Petersham ribbons – an expansion post

My last post on the self-drafted skirt led to this post on petersham. Naomi asked me to expand on petersham ribbon and I said I’d do a post since my reply was getting long.

But first this:

The first time I used ‘petersham’ I had actually been sold grosgrain. Since I had asked the shop assistant who very nicely showed it to me – I just assumed I had the petersham that I had read of. I recall even asking if it would curve and she said yes. As I was sewing, it remained suspiciously straight but I reasoned that maybe it had to be worn before it does its thing. However, after wearing the skirt a couple of times with no change in the shape of the ‘petersham’, I started considering the possibility that it wasn’t me who had made a sewing mistake.

That’s when my search began again – better equipped with the knowledge of what  ‘was definitely not‘ petersham ribbon. I eventually found a haberdashery which was run by an old woman in the market (she told me she had been there for 40 years). She also had some petersham. I was mistrustful given my previous experience but I bought 1m (it looked a lot like grosgrain but had a teeny tiny difference to my untrained eye). When I got home – I unrolled it and immediately noticed the difference between the first one (grosgrain) and this second one. This was definitely Petersham ribbon. I got back as soon as I could to the market to buy more but alas !- apparently she had retired and the day that I had bought the 1m was her last day! So I now had to find some Petersham! The game was on.

Why bother with petersham in the first place

Before I get into a long ramble of petersham ribbon, let me sell you on the benefits of this essential sewing cave notion. The benefits are manifold:

  • It’s so comfortable because it expands to contours of the body and ‘sits’ rather than grips the waist.
  • Can be use if there is no fabric for a facing
  • Can be used to reduce bulk at the waist
  • Its put on after everything is constructed and fitting done so it’s less fuss
  • It’s a strong durable finish used often in couture houses
  • It is much easier to use than a normal waistband.
  • looks neat on the inside

So what is a petersham ribbon?

My first stop was Wikipedia and it says:

Petersham ribbon, also called Petersham facing or simply Petersham, is a thick, stiff, flexible corded ribbon usually made out of eithercotton, rayon, viscose, or a cotton/ rayon or viscose blend of fibers and used as facing by milliners and tailors… It is woven so that once steamed, it will take on and support a particular curve of fabric….t is also useful as an alternative to bias tape for making fabric conform closely to the shape of the body wearing it— in a corset, for example, or along the waistline of a pair of trousers or a skirt.

This is an accurate definition. Petersham looks like a ribbon but it is much thicker and not as drapey as a ribbon. Like grosgrain (pronunced grograin) ribbon, it comes with a scalloped edge but petersham has a tighter weave on one side which allows it to take on and support a curve.20170404_16375320170404_163814

It sounds simple enough but the problem is that in most sewing books that I have read there is no consistency as to what grosgrain and petersham are. In most cases, it is used interchangeably. Add to that the fact that in most shops I have enquired about petersham I almost always get shown grosgrain. It’s not the shop assistant’s fault either as I elaborate below.

Grosgrain or Petersham? Same thing or different?

Petersham is not to be confused with its close cousin grosgrain, which is straight like normal ribbon you might use in hair.

What do the sewing books have to say….

You cant take the academia out of the girl…..


I did a search of my sewing books. I was limited to my own personal library and if there are other books that deal specifically with petersham ribbon I’d love to hear in the comments below.

Just like my shopping experiences, my sewing books also present different information.

Readers Digest mentions petershams and only says this:

Petersham ribbon is often used for finishing or staying waistlines. It can also be a decorative trim. It is sold by the meter in various widths and a wide range of colours. A special curved petersham is also available in black and white only. Pg. 20

This tells me that it is referring to grosgrain in the first then actual petersham last. It is helpful as it does point out that petershams are only in black and white.

The Vogue Sewing Book doesn’t have petersham listed in its index or glossary so I went to look at skirt waistband finishing. Sure enough, it pops up there but under a different guise and name here is the extract (on Faced Waistline):

RIBBON: Shape a 20 -25 mm (3/4″ – 1″) wide strip of grosgrain ribbon by steaming it into curves corresponding to those of the waistline edge. Be sure to stretch the edge that is to be let free; if you shrink the edge to be joined to the garment, it will stretch during wear. Fit ribbon to your body, allowing 25mm (1″) for ends. pg 336

Based on what we already know about the definition of petersham, – clearly, this tutorial is talking about petersham and not grosgrain which will not ever curve unless cut or darted. It’s a good tutorial apart from the fact that if a beginner were to buy grosgrain and follow it, they would be shocked (perhaps not shocked per se but maybe frustrated) to find it’s not working. (Caveat being that they are using this 1978 edition which I have – if anyone has a newer edition – is this still the same exact text or has it been changed? )

Vogue Sewing Book


The Sewing Book (Alison Smith) This book had petersham in the index and has a well illustrated photographic tutorial which refers to petersham ribbon as we know it. Here is the extract:.

