How to sew ribbons onto pointe shoes

So you’ve got yourself a lovely new pair of pointe shoes! But wait, there’s something missing…yes you guessed it: before you can wear your new shoes, you have to sew on the ribbons!  The first time you do this it will take time and patience, but it’s all part of the pointe shoe experience and you’re going to have to do it many, many, MANY more times, so sit tight and you will get better with practice!

You will need:

  • 1 pair of pointe shoes
  • 1 fine needle
  • strong & pale coloured thread
  • 1 pencil

Step by step: How to sew ribbons onto Pointe shoes

  • Ribbon is sold in one long piece of approximately 2.5 metres. Cut your length of ribbon in half and then each of these pieces in half again. You should now have four equal pieces. 
  • Seal the ends of your ribbons to prevent fraying.  To do this, very carefully burn the ends of the ribbons, just until they begin to blacken and melt.  You can also paint the ends with clear nail varnish to seal.
  • Fold the heel of the shoe forward (into the shoe) from the point where the insole ends. With a pencil, mark the inside of the shoe where the heel of the shoe reaches. The ribbon will be placed along this line.
  • Remember that you’re sewing these ribbons in to secure the shoe on your foot.  Place the ribbon inside the shoe, placing it quite far down into the shoe. Make sure you have at least one full inch of the ribbon below the lip of the shoe. Position the ribbon angled slightly forward; you want it to lie flat against the ankle once sewn. You can pin it to keep it in place if you like. 
  • Using a whipstitch or blanket stitch on the verticals and running stitch on the horizontals, sew the ribbons into the shoes, one ribbon on each side of each shoe. Secure with a knot. Try to only sew the ribbon to the inner lining of the shoe and not to pierce the outer satin. Make sure not to catch the drawstring in your stitching as that can impair the use of the drawstring.

You are now ready to head to class and dance in your new shoes!

Top Tips For Sewing Ribbons onto Pointe Shoes

  1. You may find you want to alter the spot where you sew your ribbons slightly depending on the position of your arch. Everyone sews their ribbons in different spots to suit their feet, these instructions are simply guidelines that suit many people.
  2. There are many different ways to sew ribbons & elastics. Your teacher may offer alternative advice. 
  3. Stitch kits have brilliant thread that is strong and sturdy. They are handy to carry around in your dance bag for any stitching emergencies.
  4. Dental floss is stronger than a lot of threads out there. If you’re in a bind, dental floss will do fine instead of thread.
  5. For a stronger hold, fold the end of the ribbon so you are sewing through a double thickness.
  6. Pointe shoes CANNOT be returned once ribbons and/or elastics have been sewn on, so make sure you’re sure about the fit before you start!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why can’t I use a sewing machine to sew the ribbons on?

While technically yes, you can sew the ribbons on with a machine, I would highly recommend sewing them by hand.  You will puncture the outer satin layer if you use a machine and this will damage the shoes and doesn’t look as nice.

Can someone else sew my ribbons on for me?

Again, yes, technically anyone can sew the ribbons on the shoes but it’s really something you should learn to do for yourself if you are in any way serious about ballet.  This is something you will have to do for as long as you are dancing and you may not always have assistance on hand to give you a dig out. Sewing is also a very useful skill to have in any performance-based activity, there are always costume disasters and last minute DIY Fixit moments side-stage when the ability to whip out a needle and thread will make you glad you spent the time practising on your shoes!

I think I have made a mistake sewing my ribbons/elastics, what should I do?

Unpick the stitching and start again I’m afraid. Sewing pointe shoe ribbons is an acquired skill and we all need practice.  It’s better to take the time and get it right than to have shoes with puckered ribbons or too tight elastic. It’s an absolute pain I know but you are doing yourself a favour by re-sewing them. 

What is a tendonitis ribbon for?

Tendonitis ribbons have panels of elastic pre-sewn into the ribbon itself.  The idea is that the section of elastic will sit on your Achilles tendon and will stretch and flex more naturally than a satin ribbon would.  As a result, this alleviates pressure on your tendon and prevents potential damage. Tendonitis ribbons are a great invention and you can really feel the difference.  Dance World offers the Bunheads flexors. When sewing tendonitis ribbons onto pointe shoes you will have to check the positioning very carefully before sewing. You need to ensure that the section of elastic will hit the back of your heel. 

To do this, first put your pointe shoes on, then position the elastic correctly on your heel.  Next, bring the ribbon around in front of the ankle (making almost a full ring around your ankle) and slot the ribbon in between your foot and the pointe shoe right at the highest point of your arch.  Mark this position with a pencil or pin the ribbon to the inside of the shoe to hold the position. Sew as previously indicated.

Do I really need elastic?

Some people will not need elastics and some dancers will benefit from the added support and stability. Many teachers advise all their beginners to use ribbon but my ballet teacher always said to wait and most importantly, to make sure to do it right. Sewing ribbons is far easier than sewing elastic and if elastics are sewn too tight it can damage the soft tissue around the ankle.

Honestly, unless your teacher says to put them on from the get-go I would wait. If you find your shoes slip at the heel try a heel loop.  If your shoes twist a little or gape try lowering the loop to just behind the ribbons or the criss-cross option.  If your shoes fit you perfectly and don’t wiggle and move then do a “thank you dance” to the ballet Gods and don’t bother! 

DO NOT SEW RIBBONS OR ELASTICS onto new pointe shoes until your teacher has checked the style and fit. Dance World is happy to refit and exchange shoes, with proof of purchase, provided the shoes are in perfect condition and no ribbons/elastics have been sewn on.

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