Making large stiff hairbows

If there’s one thing that anime and video games really like, it’s large hairbows. The problem with giant hairbows is that the bigger you get, the more gravity reminds you that it’s real. If you’re doing any performance with this hairbow, you also want to make sure it can withstand dancing and performing.

Bow pictured from the back, from the front of the wig, and in the game reference

I’m a pretty avid fan of magical girls and Pokemon and both definitely like the hairbow. Dawn’s contest attire was my most recent hairbow venture. I needed something that held its shape like in the game and could withstand a full contest performance.

I’ve used a few methods for giant hairbows, and this is so far my favorite and the easiest. It takes a few materials and a little patience, and you can make a gravity-defying hairbow.

This tutorial works for pretty large bows, but do keep in mind that the larger the bow, the more weight on your head. The style shown here is a skinnier bow since I was making Dawn’s hairbow, but it will work for wider anime-style bows too.

Skill level: beginner-friendly

Cost: relatively budget-friendly

Materials:

  • Cotton or polycotton fabric. Usually less than a yard unless your bow is humongous
  • A roll of lightweight interfacing. You won’t need too much
  • Petticoat netting or extra layers of tulle. With netting, you definitely need less than a yard
  • A french barrette

Supplies and tools:

  • Sewing machine with a standard needle
  • Matching thread
  • Hand sewing needle
  • Fabric scissors
  • Straight pins or fabric clips
  • Paper, tape, and pens for patterning
  • Steam iron with ironing board or thick towel
  • Ruler. Tailor’s ruler recommended
  • Hot glue (optional)
  • Point turner (recommended for turning the corners in the tails)

Creating the bow pattern

While you could jump into sewing right away, it’s best to create a paper template to see what size bow you want. An adult-sized hairbow is about two pieces of printer paper taped together at the flat side to make a really long hot dog. The wider your paper, the bigger your bow. The skinner, the thinner your bow will be.

Holding the paper template up to a wig head to see the size
Holding the paper template up to a wig head for size

Fold your taped piece of paper together at the center to create a pair of loops. This gives you an idea of how wide the bow will look once you’re done.

For reference, my Dawn bow is 4″ wide. If you want something closer to a Sailor Venus bow, you may want to go 6″ or even 8″ depending on the size you want.

If you’re using printer paper, you can also pinch the center of the bow to test how it will look once complete.

Once you’re satisfied, flatten out your piece of paper and it’s time to cut some fabric.

Cutting out the fabric

Cutting out fabric isn’t simply tracing the paper on fabric. If you want the final bow to be the same width as your paper, you need to add seam allowance, the space between the raw edge of the fabric and the stitches.

Pin the pattern to your bow fabric, leaving enough space at the top edge of the fabric for a seam allowance. Standard is 5/8″ but give yourself a little extra room for drawing. Fold the fabric in half so you can cut both sides of the bow at the same time.

Pin the netting to the back of the fabric so you can cut the fabric and the netting out at the same time. For netting, use 1-2 layers. For stiff tulle, you’ll likely need about 4-5 layers. Pin them all together and squash them down on your table. It’s time to add some seam allowance

Adding 5/8" seam allowance using a tailor's ruler
Adding seam allowance using a tailor’s ruler

If you have a tailor’s ruler, adding the standard 5/8″ seam allowance is pretty simple. It will be marked on your ruler. If you have a regular ruler, 1/2″ is a lot easier to see than 5/8″. Measure 1/2″ away from the edge of the paper and make a ticky mark. Once you’ve made all your ticky marks, draw a straight line through them to add seam allowance

Add a seam allowance to the top and bottom of the paper. Add an inch or two to one of the sides of the paper to give yourself enough room to cross the ends. Cut both sides out.

This will make the main bow but you also need some bow tails. The easiest way to make them is to cut the main bow out a second time. Fold your fabric in half (you need two sides to your bow tails!) and cut the same piece out of your bow fabric a second time, minding the seam allowance.

After you cut everything out, you’ll have 4 pieces of bow fabric plus several pieces of netting or tulle.

Making the bow body

Now that you have all the pieces, it’s time to stiffen up the bow body so it stays put in your hair. While the netting will provide the primary support, a little interfacing goes a long way. It also helps smooth the fabric out so the netting doesn’t show in the final version.

