Professionally made bow ties are fairly expensive, and it can be frustrating to find patterns that you like. If you have some free time (an hour or two, depending on your sewing skills), you can make your own bow tie from fabric that you've picked out, and end up with a one-of-a-kind bow tie for under $5 in fabric costs.
There are a number of other guides for making bow ties online that I looked at before making my first tie. I ended up consulting an expert seamstress (who also happens to be my mom, which is convenient), and her method was significantly easier than any of the methods I'd seen, so I'm sharing it here, now that I've made about 15 of my own ties.
What you need:
- Sewing machine
- Clothes Iron
- Fabric (silk, cotton, wool or linen, roughly 1/4 yard per tie)
- Fusible Medium Interfacing, like Pellon 931TD (1/8 yard per tie)
- Thread to match/complement your fabric
- Hand Sewing Needle (if you don't have a preference, try a quilting/between needle)
- Sharp Scissors
- Chopstick, Dowel, or Bamboo Skewer
- A bow tie that fits you, or a pattern.
There are a number of patterns available online, for free, but I would suggest buying (or borrowing) one or two actual bow ties that you like, and then using those as your patterns for both shape and length once you've adjusted them for your neck size and preference. Not only is this simpler and more accurate than trying to correctly size the length for your neck from a paper pattern, but having a couple of bow ties in hand gives you a concrete example of what you're working towards, as well as a feel for the kinds of fabrics and patterns that you like before you start looking for your own fabric.
Choosing your fabric should be fun. If it's not, maybe now's the time to abort. Bow ties are commonly made of silk (or similar looking synthetics), cotton, wool, and linen. Cotton is the easiest (and cheapest) fabric to find for your first homemade bow tie. Another advantage is that cotton is very easy to iron, which you will be doing while making it, and when it gets a wrinkled after a couple of wearings.
In general, you want a fabric that holds its shape (either doesn't stretch, or springs back firmly), since tying a bow tie involves a fair amount of tugging to get a sharp looking knot and bow. Pattern and color are a matter of taste, but unless it's an unusually bright color, a completely solid color (no pattern) can look a little dull. Bow ties are small--so they can be (or need to be) fairly vibrant. As you're looking at fabrics, think about the shirts you wear, and what will compliment those. You can try a big-box fabric store, but if you're not finding much you like, try a small, dedicated quilting fabric store, which generally only carry cottons, but often have them arranged by color, which makes it very easy to zero in on colors that go with your existing clothing. Quilt shops will often sell small, pre-cut "fat quarters" which are nearly perfect for making a bow tie, with a little excess fabric left. Try to get several different fabrics with different pattern styles, as you may be a little surprised at how different they look as a finished product than they do in a large, exposed swath on the bolt. Having several options will allow you to identify what fabrics to try the next time. Unless you want to make several ties from the same fabric, just buy a quarter yard of each fabric that you've picked. Also buy thread to match the fabrics you picked out. Generally, the thread will not be visible, so if you have two different blue fabrics, just get thread that's close to one; you don't need an exact match for each fabric.
Step 1: Prepare the Fabric
- Cut your fabric down to a quarter yard (if needed), and wash, dry, and iron it, so it's pre-shrunk, and wrinkle-free. My illustrations here use a pre-cut fat quarter (18" x 22"). If you're working with a quarter yard cut off the bolt, you will have piece that's twice as wide, and half as high (9" x 44"), which will work just fine. If you already have more than a quarter yard of fabric, you can cut out a smaller piece, if you wish to economize your fabric use--but I wouldn't go less than 6" x 44".
- Cut a 9" length of interfacing, which should leave you with a 9" x 20" piece (it usually comes in 20" widths).
- Place your fabric finished side down, and lay the interfacing on half of it, centered (it should be a little smaller in each direction). Pellon will tell you otherwise, but it doesn't matter if you lay it with the nubby (adhesive) side up or down.
- Fold the fabric in half, covering the interfacing entirely. If you have a 9" x 44" piece of fabric, you'll be creasing the fabric in the 9" dimension, unlike what is pictured with the 18" x 22" piece. In either case, you're going to end up with a 9" x 22" sandwich of fabric, interfacing, and fabric. Make sure that the pretty side of the fabric is now visible, and that the interfacing is completely covered (it will stick to your iron spectacularly, otherwise).
