How to Finish Cord and Ribbon Jewelry

Ribbons and cordsWide silk ribbons, thick braided cotton cords, delicate lace, velvet ribbons, skinny hemp cords… no matter what kind of ribbons or cords you choose, they’ll add a pop of color and texture to your jewelry designs.   Many techniques for finishing jewelry with cords and ribbon are similar to finishing techniques for leather and suede cord.  Two factors make ribbons and cords a little trickier to finish:

  1. Weight.  Lightweight ribbons and cords will not work with the heavy metal cord ends commonly used in leather jewelry.  No matter how much glue you use, the weight of the cord end will likely pull out thin, lightweight cords.
  2. Delicateness.  Unlike sturdy leather, ribbons and cords are prone to fraying and tearing.  You will need to take extra care in finishing your ribbon and cords to make lasting jewelry.

Here are seven ways to finish your cord and ribbon jewelry:

Knotting

Use a simple overhand knot to attach the end of your cord to a clasp. A double overhand knot or a surgeon’s knot will be stronger, but a little bulkier.

For most cotton, hemp, and bamboo cords, you’ll want to dab the knot with glue to secure. One exception: waxed linen cord. The wax coating keeps the knot secure without any additional work. In fact, once you tie a tight knot with waxed linen cord, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to undo it, so make absolutely sure the knot is in the right place!

Summer Days braceletIn my Summer Days bracelet, I used a series of simple overhand knots on the toggle clasp to complete the bracelet.

Butterfly BraceletTips: Depending upon the look you want, you may want to use some Fray Check sealant on the ends of your exposed cords.  This will help prevent the cords from fraying.

Some jewelry designers deliberately fray the ends of their cords to get a certain rough, natural look.  You can fray the cord by pulling it apart with your fingers or use a pair of chain-nose pliers to help separate the strands. The Butterfly Bracelet by Denise Yezbak Moore is a good example of how frayed cord ends can add to the rustic or casual look of your jewelry.

Once you have some experience with simple knots, you can try creating a knotted slide closure or a knotted button-and-loop clasp.

Knotting with Cones

If you prefer, you can hide your knots instead of leaving them exposed.  One way to do this is to create a wrapped loop with a piece of wire.  Attach several cords to the loop using overhand knots.  Dab glue on the knots and let dry.  Trim cord tails.  Slide a bead cone over the knots, hiding them. Form a wrapped loop at the top of the cone.  Use a jump ring to attach the cone to the clasp of your choice.

wireloopcollage2

Tip: Bead cones come in different widths and lengths.  Make sure that your wrapped loop will be hidden by the cone before you start knotting the cords.

It might be tempting to use a simple loop or an eye pin instead of a wrapped loop, but you need a loop that is completely closed to secure thin cords.

 

Wire Wrapping

Many jewelry designers like the contrast between the soft ribbon and the hard wire element, especially for Bohemian-inspired jewelry. Wire wrapping works well with thick or wide cords.

Fold the ribbon over a jump ring or chain link.  Use a short length of thin wire (24-26 gauge) to wrap the ends of the ribbon together.  If needed, use your chain-nose pliers to pull the wire tight against the ribbon.  You may also wish to use the chain-nose pliers to flatten the wire after you finish wrapping. If desired, cover the wire with a large-holed bead as shown here.

ribbons and wire wrapping

Tip: Wire wrap slowly when working with ribbon.  If you hurry, you’re more likely to poke holes in the ribbon.


Using Knot Cups

Knot cups may also be called clamshells, bead tips, or callottes.

This technique works well with thinner (1-2mm) cords such as those made with cotton, hemp or bamboo. The metal cup gives the knot a little bit of added protection.

Slip the cord through the hole in the bottom of the knot cup.  Form an overhand knot.  Dab the knot with glue for extra security.  Let dry.  Slide the cup over the knot. Close the knot cup with chain-nose pliers or crimping pliers, being careful not to dent the cup with your tools.  (I especially like using the front notch on crimping pliers for this, since the rounded space in the pliers matches the rounded shape of the knot cup.)  Use the loop on the end of the knot cup to connect to a jump ring, clasp, or chain link.

using knot cups

Tip: Choose the cord that best matches the size of your knot cup. You want the knot to fill up most of the cup, but you don’t want it filled to overflowing and have it pop open.

 

Using Cord Ends

Choose from a number of cord ends, including coil or spring ends, hook-and-eye ends, and magnetic tubes.  Some cord end findings will have loops that you can use to attach your own clasp; others are a combination of cord end and clasp. Make sure that the cord end finding matches the size of the cord and that the cord end isn’t too heavy.

Dab glue inside the cord end and insert cord.  Repeat for the other cord end.  Let dry.

using magnetic cord ends

Tip: Braided cotton cord such as the kind pictured here frays easily, which can make it difficult to work with.  Try dabbing a little glue directly on the ends of the cord and letting them dry before gluing the findings.  The dried glue will make the cord ends stiff and easier to handle.

 

Using Foldover Cord Ends

While these were designed for flat cords, you can also use them with  rounded, smooth cords as long as they are thick enough to fill in the space of the finding.

Dab glue inside the finding and insert the cord just below the loop.  Use chain-nose pliers to fold over one side of the end and then the other.  If needed, use the chain-nose pliers to flatten both ends together.  Use a jump ring to attach the clasp of your choice to the loop on the foldover cord end.

using foldover cord ends

Using Ribbon Ends

The teeth on the ribbon ends help secure the ribbon inside.  Ribbons with texture such as grosgrain ribbon (pictured here), velvet ribbon, or embroidered ribbons all work especially well.  If you prefer to use a silk or satin ribbon, you may need to dab glue inside the ribbon end for extra security.

Choose a ribbon end that is the same width as your ribbon.  Insert the ribbon into the finding and use your chain-nose pliers to close.  Use a jump ring to attach the loop on the ribbon end to the clasp of your choice.

ribbonendscollage2
In her Brynn Necklace, Denise Yezbak Moore used ribbon ends to capture the ends of several pieces of 1mm hemp cord. This is a clever way to fill up the width of the ribbon ends.  It’s also a great reminder that you should feel free to experiment with different ways to end your cord and ribbon jewelry.  View the guidelines here as a starting point.  You may discover a new way to finish ribbon and cord jewelry that no one’s ever tried!

Brynn Necklace

Michelle Mach

About Michelle Mach

Michelle Mach is a jewelry designer in Colorado. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines including Jewelry Stringing, Beadwork, BeadStyle, and others. She also edits jewelry how-to books, most recently Fine Art Wire Weaving, Bead Metamorphosis, and Mastering Herringbone Stitch. She is the author of Unexpected Findings: 50+ Clever Jewelry Designs Featuring Everyday Components.

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