First, take one of the bow pieces and lay it on the interfacing as a pattern. You can cut out a single piece of interfacing vertically along your roll or cut two pieces horizontally like I’ve done to save some fabric on my roll:

Interfacing fused with the bow body
Two pieces of interfacing overlapped at the center

Next, fuse the interfacing to your fabric according to the interfacing’s instructions. If you are working with one piece, easy and good to go. Simply fuse that piece to the wrong side of your bow fabric following the instructions that came with your interfacing. If you are using two pieces, fuse one at a time, overlapping at the center.

Once the interfacing is sufficiently fused, it’s time to make a sandwich. A stability sandwich. Here are the layers to make your sandwich:

  • Place the interfacing face-down on the table
  • Place another piece of bow fabric right-side down
  • Place the netting or tulle on top of this (there is no right side, so it doesn’t matter)

Now pin the sandwich together at the sides and sew within the seam allowance you added earlier, either 5/8″ or 1/2″.

Layers of the bow sandwich, sewn together at 5/8" seam allowance
Bow sandwich, sewn together

Remove the pins, and turn the fabric right-side out. The easiest way to turn something this stiff is to start folding the top of the fabric outward, making a sort of lip in the fabric.

How to turn the bow right-side out by pulling

Reach into the tube and pinch some of the fabric, gently pulling it out of the tube while pulling the end of the fabric down with your other hand. Keep doing this until you have turned the entire bow.

Iron the bow flat with the seams on the sides. The interfacing and netting should make it easy to squash it flat before ironing, but if it gives you trouble, you can pinch the seam and pull them out before ironing. Pink the edges near the end of the fabric and set the bow body aside. It’s time to make the tails.

Making the tails

You should have two bow fabric pieces left in the pile, currently unused. These will become the tail. Since it is a bow, having the tails the same width makes it believable that this is all one piece of fabric tied into a bow.

First, place the two pieces together, matching the sides up evenly. Fold it in half and cut it at the fold. Sewing the tails in two pieces is easier, and it also makes a more anime- and game-like shape once the whole bow is assembled.

Swallowtail-style bow tails sewn together. The stitches are marked in white
Swallowtail bow tails sewn, stitches marked in white

If your bow needs square tails, pin the two layers right-sides together (make sure not to pin all 4 layers together. You need 2 tails). Sew a box-like pattern down 3 sides of the tail, leaving one of the short ends open for turning. Sew at the same seam allowance you used to sew the bow body, either 5/8″ or 1/2″.

If you need a swallowtail, cut a triangle-like shape out of the bottom (you can use the corner of a book to make the perfect shape) before sewing along the edges with the same seam allowance as the body. For this shape, leave the flat short side unsewn for turning.

Before you turn the bow right-side out, you’ll want to clip the corners. Clipping is the process of cutting into the fabric to prevent corner and curve bunches. We want a smooth bow, not a bunchy bow.

Corner clipping involves cutting off the edges of the corner at an angle to reduce the amount of fabric inside. For sharper corners such as my swallowtail corners, you need a more drastic clip, but square corners need one a bit shallower.

Stitches marked in white show the placement of both corner and angle clipping to prevent pulling and bunching.
Clipping for a swallowtail with the stitches marked for visibility

If you have a swallowtail, you also need to clip on the angle. This allows the fabric to spread over the inward corner and not pull. Pulling creates bunches.

In all corners, make sure not to clip your actual stitches. You want to get close, but not so close you can see the fibers of the fabric splitting either. Leave yourself a little leeway. If you do happen to clip a stitch, simply stitch over the clipped stitches with your sewing machine to reinforce them.

a point turner tool
Point turner

With the corners clipped, it’s time to turn the bow tails right-side out. Once turned, use your fingers on the inside to start smoothing out the edges.

Use a point turner or some stiff paper to push the corners fully out. Don’t push so hard that the fabric pops through your stitches. Avoid using a pen because this happens a lot with a pen. I highly recommend investing in a point turner aka the corner pusher because it is very good at pushing corners.

Once you’ve pushed your corners, iron the tails flat and pink the open edge as desired.

