Ribbon Quilts

I grew up showing cattle throughout the USA, and I understand the symbolism represented in ribbons and banners. It's not the actual award that matters, as much as the memories made, the hard work and money invested, the hours spent, the miles traveled, the friends met, and the bonds formed.

I was asked to make a ribbon quilt for my cousin last year, and had a BALL experimenting with the process. I tried lots of methods and have arrived at what I feel is the most stable, sturdy piece that features the ribbons and keeps them displayed intact for many years to come.

Quilt Made from Small Ribbons and Rosette Tails - $0.18 USD per square inch ($0.24 CAD)
   - So, for instance, 40" x 40" x $0.18 = $288 USD (plus tax and shipping)
Quilt Made from Larger Banners - $0.16 USD per square inch ($.021 CAD)

• sorting, ironing, and trimming ribbons/banners
• batting
• backing and binding fabric
• quilt assembly
• hanging sleeve on back
• You will need to provide your own hanging hardware/curtain rod. See below for some suggestions.

Things to Know:

1) This will NOT be a soft quilt. It will be very stiff - not appropriate for cuddling. The stiffness also makes it hard for me to manipulate through my sewing machine, and for that reason, I am only able to create smaller pieces, like a wall hanging or a table runner or something meant to showcase it, rather than a larger lap/bed quilt. Those ribbons are STIFF.

2) You won't be able to wash the quilt... like, ever. Maybe some spot treatments, but it will not be able to be thrown into a washing machine like a traditional cotton-fabric quilt. Another good reason to have it be a display piece, rather than something that gets interacted with and handled a bunch.

3) Don't worry about ironing your ribbons. Just package them up and ship 'em. I'll iron them when they get here, because they'll probably get folded and creased during the jostling of shipment anyway.

4) If you have any special ribbons that you definitely want incorporated, please distinguish them somehow. For instance, put them in a ziplock bag marked "To Include", separate from the whole mess of other ribbons. Or put a rubber band around the special ones. Just something that tells me, "I'm really proud of these certain ribbons, so please do your best to use these."


What's the best size for a ribbon quilt?
In my opinion, a nice size for a wall-hanging is approximately 40x48". It somewhat depends on the size of your ribbons. Their length and width matter. I try to use as much of each ribbon as possible.  If you have a certain place in your house/barn that you want to hang it or a certain table you want to have a table runner for, I'm happy to accommodate whatever size you need, to a certain extent. The larger quilts pictured here (there are three of them) are approximately 40x50". The red, white, and blue one is 24x24". The purple ones are 35x15".

How many ribbons are required?
For a 40x40 layout, it would require approximately 125 ribbons. For 40x48, approximately 175. I'll return any unused ribbons to you with the finished quilt. If you want a different size, I can estimate for you how many ribbons are required. Or if you just want to send me ALL of your ribbons and let me make as large a quilt as possible (or multiple small quilts), that's fine, too. It might be possible to make one for your show barn and one for the house. Or one for your child (which will go with them when they move out of your house) and one for your own house. Or one as a small table-runner and one as a larger wall-hanging. I can let you know when I get your ribbons sorted, and we can make a game plan.

Can you arrange the ribbons in a variety of patterns and blocks?
Short answer: not really. I feel strongly that in order to maintain the integrity of the ribbon-satin, we need to make sure there are no raw edges exposed, not even after searing with flame or applying fray-check. These ribbons fray like CRAZY, even with those extra measures. I also do not recommend seaming ribbons together. I've had ribbons rip apart along my stitching lines (the needle holes make a perfect perforation, like ripping a page out of child's coloring book). For that reason, I like to use a log-cabin or basket-weave arrangement, as seen here. No raw edges, no seams.