- With the fabric on an ironing board (or pad, or similar heat-resistant surface), and the iron on the steam setting, gently iron this sandwich. Pellon suggests you not move the iron, and simply place it, leave it, lift, and re-position, so as to not risk introducing wrinkles in the fabric that will then be glued to the interfacing. I've never had a problem just gently moving the iron around the surface, pressing the steam button to get the interfacing adhesive to melt and stick to the fabric.
- Optionally, unfold your sandwich (the interfacing should now be firmly adhered to one half), and re-fold it with the pretty face inwards, and with the interface down, against the ironing board, gently press the folded edge to make the sandwich easier to manage in the following steps. You won't see the pretty face of your fabric again until you're nearly done.
Step 2: Trace a Tie Directly Onto the Interfacing (no Pattern Needed!)
- Lay an existing bow tie (one that's already adjusted to the correct length for you) directly onto the interfacing side of your fabric/interfacing package, and arrange it so that you have enough room to trace two copies of one half of the tie (see last three pictures for clarification). Arrange the halves so that there is roughly half an inch of margin between the two halves at all of the edges.
- For the first half copy, fold your bowtie in half, so that the two bows are exactly aligned. Then press the folded middle down, and trace pencil lines around all three sides, directly onto the interfacing (this will never show, and it's immensely easier than trying to use tailor's chalk to mark on the fabric itself!). Being careful not to move the bow end, trace around the bow as well. Now lay the tie out again on the remaining, unmarked area of interfacing, and repeat your tracing for the second half copy.
- I've found that it's easier not to trace along the entire length of straight sections, and instead just make a short mark at either end of a long, straight section.
- Remove the tie, and use a straight edge to complete penciling in the long, straight sections of the tie (faster and more accurate than trying to trace the tie itself along straight lines).
- Finally, make a small vertical mark on each half to indicate where you need to stop sewing. This will become clear later, but you need to leave an un-sewn "hole" which you will later use to pull the tie through as you turn it inside out. See the marks and comments in the fourth picture for details. I leave a very long gap, because I'm making the collar of the tie fairly narrow. If I sewed much further along the collar, it would be incredibly difficult to turn the tie inside out without damaging the fabric. This is a trade-off. You can make this long collar section wider, and machine sew much further along. The only downside to my approach is you have a longer section to hand-sew afterwards.
- Finally, pin through the interfacing and both layers of fabric in a few places on each tie template, to keep the sandwich from moving during sewing.
Step 3: Machine Sewing
- Start machine sewing along one of the long, straight sections of collar. Make sure you're not sewing towards your stop mark right off--you need to sew along the other side of the collar, around the bow, and then back towards your stop mark, instead. To keep the thread from pulling out where you started sewing, start by sewing backwards several stitches, then toggle your machine's direction mechanism into forward mode, and sew back over those same stitches, and continue on around the tie. This locks those first stitches in place tightly. Unlike sewing a piece of fabric that's already been cut out to match a pattern, here you are sewing directly on your pencil line, which is vastly simpler than sewing 1/4" in from the edge of already cut fabric (I think).
- Pull your pins out before you sew over them. You can see I put my pins in the wrong direction, making it a little harder to pull them out--not a big deal, but you'll find it easier if you can pull the pin towards you, rather than towards the foot. As you approach the curved bow section, slow down. If you're new to sewing, you might want to try a couple of practice curves in the empty sections of your fabric sandwich--trace a pencil line in any empty section, and then follow it with the sewing machine to get a feel for it without having to rip any mistaken stitches out of your actual line. I find it works well to take one hand off the fabric, and only keep a hand on the fabric towards the inside of the curve. You can press down with that hand and make the walking foot of the machine pull the fabric into a curve--varying the pressure changes how much curve.
- As you approach your first corner (one of the two tips of the bow), stop before you reach the exact corner. Slowly advance (even manually advance by rotating the hand wheel) until you're one stitch away from the intersection of your two pencil lines. Stop with the needle in the down position, pining the fabric in place. Raise the foot and rotate your fabric 45 degrees, pivoting around the needle that's holding it in place. Drop the foot, and hand-advance exactly one stitch. Raise the foot again, rotate the fabric so that your un-stitched pencil line is lined up straight, and drop the foot again, then continue sewing towards your next corner. This leaves you with a very slightly rounded corner, which is much less likely to fail than if you made a single 90 degree turn exactly at the corner (which is likely to "blow out" when you turn the tie right-side out, in the following steps)
- As you sew the bow-end of one of your two halves, you will need to fold up your fabric to fit inside the machine's throat (second-to last picture).
