As a ballet dancer, having properly fitted pointe shoes is absolutely essential for dancing safely en pointe. An ill-fitting pair of pointe shoes can lead to blisters, bruises, and even injuries. While you can buy pointe shoes ready-to-wear, getting a custom fitting and sewing on your own ribbon and elastic can help give you the perfect fit.
Sewing on new ribbons and elastic is a rite of passage for any ballerina. Learning this skill allows you to customize the fit of your pointe shoes, tailoring them specifically to your foot. With the right technique, you’ll be able to bring new life to an old pair of pointe shoes or break in a new pair. Read on to learn all the insider tips and tricks for sewing ribbons and elastic on your pointe shoes.
Supplies You’ll Need
Before we start pas de bourrée-ing our way through this process, be sure you have the necessary supplies on hand:
- Pointe shoes (new or ready to be refurbished)
- Ribbon (I recommend pain satin or grosgrain)
- Thick elastic
- Thread (match ribbon color)
- Measuring tape
- Pins, clips, or food bands
- Thimble (optional)
You’ll also need access to a sewing machine unless you plan to sew everything by hand. While possible, using a machine saves significant time and effort. If you’re new to sewing, ask a friend, family member, or colleague if you can borrow their machine as you get started.
How to Sew Ribbon and Elastic on Pointe Shoes
Okay, lace up those shoes and let’s start prepping!
Step #1: Measure and Cut the Ribbon
The first step is measuring and cutting your ribbon to the ideal length and shape for your foot and shoe specs. Here’s how to get it just right:
- Put on the pointe shoe, but do not fully tighten or tie it. The shoe should be snug but not fitted when measuring.
- Starting at the top edge of the platform, measure straight across your foot at the widest point. Add 2-3 inches for overlap. Cut a piece of ribbon to this length.
- Next, measure from the top edge down the outside of your foot to the tip of your big toe. Add 2-3 inches for overlap. Cut a second piece to this length.
- For optimal comfort and support, angle the ends of each piece inward about 1⁄2 inch on both ends. This helps reduce bulk under the arch.
- Use pins, clips or rubber bands to secure the two crossed pieces in place on the shoe. Try on again, walk around, and make any adjustments to get the ideal fit before sewing.
With the ribbon positioned in an X-shape over the platform, you’re ready to stitch it all into place.
Step #2: Sew the Ribbon to the Shoe
Now the fun really begins! Time to sew this down for security, support and style.
- If hand sewing, use a thimble to push the needle and avoid blisters. If machine sewing, choose a tight zigzag stitch. Thread your needle/machine with thread that matches the ribbon color.
- Anchor the center point first by sewing a few stitches where the two ribbon pieces cross.
- Moving outward from the center, sew along the edges of each ribbon piece using a whipstitch. Keep stitches tight, uniform and closely spaced about 1/8 inch apart.
- When sewing around the curve of the platform, gently stretch the ribbon as you sew to keep things smooth and flat. Avoid puckering.
- Secure with several stitches at the end of each ribbon tail, tying knots if hand sewing.
Check that the ribbons feel secure walking around the shoes before moving onto elastic. Make any adjustments needed to prevent slipping and ensure the taut feel you need.
Step #3: Measure, Cut and Sew the Elastic
No pointe shoe prep is complete without sturdy elastic to support those arches. Measuring and sewing the elastic comes next.
- Measure around the widest part of your foot arch while wearing the shoes. Leave an extra 1⁄2 inch for fitting ease.
- Cut elastic to this length. I prefer using 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 inch wide elastic with plenty of stretch and rebound.
- Anchor one end of the elastic to the inside bottom edge of the shoe, centering it under the arch.
- Stretch the elastic gently as you whipstitch or zigzag stitch it to the shoe, curving with the natural shape of your arch. Avoid over-stretching.
- Secure the other end the same way with several tight stitches and knots as needed.
The elastic should offer snug, supportive tension when worn without being painfully tight. Put on the shoes again and walk, jump, land, and move through your full range of motions to test it out.
Why Sew Your Own Ribbon and Elastic?
Sewing your own ribbon and elastic offers a few key advantages:
- Customized fit: Pre-sewn pointe shoes often don’t fit perfectly. Sewing the ribbons and elastics yourself allows you to fully customize the fit.
- Cost savings: Buying pre-sewn shoes is more expensive. Sewing them yourself saves money.
- Control: You can control how much elasticity and tightness you want for your unique feet.
- Convenience: Easily replace worn out ribbons and elastics to extend the life of your pointe shoes.
- Comfort: Get that perfect amount of tightness and elasticity for maximum comfort.
- Artistry: Add decorative touches like custom colors.
Clearly, sewing your own pointe shoe ribbons and elastics pays off when it comes to comfort, cost, and customization.
Mastering how to sew ribbons and elastic for your pointe shoes is a right of passage for any ballerina. While it takes practice, the ability to customize your shoes’ fit and support is invaluable. Implement the techniques in this guide to begin preparing pointe shoes tailored precisely to your needs. Let me know if you have any other questions – I could talk about pointe prep all day! Now get stitching those satin slippers.
What type of thread should I use?
Use thread that matches your ribbon color closely. Nylon or polyester thread has a bit more give for preventing breakage. Avoid thicker threads which can cause bumps.
Does hand sewing really take that much longer?
Hand sewing ribbins and elastic is definitely more time consuming—it could take 1-2 hours per shoe. But some find it rewarding. Go slow and be gentle on hands.
What stitches should I use?
For ribbon, a tight whipstitch works well. Focus on keeping stitches small, neat and evenly spaced. For elastic, a zigzag stitch on a machine is best to allow for stretch.
How can I avoid damaging the shoe material?
Use a thimble when hand sewing to push the needle instead of fingers. Pull threads tight but be gentle. Avoid bunching fabric. Insert needle perpendicular to surface.
How often should I replace my pointe shoe ribbons?
Plan to replace ribbon every 2-3 months at a minimum. Ribbons lose tension over time. Check for fraying, stretching or slipping as signs they need replacing sooner.
Should I sew on new pointe shoes before wearing?
Yes, brand new shoes should be prepped before wearing to avoid damage and maximize support. Breaking in properly is key to prolonging their lifespan.
What type of elastic should I use?
Opt for elastic that is 1/2 to 3/4 inches wide with plenty of strength and stretch. Braided polyester or nylon elastic offers good rebound. Avoid rubber that could tear shoe fabric.
How can I customize the look of my ribbons?
Get creative with colors! Beyond basic pink or black, try bold hues like red, blue, purple or patterned ribbons. You can also intertwine different colored ribbons for a fun look.
Blessing Bunmi is the founder and CEO of Blowra, the leading style guide providing insider fashion and shopping tips. With over 4 years of retail experience, She created Blowra to empower readers to confidently express their personal style.