Petersham in an alternative finish to a facing if you do not have enough fabric to cut a facing. Available in black and white, it is a stiff, ridged tape that is 2.5cm (1″) wide and curved – the tighter curve is the top edge. Like a facing, petersham is attached to the waist after the skirt or trousers have been constructed. pg 177

This is the best succinct explanation along with the tutorial. On pg 179 there is an equally good entry on grosgrain distinguishing between the two ribbon cousins and providing a tutorial on using grosgrain.  The only thing missing from both these tutorials is how to finish the petersham and grosgrain at the zip fastening. I have provided a link down below in the resources section on a great tutorial which goes all the way to finishing around the zip fastening – I highly recommend this read if you are looking to up your finishing techniques.

The Sewing Book (Alison Smith)


Couture Sewing Techniques (Claire Schaeffer) is the only book to use the term grosgrain and describe a process that is for grosgrain ribbon. I have included it as I found it very interesting. She describes a technique where snipping and darting are used to shape it. So it is definitely grosgrain as it is sold today i.e. straight and needing cutting to shape it to a curve. It doesn’t have a petersham entry on index or glossary either.Here is the extract.

Couture Sewing Techniques (Claire Schaeffer)


Gerstie’s Ultimate Dress Book (Gretchen Hirsch) has a petersham reference in the index. I can’t be too certain but it looks like what’s being referred to is possibly a grosgrain given that it comes in different widths and colours. Also looking at the picture provided, I can’t see the typical waviness I’d expect to see on a petersham that’s been curved around a waist.  Perhaps this might be a US thing and they sell the petersham as defined at the beginning there in differing widths and colours? If there are any US readers who know I’d love to hear your experiances/thoughts on this.

Here is the extract:20170404_200836

Characteristic waviness of a petersham ribbon


So far the Alison Smith book has provided the clearest definitions and tutorial for petersham ribbon. It’s the one book where a beginner would seek to find the proper petersham ribbon since the book specifically says that its only black and white and 1″ wide. The tutorial would also yield a good result as everything matches up.

Ok so now we know that petersham ribbon is the best thing since sliced bread and why there is some confusion as to what it actually is. But hopefully, by now, you get the idea that grosgrain is NOT petersham. Perhaps you can even tell the difference between them. Of course, now are wondering where to buy this lovely thing I speak of. Well, that’s a tricky one……

Where to buy  petersham ribbon?

I live in the UK so my experiance is limited to this country unfortunately.  More specifically to my region in Yorkshire. I tried buying on Ebay twice and each time received grosgrain so I gave up buying online. I went to Bonds in Farsley but they didn’t have any in stock at that time (I havent yet returned to check but they said they stock it). I found some in Boyes Super Store (Bradford branch) where I bought loads. Samuel Taylors in Leeds Market also had some. And thats it. I have basically stocked up and have about 10m each of the black and white in my cave. I invite readers from other countries (& UK) to share if they know where to buy petersham. Please let me know in the comments below.

Mistakes to avoid.

Hopefully, I made these mistakes so you don’t have to.

Buying the wrong thing.

  • Watch out for descriptions that say grosgrain/petersham in them – most likely they are the grosgrain ribbon. As mentioned above, my research indicates that petersham and grosgrain are 2 separate things.
  • I have also yet to ever come across Petersham that isn’t black or white or 1″ wide. I use that as an indicator myself. Buy from reputable sellers so that you can double check with them before buying. Also once you find it, buy shed loads of it – it’s not easy to come by!

Cutting your petersham too short.

Its painful and it has happened to me but I quickly learnt not to do that again. Now I don’t necessarily cut it from my roll before sewing in on. I will sew it on then cut off the excess leaving the allowance I need to turn under.

Unraveling ends

I have used Fray check successfully especially when I cut it an angle which I wouldn’t advise. Otherwise turn it under and hand sew it as soon as possible.

Petersham ribbon when used correctly creates the most comfortable waist finish. My all time favourite Holyburn skirt has a Petersham ribbon.

20170404_200400_HDRResources on Petersham ribbons

A Challenging Sew – a useful tutorial on sewing a lined skirt with petersham.

Threads  – a Youtube tutorial on how to curve petersham to a seam.

Hopefully you have a slightly better understanding of Petersham Naomi. I have enjoyed writing up this post so thank you for asking the question.

