Make a Ribbon Cockade




Introduction: Make a Ribbon Cockade

About: I'll try anything once- well not parachuting. I love to make stuff, to learn how to do things, and to make tools for making and doing things. I'm an under-employed graphic designer and illustrator. I teach ...

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!

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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).

Step 2: Beginning Stitches

Pinch the ribbon close to the ends of your first loops. Place the needle into the loose end of the ribbon at the edge closest to you (if you are left handed this will be reversed from the picture). At the point directly beneath the first loop end (lowest dot) make a stitch, catching itself in the bottom ribbon. Stitch at the edge of the ribbon, through the first loop at the place indicated by the middle dot, back-stitch through the base layer and the loop, continuing the stitch into the next loop (top dot). Back-stitch to secure the second loop, stitching through the first loop below it at the first stitch site.

In this way you will create a periodic (repeating pattern) stack of loops. Each loop will be secured to the loop made just before it. This will make the chain of stacked loops very secure and yet very flexible- let’s continue...

Step 3: Keep Those Folds Even!

Make a third loop, matching the return fold as closely as possible and stitch through the edge as shown. Note that the other end of the ribbon is left unstitched. Back stitch through the previous fold and the new fold to secure. Below is what the workpiece should look like to this point. Note that the folds are secure and tight.

Fold the next return.

Step 4: This Is Repetetive, But It Goes Quickly...

The stack is coming along- keep folding and stitching each return to the previous loop. There is no real rule as to how many loops to make, so just keep doing this until you come close to the end of your ribbon...

Step 5: Finished With the Folding...

This is what the workpiece will look like if you open it up. note that is is stable, but that the stitched edge has good flexibility.

I have completed the folding and stitching of my ribbon. I got 10 loops from my four foot piece. If I had made shorter loops I would have gotten more. Do not cut the thread, we have more stitching to do.
Let’s finish this up and see what this looks like opened up, shall we?

Step 6: Stitching Closed & Arranging the Folds

At this point the stitched edge of the cockade is still open. Bring the top and bottom edges (where the tail ends start) of the stitched edge together- stitch the loose edges to close the circle. Pull the long thread ends to the back of the cockade but don’t snip them.

Start fanning out the open end of the loops from one end, like a fan of playing cards or a pinwheel, keep the stitching to the rear center. The tails will lay next to each other. The upper end (the beginning tail-end) will be folded under itself.

Step 7: Make It Neat and Tidy...

Keep fanning out the loops until the entire piece has come back to the beginning... this will be similar to a pinwheel in appearance. Lay the workpiece flat on a piece of thick fabric or felt. Fine tune the distribution to even up the loops and close up any gaps. Pin the cockade to the work pad or felt. (oops! my thread snuck back to the front- naughty thread!)

Step 8: Pressing Onward

Using a low setting, press the cockade to gently set the folds in place. Always use a scrap of ribbon to test the heat. You don’t want to scorch your pretty new creation now- do you?

If you have a delicate fabric use a pressing cloth to protect the finish. Soft fabrics or ribbons may benefit from some spray sizing. You can use thinned spray shellac (apply to the reverse side) if the cockade will be subjected to rigorous use or moisture.

Step 9: Last Steps to a Perfect Finish

Flip the cockade to the reverse side... this looks pretty too! Now it’s time to secure the folds permanently.
Using the long thread end and a long running stitch, stitch around the center of the cockade, making sure that the stitching doesn’t show in front. Two stitch passes around the back, stitching through each loop, back-stitch the end to secure. Do not trim thread until embellishment is added.
By using one continuous thread, loose ends are minimized.

Step 10: Tah-daaahh!

You can now trim the tails into neat angles or points and stitch an embellishment at the center of the cockade, here I used an antique button. You could use an old rhinestone earring, a piece of lace, a voile pouf, a pearl, whatever you have lying around!

Now you know how to make a ribbon cockade- and I bet none of your friends do... so have fun teaching someone else to make this pretty little ribbon treat- or send them to Instructables!!

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9 Discussions


5 years ago on Introduction

I love this instructable! It took me forever to figure out the names of these beautiful accents, and yours was the first set of instructions to come up. Easy to follow, and given a little more practice, they will start adorning all sorts of my presents this Christmas.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Ah, yes I had the same problem when I started researching cockades! Not exactly a standard vocabulary word! :)

Enjoy! I bet your friends will ooh & aah over your fancy gift packaging! For more cockade fun, check out this San Francisco based Costumer's blog- be sure to click 'older posts' she has wonderful designs!:


4 years ago on Introduction

Thank you so much for this easy to follow instructable! Here's a picture of my cockade I made by your instructions! It's my first ever and I am quite proud of how it turned out!


4 years ago on Introduction

very clear explanations and I love the result. thank you.

lets all take a walk

I made mine a bit too big, but it was fun and didn't take long.


8 years ago on Introduction

Thank you for this! I had tried with another couple of tutorials and hadn't figured it out but now I have a lovely cockade for a French revolutionary costume.


8 years ago on Step 10

i am a 62 year old man who has little sewing ability (perhaps the odd button and bad darning) and made this cockade with a folded silk scarf because i didnt have the right colored ribbon.I should say i am trying to make a tricorn hat for a colonel in a play set in 1710 and he really should have a regimental cockade. I wish you could see what I made its not bad at all!!. because even after a second go at the stitching its ended up being a three quarter cockade but its looks fine with a black button in the middle and a sequin i found in my deceased mother's sewing box. I send this message from London. thankyou whoever you are for taking the trouble to post this. just to add that i think it a good idea to read all the stages through first which i failed to do. good luck and thankyou.


Reply 8 years ago on Step 10

I'm glad that your cockade was a success! I do hope that you steal the show with your finely festooned tricorn! All the best! -Jean