Do you add extra quilting after you piece the whole quilt together? No. The method I use to piece (well, applique actually) the ribbons into a single piece is a sorta quilt-as-you-go method. I lay down the backing fabric, layer the batting on top of it, then arrange the ribbons on top of the batting, and zig-zag around the perimeter of every single ribbon. So, I sew the ribbons together with the other layers of the quilt sandwich all in one step. I don't want to add additional quilting, because I want to avoid putting any more needle-holes into the ribbons than I need to. The satin is really susceptible to piercing/cutting and unravels badly. I've actually had certain ribbons perforate along my stitching line and rip apart. On occasion, with larger banners, I have added additional quilting, but I need to just see the banner and get a feel for how stable the fabric is and whether or not I think it needs/can handle more needle holes.

How do you keep the ribbons in place while you're sewing them on?
I use heat-fusible batting, so I arrange the ribbons how I want them, then I apply gentle heat from an iron. If needed, I also occasionally use basting spray. With either method, the bond is only temporary, so I can only lay out small sections at a time, move to the sewing machine and stitch them in place, then baste the next small section, and so on.

Can you use rosettes? 
Yes, but only the tails or streamers. I haven't found a reliable way to incorporate the rosette heads. If you have suggestions, I'm willing to experiment. But I've found that disassembling a rosette to use it in a quilt pretty much destroys the rosette head.

Do I need to send batting and backing fabric?
Nope. I'll provide the batting, backing fabric, and binding fabric. I have a certain batting that I like to work with. It is 80% cotton, 20% polyester, and is treated with a heat activated adhesive. I will use a solid-colored fabric for the backing and binding that coordinates with the dominant colors of the ribbon quilt top - usually blue. These are all included in the price of the project. $0.18 ($.24 Canadian) per square inch.

How can I remove wrinkles from my quilt?
When you get your finished quilt back, it's likely that it will have wrinkles/creases from being folded will in transit. Don't be afraid to iron your quilt with gentle heat and steam. First, try ironing on the back side. If there are still creases on the front, go ahead and iron, but KEEP YOUR IRON MOVING. The color of the ribbons will temporarily darken, but will turn back to normal after they cool. What you don't want is for your iron to melt the ribbon-satin and/or lettering on the ribbons. It would ruin your quilt and wreck your iron. So just keep that iron moving!

How should I hang my quilt when I get it back?
I have tried a LOT of quilt-hanging methods. Of course, any curtain rod set would be perfectly fine, but those keep the quilt hanging a few inches away from the wall. I like the quilt to lay flat against the wall. My favorite, especially for these ribbon quilts, is a really low-profile, simple method. I purchase cheap, flat-sided, telescoping cafe rods from the dollar store or Walmart.

Then I take those angled ends and just bend them back and forth by hand until they pinch and break off. The channel on the back side of the cafe rod fits perfectly onto a very small command hook.

Slide the cafe rod into the pocket on the back of the quilt, and then feel it with your fingers so that the channel of the cafe rod rests on the command hooks. And voila! The quilt lays flat against the wall, and hardware is invisible. Clean and sleek! 

Just make sure to buy a short enough cafe rod so that it doesn't stick out the ends past the edges of the quilt. The one above I happened to have on-hand from a larger quilt. You can see the end of the rod sticking out past the right-side of the quilt.

You said you grew up showing cattle. Do you have a quilt made from your own ribbons?
I'm so sad that my sisters and I never thought enough to save our own ribbons. I probably threw most of them directly into the trash can on my way back from the show ring. I just never thought they were a big deal. We never saved "trophies" either (like, county fair 4-H trophies). Banners and silver platters and cool prizes, like furniture - yes, those were cool to us. But now that I'm working as a quilter, I wish I had some of my old ribbons to do a quilt for myself and my sisters!

Do you use that big, longarm quilting machine for these ribbon quilts?
No. For this, the whole process takes place on my small domestic sewing machine.

Some eye candy...



  1. Do you think stabilizer would work with ribbons?

  2. Great! I like reading your post. Why not get Satin Ribbon for your project?

  3. Hi there. How can I get ahold of you? mhughes57@hotmail.com