Now lets see if you picked up something. I have 2 pictures below – which ones are the petersham ribbons? All welcome to have a go 🙂20170404_16344320170404_16381420170404_163722

Thanks for stopping by!



PS. Apologies for poorly lit pictures. I took these on my phone today as I was writing this post.

Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, First Edition 1978

The Vogue Sewing Book, Revised Metric Edition, 1978

The Sewing Book, Alison Smith, 2009

Couture Sewing Techniques, Claire B. Schaeffer, 1993

Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book, Gretchen Hirsch, 2016


37 thoughts on “Petersham ribbons – an expansion post

  1. Hi, Hila! Such an excellent post – thank you!
    Midnight here so will reply tomorrow after consulting my books; however, I’d read the Wiki definition because I’ve a skirt (Vogue I think) that requires it for the waist and I also had the dickens of a time finding even grosgrain. Have 1930,1940, 1950 & 1960 sewing references, and will report back tomorrow, my time! If necessary, will include in a post so I can share photos. xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This frustrated researcher can’t wait until tomorrow, so here’s my contribution to your questions.

      Petersham is also used extensively in Millinery and Corsetry, so try searching with these terms. Nothing in my books about either (meh!) but online I found these:

      Threads magazine video: How to shape Petersham ribbon to a curve

      They did an article last year, but it’s not available online. Article’s ribbon source: The Sewing Place (use Contact Form to be sure it’s still available).

      Threads article author Susan Khalje sells black or white Petersham: “This is sometimes called “real” grosgrain, milliner’s grosgrain, French grosgrain…”

      Multiple colours at Britex, San Francisco, CA

      A New Zealand offering in polyester or viscose (I’d want viscose)

      Interesting text (scroll to bottom, “Applying Petersham Ribbon”

      The pattern I have is Vogue 8750, a skirt. There are several posts, but this has most detail:

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very kind of you, Hila. Sure, you’re welcome to add it. Am so grateful you wrote your post so I could realise my (and Vogue pattern’s) mistake before using the wrong ribbon on my skirt.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post. I suspect the confusion probably arises because Petersham IS grosgrain, but not all grosgrain is Petersham! [Like all squares are rectangles, but only some rectangles are squares!] Can you tell I’m a mathematician? lol

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I have a vogue book from the 80s I think, I’ll have a look later.
    I am doubting myself now but I’m pretty sure I have used some brown petersham from ebay. The main difference I know is that petersham has a ribbed flexible edge whereas grosgrain has a straight rigid edge. My brown petersham wasn’t very curved when I bought but it pressed easily into a curve.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! Thanks for taking the time to do such a comprehensive post on petersham. I use grosgrain ribbon over webbing to make my dog collars but wouldn’t consider using it on a waistband – too thin – so I’m guessing we’re talking a different type of grosgrain here.
    Just did a tiny bit of research and I see that Hemline make Petersham in both straight and curved versions and the curved version is 25mm/1 inch wide and in black or white so I’m thinking this is ‘the one’

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Particularly handy to know about the confusion among suppliers – what a lot of grief you’ve saved us! Thanks for putting such a helpful guide together.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great article Hila. Jaque Goldsmith in her Craftsy class Sew like a Designer has a lesson on Petersham waistbands where she discusses the differences between real and imitation Petersham. I bought some from Petershams Millinery Supplies on Etsy and it came in different colours and widths.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting post. I dislike fabric waistbands and use Petersham instead. My 1934 skirt pattern suggested it and I’ve used it on every skirt since.
    I didn’t know it was hard to get. I buy mine at the wool shop / haberdashery in my local town, Llanidloes. Maybe take a sample to your local shop & ask them to stock it?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ah yes I saw it in Boyes here in Chesterfield when I was buying various notions for another project (adding laces to the back on some tall boots). I didn’t buy any but it sounds like it could be useful to have some in stock in the sewing room.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fantastic post, so enlightening! It all makes so much sense now, I was sold Grosgrain too!! No wonder it didn’t work 🙄 Will now hunt down the proper stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting post Hila! I went to a sewing technique workshop last year at the Dutch tailoring institute and the teacher there told us that there is poly grosgrain, which is basically useless for tailoring purposes because you can’t give it shape. The grosgrain you’ll need is cotton, which can be steamed into shape. Cotton grosgrain is usually sold in stores that sell hat-making supplieer (in NL: The teacher told us this is perfect for things like waist stays and the like, I’m not sure if it’s used for waistbands as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I know I’m over a year late to the conversation, but I was looking up petersham and found your post the most useful for explaining what it is and how to use it.
    Just to let you know, Fabricland UK sell petersham – they have a few stores around the country but also sell online, and their prices are very reasonable.

    Liked by 1 person

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