- Stop at your pencil mark on the last straight section of collar. Repeat all of the above with the other half of your tie.
Step 4: Snip the Curves, and Join the Two Halves
- Cut out each tie half. Standard practice is to leave 1/4" margin between your stitches and the edge of the fabric. I tend to cut a little closer. However, along the two un-stitched pencil lines, do leave a full 1/4" as it will make it easier to fold this under later.
- At each corner, cut at a 45 degree angle, quite close to that single stitch that you made at a 45 degree earlier. You can get within about 3-4 fabric threads of your stitch. This will allow the corner to lay flat when inverted.
- Anywhere there is a curve in your stitching, snip perpendicularly to the stitching through that 1/4" margin, ending your cut close to the line of stitching. This will allow that margin of fabric to flare out (well, in, actually) when you invert the tie--without this step, your curves will pucker and refuse to lay flat. Space each snip about 1/4" away from the previous snip. The exact distance isn't as critical as making sure it's a uniform distance each time, as that will ensure a smooth curve in your finished tie. You don't need to snip along any straight lines.
- It's time to sew your two tie haves together at the middle. Unfold the sandwich at both collar-ends, and press them together, with the show-sides facing inwards towards each other. If you cut your margins uniformly, the narrow ends will line up exactly. Just make sure that the two narrow pencil marks that indicate the exact center of the tie are aligned, or your tie will be a little longer or shorter than it should be. Also, make sure that the two flaps of thicker fabric & interfacing are folded in opposite directions. The pictures make this more obvious. This will create a much smoother seam at the center of your tie, preventing having an uncomfortable lump in the back of your neck when you wear the tie. This will become more obvious in later steps, or if you omit this particular detail.
- This is a difficult, small assembly of fabric to pin in place to hold it while you sew it. Instead, just keep it clamped between your fingers until you can drop the presser foot on it, and sew along your pencil line. Note that the half of your fabric with no interfacing adhered to it will not have a pencil line, Just keep sewing in line with the half that does have a mark. As always, start and end your stitching by sewing back over your stitches.
Step 5: Turn It Right-side Out
- Starting at one of the bows, pinch the side that's only fabric, and pull it away from the other side, to "inflate" the bow.
- Use some kind of long, but blunt-tipped tool to start inverting the tie. Chopsticks work. I didn't have any, so I rounded both ends of a long bamboo kebab skewer, so that there were no sharp edges. Try to position the tip of your tool on the interfacing side of the fabric, as this is much stronger, and less likely to stretch or tear.
- Press the tool into the tie, to start pushing the end of the bow tie further into the inflated section of the bow. I don't have three hands, so I usually place the opposite end of my bamboo skewer against my belt, and then pull the bow tie down onto the other end with both hands. Once you get it started, it's easy going until you reach the point where the bow narrows down into the collar section.
- Gently, invert the loose, flat section of collar back towards the messy wad of inverted tie, keeping the bamboo skewer in place for now.
- Once you've exposed a little bit of the very end of the bow, grab it, and pull your skewer out, which will release the internal pressure a bit. Now pull that little bit out carefully, while pulling on the collar section in the opposite direction.
- You'll end up with a wrinkled wreck that doesn't look anything like a tie. Start flattening it and stretching it with your fingers to reveal the bow shape. You can re-insert the skewer again to (gently!) push the seams outwards. Mostly just use your finger tips to pull and then flatten the seams. You'll roll your fingers against one another, with the tie between them, very much like you would while trying to open a stubborn produce bag at the grocery store.
- Be particularly gentle with the corners of the bows--its very easy to push or pull the corner stitch out, and then you'll need to turn it back inside out, and repair that. Mostly use your finger tips to roll the fabric into place, as in the previous step. If you're adventurous, you can also use a pin or needle to gently pull the corners out, from the outside. This can work very well, but it's really easy to go one pluck to far, and end up pulling a stitch out.
- Try to work towards four, uniform looking corners on the bows. If someone is close enough to you to notice that they aren't sharp points, you either have bigger worries, or no worries at all.
