Making a cockade from ribbon or narrow fabric is a fairly easy thing to do once you know how, but I didn’t have any instructions when I figured this whole thing out. I had seen some lovely ribbon ornaments at a Renaissance Faire and wished I had purchased one- although at the time I couldn’t afford the $20 price! Eventually the question of how to make one worked its way to the center of my brain and I decided to research the technique.
At first I didn’t even know what the thing was called! This made Googling the info rather tedious. I started searching for “ribbon ornament– which is a pretty broad term. Lots of sites featuring ribbon roses and other stuff like that came up. Eventually, after sifting through pretty much the entire internet, I came up with enough information on ribbonwork to start experimenting. A few early attempts proved unsatisfying in their construction, not being regular enough or being too dimensional. I decided that a periodic folding pattern would best suit the cockade construction. Because I did not ever actually find instructions, the method that I demonstrate here may not be the way other people construct a ribbon cockade. I present this in the interest of sharing my method and to encourage an appreciation of handmade ribbon ornamentation- an artform nearly forgotten in this ready-made world.
Here’s a smidge of history: The cockade originally was used as a means for designating and identifying military personnel. The tri-corner hats favored by the British and French navies were all pretty similar in appearance, and when a deck was crowded, it could be difficult for the captain to tell where his officers were among the swarm of hats. A system of colored ribbons was thereby used, folded and tucked into a braid on the side of the hat. The captain, standing on the command deck, could look down and easily tell where his men were and what they were doing. Over time this type of simple ornament grew more elaborate and then was adopted by fashionable civillians. The word “cockade” comes from the same root as “cock” and if you think about it, a rooster has a similar ornament on his own head!
A cockade can be made from a single length of ribbon, four feet is plenty although more can be used– and depending on your design and the ribbon being used you may want to use more. A minimum of equipment is necessary, ribbon, needle, thread (quilting thread is best), hands. You may also want a measuring guide, beeswax and some straight pins. An Iron is good when finishing up, but weighing the cockade with a book for a few hours would work too.
In this demonstration I randomly chose a length to make the loops. they can be made longer than the ribbon width, equal to or shorter, the loop lengths could be varied in a repeating pattern (long-short) or the ribbon might be twisted or pinched. Doubling up a ribbon with a voile strip might also be interesting, certainly stacking them works well. Finish off the center with an ornament such as an antique button or jewelry filligree. Experiment with your materials and you will find you are able to vary the look of your finished cockades quite a lot. Use your cockades on hats of course, but also as lapel decorations, shoe ornaments, stocking flashes or prize badges. Cockades are jaunty things– have fun with them!
Step 1: Folding and stitching
Choose a length of ribbon about one inch wide- wider is great too, a length of at least four feet is good to start. The longer your ribbon is the more points the finished cockade can have. If you get an extra-wide ribbon you may want more length for fullness and proportion.
Start at one end of your ribbon, leave a tail for the finish of some usable length depending on your ribbon or planned use I used about 5 inches.
Thread a sharp, medium sized needle with a generous length of strong thread. The thread will be used from beginning to completion and stitching on an embellishment- you may want to wax the thread to reduce twisting.
Measure out the depth that you want for your (approximate) cockade radius and fold back the ribbon on itself to make a flat loop. It may be useful to use a depth equal to- or slightly greater than the width of the ribbon for your first project. Make two flat loops in this manner using the previous return as your guide. Be as accurate as you can in matching the return points because the beauty of the cockade depends greatly on the uniformity of the loop size. If you wish you can make a template from cardboard or acetate film to use in making the loops. If you are using a pattern ribbon, try to place your folds to correspond with a repeating motif. (Note: printed motifs should be treated like any printed fabric- allow extra for matching).