Assembling the bow

Now that you have the main pieces sewn and pressed, it’s time to assemble the whole thing. Start by folding the bow body in half and marking the crease with a small straight pin. This is the center of your bow that will be used for lining up all the pieces and ensuring that the bow is even.

Unfold the bow body then overlap the open ends at your pin marking, making sure that the interfaced side is on the outside. This hides the netting inside.

Bow body folded over, overlapping at the center of the bow where the pin is.

Next, take your tails and overlap them in the center back where your pin is at about a 45° angle. You don’t have to measure, just guestimate with whatever looks right.

Overlapping the tails in the center of the bow body.
My tails are rarely straight but it adds to the charm.

Now it’s time to bind everything together. Thread a sharp hand sewing needle with some matching thread. I recommend doubling up on the thread by threading a single thread and tying the two tails together to make a double strand.

Once you have your needle threaded, stab it through all the layers at about the center of the bow. This will stabilize them while you’re winding the bow up. It doesn’t matter if you have the knot in the front or back. It’ll be hidden in the end. If you have trouble getting the needle through the layers, use a thimble or your table to push the needle through.

Wrap the thread around once to start. The first wind will always be the hardest to do so take your time. Once it’s wound, give it a tug to tighten it. You want this tight as it serves as your knot point, but not so tight that you snap your thread in the process.

Diagram of the winding process. Winding marked in green and the thread is marked in white.
You can wind in either direction honestly

After tightening, wind the thread around the bow several more times until you start running out of thread. Knot the thread and snip the tails.

After winding, shift the bow fabric as needed to make the bow look more bow-like. The winding process will generally squash all your fabric together. With all the netting inside, it won’t be completely straight, but that’ll be covered by the knot fabric. As long as it looks like a bow, you’re good!

Adding the knot and clip

The last step is to add the knot to hide your thread and to properly secure the clip. French barrettes are best for the clip since they slip easily into the wig netting and stay there securely. You can use other clips such as large alligator clips, hairstyling clips, and combs as long as they have enough grip to stay in the wig.

If you have some double-fold bias tape, you can skip further down to the wrapping section. But chances are, you need something that matches a bit more closely, so we’re going to make our own double-fold hem tape for the knot.

You can take a tape measure and measure around the circumference of your sewn knot then add about 2″ or kind of guess a length. I went with about 6″ length, which was way too much, but better too much than too little. A good width is 4″. Cut out your square and lay it out on your ironing board.

  1. Iron the strip of fabric in half on the 4″ side to make a 2″ strip.
  2. Open the strip and take one edge of the fabric. Fold it in towards the center and iron it down.
  3. Do the same for the other side
  4. Now iron the strip in half again, making a 1″ strip of fabric, folded with no raw edges showing.

You end up with creases like this:

3 creases ironed into the fabric by folding the fabric in half and pressing it. This makes 1" hem tape
Creases ironed into the hem tape to make a 1″ width strip of fabric when fully folded

Flip the bow upside down so that the tails are facing you. This will be the back of the bow. Slip the hem tape underneath the bow and wrap it tightly around the center thread. Overlap the edges and mark about 1/2″ lower than where the tails overlap. Clip the longer side with pinking sheers or scissors.

Open the french barrette and slip the hem tape through the barrette underneath the curved section. It doesn’t matter which way the barrette opens as they aren’t directional.

Now wrap the knot again, taking your hand needle and doing a quick few whip stitches to secure the hem tape and your knot.

Barrette slipped into the hem tape and secured with whip stitches (in white)
Barrette sewn and secured. Stitches are marked in white

Optionally you can add some hot glue at the sides to keep the barrette from slipping around while wearing it. And that’s it. You now have a stiff gravity-defying hairbow!

Finished hairbow with pokeball accent

I hope you enjoyed this fun little tutorial! So many characters wear hairbows and anime and games like to forget that hairbows are often subject to this thing called gravity. But with a little bit of sewing magic, we can pretend that gravity doesn’t exist to get that perfect hairbow every time.

Add whatever accents to the bow as you like or leave it as is. It’s time to enjoy your new hair accessory!

Let me know what you make with this tutorial. @ me on social media so I can admire your work!

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