Step 6: Ironing, and Turning the Collar Hem
- Once you have both bows fully formed, iron them to crease the seams, and remove all the wrinkles.
- At the center of the tie, fold the seams back, exposing the show-side of the fabric right along the center-line. Iron this flat
- On the open section of collar, fold the interfacing back on itself, creasing exactly along your pencil line, the follow up with an iron, flattening it permanently.
- At either end of the collar where the machine stitching ends, curl the other side of the collar--the side with no interfacing--under, and crease it, so that it's the same width as the opposite side. Because you've already folded the opposite side along the pencil line, that will act as a guide to fold this side to the same width. Iron as you go.
- Keep in mind that all of this will be hidden underneath your shirt collar, so it doesn't have to be perfect. In fact, ironing it is really optional, but I find it makes sewing this section closed much, much easier. Alternatively, you can finger-press all of this.
- Eventually you will end up with a creased hem of sorts along both unfinished edges of the collar section, and the entire tie will lay flat, looking almost finished.
Step 7: Hand Sew the Collar Opening
- Once again, keep in mind that this section of tie will not be visible while you're wearing it. You just need to make a reasonably sound finished seam. If you're impatient, you can even crudely machine sew that entire straight section closed, leaving a line of stitching that will only be visible when you take the tie off. You're the only one who will know. Can you live with that? I can't, so I hand sew it. There are a number of hand stitches that will work; a whip stitch may be the easiest, but what I describe here is a ladder/slip stitch.
- Thread a needle with the same thread you used in the sewing machine. You don't want to run out of thread while hand-sewing, but you also don't want so much that you spend a lot of time pulling thread through. Try about 3 feet of thread, and pull the thread not quite halfway through the needle's eye, so the thread is doubled over, but one end is at least 5 inches longer. Tie a surgeons knot (a granny knot with a two turns instead of just one) near the end of that longer piece. Sew through part of the folded in hem, but not through the exterior facing fabric of the collar, and pull the thread all the way through, stopping when the knot pulls tight against the fabric. You want this knot to be hidden inside the collar, so that knot isn't exposed, and rubbing on your shirt collar.
- Push the needle through one edge of the fabric, near the edge, and piercing both the outwards facing collar piece, and the folded-over hem. Continue pushing the needle through only the folded over hem of the other side of the collar, using your finger on the far side of the fabric to feel that you haven't gone completely through the tie. Now, run the needle parallel to the length of the tie, tunneling between the folded over hem and the outer piece of fabric for about 1/2", without catching the tip of the needle on either side. Then pull the fabric into the path of the needle, forcing the needle to exit through the folded over hem, right at the creased edge. Pull the needle and thread through until the thread is taut.
- Repeat, inserting the needle through then near side of the collar, just behind where the thread is already coming out of the far side, and tunnel the needle down the crease of the hem on the far side of the collar again. As you progress, you will need to slide the thread through the eye of the needle so that you can pull the shorter, loose end of doubled thread all the way through the fabric.
- When you reach the center of the tie, you'll be going through more layers of fabric because of the seam there. If you don't have calluses, you can pretty easily push the eye of the needle through the skin on your finger while trying to push the needle through the layers of fabric here. If you get blood on your tie, saliva is a really good way to keep it from setting--and remember, as long as you don't stain the bows, what happens in the collar, stays in the collar. I find a thimble cumbersome; instead, I push the needle through difficult sections with the back of my thumbnail, while pressing the edge of my thumbnail into the pad of my pointer finger, which forms an L that locates the needle, and keeps it from skidding off.
- When you reach the other end of the open seam, tie a normal granny knot in the thread, fairly close to where the thread exits the fabric. Push the needle through just one side of the fabric, in an inconspicuous spot, but one that is close enough that you can pull that small knot through the fabric. Position the needle between the two halves of the tie, and thread it out between the two hems, without penetrating any more fabric. Pull the thread tight, until you feel a pop as the knot pulls through the fabric. Cut your thread off, and tuck the loose end down into the center of the collar with a pin or needle.
- You're finished! Now it's time to try it on. If you're having trouble tying a neat bow, I suggest watching Bill Nye tie his. There are a number of different methods, but his is reasonably easy to follow. Don't obsess over a perfectly symmetric bow (unless you just made a diamond point tie--those have to be nearly perfect to look at all right).