*** ribbon material tying knots bows


Figure 1.--This unidentified American boy wears a plaid floppy bow. The cabinet card pprtrait is undated by looks to have been taken in the 1890s. He wears it with a ruffled collar and cutaway jacket--a standard Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit. The studio was Harry A. Well on Philadelphia.

Ribbons are narrow pieces of fabric, commonly silk, cotton, wool, or other material, commonly synthetics in the modern era. Ribbns are commonly woven with selvage edges. They are used for trimming clothing and millinery. Ribbons for hair adornment is another common usage. They are also used for tying and for badges and awards. For children they are most associated with girls, but have been worn by boys as well.


Ribbons are believed to have first been made in Europe as early as the 11th century. (I am not sure about China.) The first records from the 11th century are reported at St. �tienne, France. Ribbons are also known to have been made from an time in Italy and Switzerland. These early ribbons were woven on hand looms making one ribbon at a time and thus along with the silk used to make them, must have been enormously expensive. Europeans by the 16th century had improved manufacturing techniques. Germnans at Danzig by 1586 had developed a loom capable of making six ribbons at a time. Similar looms were being run in Leiden, Holland by 1620. These improved looms were brought to England during the 1670s by French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution. It was called a Dutch loom and served to found the English ribbon industry. Englishmen John Kay (inventor of the fly shuttle) and Joseph Stell in 1745 perfected an imorived loom. Subsequent inventors have developed machiery capable of producing 50 ribbons at one time. The manuafacture of ribbons has remained a destinct sector of the weaving industry. Ribbon manufacture was a home industry in colonial America. The first ribbon factory was built in Philadelphia about 1815. Another factory was operating in Baltimore in 1829. The industry spread to several other northeastern locations. By the end of the Civil War (1865) the industry was centered Paterson, New Jersey. This continued to be the chief American manufacturing center until after World War I (1914-18) when factories opened in Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, and other Southern states.


Most ribbons were originally made of silk. They came to be made in many other fabrics such as satin, grosgrain, taffeta, moir�, velvet and velveteen. Novelty weaves include brocade, metallic, picot edge, and various oither types. In modern times silk ribbons have been replaced by synthetic fibers like acetate, rayon, nylon and others.


HBC at this time has only limited information on ribbon types. One modern type is the "cut-edge" ribbon in which acetate fabric is slit into withs by a heated cutting tool which then seals the edge. This dispenses with selvage and thus lowers production costs. Non-woven ribbons are produced in great quantity and used mostly for gift wrapping. They are made by laminating yarn on an acetate film or coating the yarn without any backing. These of course are only meant to be used once andthen discards, unlike the more plyable material that was used for the hair ribbons used for children and even by young women in the late19th and early 20th cenbturies.


Ribbons were used to tie bows. We note narrow ribbon bows in the 1870s and early-80s. A good example is an American boy, Frank Bigelow, in 1882. After this portrait was taken in the mid-80s bows became much larger, using much latger width material. I'm not entire sure if it would be correct to cal this material ribbon.

Tying Bows

We are not sure just how children wore their ribbons. We do not if the bows were tied each time or if the boes were essenially tied and just pinned in the hair. For that matter we wonder if some bows can pre-tied. Some bows were were required quite elaborate knots. A variery of bows were tied. The two major types were collar bows and hair bows. As far as we know, the same type of material was used for both collar bows hairbows, but we need to confirm this. The ribbon material was tied into a wide variety of bows. Boys wore very large collar bows, but generally small hair bows. Girls tended to wear smaller collar bows, but some of the hair bows could be quite large. Many of the smaller bows mother could have simply tied into the hair without much bother. Some of the larger ones took a little more effort. We also wonder to what extent these bows could be reworn and retied. I don't believe that the bows were bought alrady tied. We wonder if mothers may have tied some of more elaborate larger bows and then pinned them in place. A HBC readerwrites, "The hairbows in some of the old photographic portraits are rather elaborate and are probable bows that were pinned in the hair."

Clothing and Hair Dressing

Ribbon for bowscadding color and style to clothes and hair have been worn by moth men and women. For children, bows are most associated with girls, but boys have worn them as well. Bows were especially popular in the late 19th and early 20th century.


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Created: March 17, 2000
Last updated: 7:45 PM 8/17/2021