curled
(Splendorette, for example), position the outside ribbon end at the top of the bow. Curl the loose end as the finishing touch, to conceal the tie at the center of the bow.

Steps 7-9)

Don't be discouraged!
It takes a little practice to tie a gift bow, but you'll quickly get the feel of a particular ribbon and how firmly to pull and twist the loops. Splendorette-type ribbon usually requires more careful handling to avoid splitting.

Step 8)

As you twist each loop,
it may help to use two fingers and spread the loop open a bit, too. Especially toward the end, when things get sort of crowded. Spreading the loops will help with Step 10, too.

Step 10)

As you fluff out the bow,
you'll see how the "V" provides room for the twisted loops to get out of each other's way at the center of the bow. This helps you to adjust the loops (and twist them a bit more, if needed), so that each loop holds its position.

This classic bow has stood the test of time.
Everyone admires a well-dressed gift
topped by a beautiful puffy bow!

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