Getting giant bows to stay up

Anime and game designs like to have gravity-defying large bows and accessories that miraculously stay up no matter what battles they’ve been through. But in reality, bows that big pull obis and sag. Even if you put the stiffest of interfacing inside, nothing can beat gravity. No one likes a saggy bow. They’re kind of sad.

A kimono with a massive oversized obi bow
Mononoke likes ridiculously large bows

But fortunately, there are ways to fight gravity and keep your giant bow up without sagging obi or tugging on your cosplay. For stationary bows, you can use hand stitching to keep them up. For removable or partially stationary bows, giant snaps work wonders in supporting your giant bow.

You can use this same technique to support decorative bows. The general rule of cosplay: if it can move around, it will, so tack it down so it stays perfect all day long!

Interfacing and support

Before we talk about hand stitching or snaps, let’s cover base support. If your giant bow doesn’t have enough stiffness to it, the bow will droop and hang like a dress on a hanger. While there are a number of things you can use to stiffen bows, the size of giant bows requires the stiffening method to be as light as possible.

Super stiff interfacing is going to be your best method. Pelon 809 Decor-Bond is a good place to start. This one is very stiff upholstery interfacing, iron-on, supportive, and not so stiff it cannot bend when adding the bow center.

Any heavyweight or middleweight interfacing should do. Iron-on interfacing will be easiest to work with when you have to turn the bow pieces right-side out.

The rest of the support likely will come from how you attach the giant bow to your cosplay, though if it extends far beyond your body or requires special shaping and rounding, add some wire, horsehair, or boning to the seams before sewing the whole bow together.

Supporting stationary bows

Stationary bows are bows that don’t need to be removed. You can transport the cosplay easy enough with them attached, and there are no zippers or openings that you need to work around.

A stationary bow for a sailor moon cosplay. The hand stitching is marked.
Stationary bow with hand stitching marked

A good example of stationary bows is for Sailor Moon cosplays such as the one in the picture. If I did not support this bow, it would sag on both sides due to the weight of the satin fabric.

For these sorts of bows, hand stitching is best as machine stitches can’t always get around the bow knot and they sometimes show on the edges of the bows. A simple straight stitch should do. I recommend doubling up your thread when sewing. No need for heavy-duty thread.

When picking locations to stitch, start with the bow knot, sewing it on the inside of the knot facing the body of the cosplay so the stitches don’t show. Pin the other sections of the bow to double-check how the bow sits on you when wearing the cosplay before sewing it down. For Sailor Moon and seifuku school uniforms, you can generally support a bow in three places, one at the knot and two along the top of the bow. Sew the top spots slightly away from the folded edge so it doesn’t look like it’s plastered against your body.

A double bow on the back of a Pokemon dress. The hand stitching is marked.
Complicated bow with hand stitching marked

You can use this same technique to support complicated bows that you do not want to move. If left unstitched, this bow would lose its arrangement and flop all over the place, sagging at the bow knot and looking like a bunch of tail ends. When stitching complicated bows, you can use much the same technique as above. Start with the knot then use pins to choose where to place the other stitches.

Supporting removable bows

Removable bows are ones that need to be completely detached from the cosplay. This could be to work around zippers, that the bow is incredibly large, or even if you want to remove it for cleaning.

To make a bow removable, you can hide fasteners underneath them and attach the bows right to the cosplay. This makes it easy to attach the bow and then pull the cosplay on without any assistance. Giant bows can be quite weighty, so Velcro isn’t going to cut it. Hooks and eyes may rip your fabric. You need something strong, and extra-large snaps work wonders.

Extra-large snaps are about 2″ in diameter and metal, coming in both silver and black. You can find them at most places that sell sewing notions. I use the two colors to differentiate which snaps go to what piece when working with segmented bows or attachments.

Diagram of the support system I used for the giant obi bow. It's a series of snaps along the back of the kimono
Support system for a massive obi bow

Let’s look at the giant obi bow above as an example.

  • Left shows the obi tied with snaps trailing up the back of the kimono. Note there are no snaps on the obi itself. The silver snaps connect to the tail and the black snaps attach to the bow.
  • Middle shows the bow tails. I made them separate to match the anime designs and to keep the weight off the bow itself. There is a snap on the tails for the bow itself.
  • Right shows the bow attached. Because the bow is so massive, none of the snaps or the obi laces are visible

Using a segmented design like this pulls all the weight off my waist and the obi and displaces it across my back. Despite this bow being very heavy, I do not feel it after an entire day of wearing this cosplay. I can also attach the bow to the back of the kimono then lace the obi separately, allowing me to put the entire cosplay on without assistance.

Choosing the location of your snaps depends upon what kind of bow you have. You’ll want to consider a few things while planning the snap placement

  • Is your bow segmented or one solid piece?
  • Does it sit at an angle or straight across?
  • Are you working around zippers?

Once you consider these points, it should give you an idea of where to start. Bows like Sailor Moon or magical girls tend to sit straight across. Decorative obi bows tend to sit at an angle. In general, you always want to support the bow at the knot then at least two other points which support the most amount of weight.

Diagram showing how the weight is distributed for a massive obi bow
Determining bow angle and weight

For a straight bow, the weight-bearing section is across the top of the bow. For an angled bow, the weight-bearing section is the side of the bow that sits above the knot. The non-weight-bearing sections of the bows should sit flush against you even when not snapped into place due to the interfacing inside the bow keeping it well supported.

Once you determine where the bow needs to be supported, it’s time to start placing snaps. If you’re working with a segmented bow, place the tail snaps first. Pin the tails into place then mark the snap placement with chalk or lightly with a pen.

Continue with the bow. Start with the knot section, marking where to place the snaps. You may need to place the snap on the tails or the obi to make it believable. Continue along the weight-bearing section of the bow. For smaller bows, you may only need one or two snaps, but for larger bows, you’ll need quite a few. My giant obi bow required three weight-bearing snaps plus the knot snap to support it due to size and weight.

Try the cosplay on during this process, especially if you’re using a dress form or pinning on a table. Make sure the bow sits right when pinned before making your marks. You can move your snaps but you’ll save yourself some stress if you try it on before you sew!

Supporting partially stationary bows

Partially stationary bows are sewn down about halfway then are removable on the other side. This allows you to move bows around zippers and snaps to get in and out of the cosplay. This is a hybrid attachment method that combines both stationary and removable bow supports. It is best for bows that sit straight across. Bows at an angle may have trouble with this method.

A partially stationary bow is sewn on one side and removable on the other.
The magic of a partially stationary bow

Determining which side to sew down and which side to make removable is a personal preference. For me, I’m mostly right-handed, so having the snaps on the right was a logical choice.

Once you determine which side you want the snaps, you can start with hand sewing the bow down to the cosplay. Start at the knot, making sure to sew the knot down on the non-removable side and not sew your zipper shut. You may only be able to sew on one side of the knot instead of in the center or across the entire knot.

Next, pin and sew the support on the sewn side of the bow. Try the cosplay on with it pinned first to ensure the bow is straight and not crooked, as this will serve as the counterbalance to the snap on the other side

Finally, you’ll want to determine the snap location. Unlike other methods, you can’t pin then pull the cosplay on to try it out. You won’t be able to unzip the cosplay! So you’ll need to guestimate on a dress form or pin it on yourself or lay it flat on a table and mark the placement. Remember you can move snaps in case the placement is wrong. Make sure to only sew on the hidden side of the bow else you’ll be able to see the stitches on the visible outside.

I hope this helps in keeping your bows from being saggy and sad! Feel free to @ me on social media with any questions or to share what you’ve made from this article!

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