How Did They Make Cockades?

Cockades were as individual as the people who made them. There has never been an "official" pattern for making cockades, unless a particular group required a certain cockade style for their badge. However, there were general methods used to make these lovely little rosettes and that's what I'm blogging about today.

Backing Material
Cockades were generally sewn onto a form of some sort, buckram or a similar stiff fabric. This was not always the case, particularly for military hat cockades made of already-stiff grosgrain ribbon. But many personal cockades made by ladies for themselves or their sweethearts were created on buckram.

Here is the back of a cockade in my collection, showing the stiffened fabric to which it is sewn.

Pleating Style
Cockades were usually made by pleating, looping or gathering ribbon and then sewing it into a circle shape on buckram. In most cases, the ribbon was first pleated, and then sewn onto the buckram backing. There are many styles of pleating and gathering that were used, but the most common was the box pleat. This is a line drawing of how the edge of a box pleat looks.

Here is a picture of a cockade made of semi-sheer ribbon so you can more easily see the box pleats. This is a lovely Union cockade.

A second pleating style that was occasionally used was the knife pleat. This is what the edge of a knife pleat looks like.

And here is a cockade that was knife-pleated. This beauty is a South Carolina secession cockade in the Relic Room.

Besides pleating however, there were other styles of gathering the ribbon. One popular fashion was to fold the ribbon into star points. This is a United States officer's military cockade fashioned with star points.

You could make tiny points as well as big points. Let me tell you, this is a time consuming project, though it looks lovely in the end. This is an original Union cockade.

And one of my re-creations.

More dramatic star points on this cockade of James Monroe's (which was also a lot of work to replicate!).

If you didn't want to fiddle with pleats or points, another option was to simply sew loops of ribbon. This is an example of a looped Union cockade.

Once the rosette style was decided upon, there was still the question of tails - or "pendants," as they were called in the 1800s. One pendant or many, sewn on the front or sewn on the back, multi-colors or all one color, the options were endless! As shown in the first picture, sometimes they even had pendants coming from BOTH the front and the back. Which I can't help wondering about - did someone forget to sew the second pendant on and then had to add it later on the back?

They Weren't Flat!
One of the interesting things I have found as I've learned to create the cockades of the past - they were generally very 3D. After being saved in a drawer or scrapbook for a century or two, historic cockades often flatten out and we picture them sharply pleated as if they were ironed.  But when I make reproductions using original methods, the cockades turn out ruffled and - well - fluffy!

I was fortunate enough to find an original Union cockade on a horse collar, which preserved it from being flattened over time. You can see from the original and my reproduction that it was so ruffled you could hardly spot the center piece!

Here is another cockade I made using original methods. Fluffy!

And the back looks kinda cool too.
(Psst, it's also available in my Etsy shop!)

What Kind of Ribbon Was Used
At least three basic types of ribbon were commonly used for cockades. Most often we see a light-weight silk satiny ribbon. But grosgrain (that is, the old-fashioned version petersham) was also used, and I've seen one or two examples of velvet too. 

How They Were Attached
Most cockades have a plain buckram back, indicating that they were probably attached to the clothing with a straight pin. However, since the safety pin was invented in 1849, there are a few examples of Victorian cockades having a pin sewn onto the back. Like this one in my collection:

Works Of Art
I hope after reading this you think, as I do, that each cockade is a unique and special work of art. I almost feel I know the person who made it after looking at their choice of design and materials and their careful stitches. It makes me happy knowing the cockades that have survive the years were treasured and carefully preserved by their owners.

Making and wearing cockades could entail a great deal of risk in times of political unrest, so I as I look at those little ribbon rosettes, I see people of courage behind them.

As some final "eye candy," enjoy this cockade that belonged to South Carolina Surgeon General Gibbes. The designer chose no less than FOUR layers, including the palmetto. And those four layers include box pleats and two kinds of star points. That's a pretty high "wow factor" in my book!

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