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My teenage daughter dances ballet, and on a fairly regular basis we need to get her new pointe shoes. After so many pairs, I've gotten surprisingly good at sewing in the elastic and ribbons that need to go on the new shoes.

One thing I would like to improve on is the ends of the satin ribbons. When they are simply trimmed to length with scissors, they will inevitably fray and unravel over time. This is only somewhat alleviated by cutting a "snake tongue" at the end, an indented "V" shape -- that angle will help the ribbons last a few weeks longer, but I'm trying to find a solution that will last for months (without constantly trimming the ends until there is really nothing left!)...

How can I prevent the ends of satin ribbon from fraying?

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I would like to suggest something I was told while I was working on my ties. What you could do is to use some clear nail polish, not a lot, to stiffen the ends of the ribbon. That should prevent them from fraying at all. It is likely that you could use something like a super glue to accomplish the same thing.

You don't need a lot so, while it will darken the ribbon, if used sparingly it should not be noticeable.

Nail Polish on ribbon ends

Image from Wikihow

The page that comes from also suggests gluing as well as an alternative. It also covers using heat which Stephanie's answer covers better.

Of course, that could also be seen as less then aesthetically pleasing. So to compliment my solution I would then suggest you use some thread and something simple like a tight overcast stitch. The thread will hold around the polish and hopefully distract from its presence. The nail polish alone should be enough to stop it from coming undone for a while. That would all depend on wear and tear at that point.

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  • The ends of pointe shoe ribbons get tucked in when they're all tied up, so appearance isn't a massive problem if they get somewhat discolored -- but still, good to know for anyone with a similar problem where the end would be visible. This is quite a lot like your tie project, isn't it! :) – Erica Jun 28 '16 at 13:05
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In most cases satin ribbons are made from polyester or similar "plastic" fibers.

This means you can use heat to melt the fibers together: quickly run the flame of a lighter along the fraying edge. My preferred technique is to hold the ribbon in one hand, close to the end, so that the end is more or less horizontal. (For wide ribbons, a slight 'U' bend increases stability.) Then with the other hand I sweep the flame along the end, repeating if necessary.

I suggest practising with some scrap ribbon, because each type of ribbon needs a slightly different amount of heat, usually more for thicker material. If done right, the sealed end will look just like the rest and, important in this case, be totally flexible.

Even if your first attempts aren't perfect yet, you will be hiding the ends under the second ankle wrap, so it remains invisible. And if anything should go wrong, you can always re-seal the ends (in the worst case cutting a very narrow bit of ribbon off first) without the need of drying time or stitches. Put a lighter in your dance bag and you're good to go.

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  • Luckily I have plenty of ribbon to practice with on the pair she just outgrew! Do you think a steam iron would be hot enough to fuse the ends, just to reduce the risk of setting the shoes themselves on fire? – Erica Jun 28 '16 at 13:04
  • Don't think so. But unless you hold the end still in the fire, that shouldn't happen. I often even "flame seal" the cut end of gift ribbon to keep it from unravelling in the drawer. – Stephie Jun 28 '16 at 13:11
  • See here: youtube.com/watch?v=VJTMNS5T1HE (starting at 0:40). – Stephie Jun 28 '16 at 15:20
  • @Erica If you use heat, you shouldn't need to snake tongue, either, making it easier to apply heat evenly – user24 Jun 29 '16 at 2:42
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Get "fray check" from your local fabric store. This is applied to keep fabric and ribbons from fraying.

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  • That is the name for a specific product is it not? Including information about the product family this is from might be better since we cannot guarantee stores will carry this one. – Matt Feb 6 '17 at 13:29
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    I am not sure there is a "family of products" like FrayCheck. I have never seen any other product that does the same thing and is sold in fabric stores. That said, it works pretty much the same as nail polish does, so it might have a similar chemical makeup. – magerber Feb 6 '17 at 23:06
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    Fray Check is the only fabric glue product I've ever seen in fabric stores, however, it may also be that Fray Check is now like Kleenex, many people call any facial tissue a Kleenex. In any case, anyone who walks into a fabric store and asks for Fray Check will be well understood. A quick check on Amazon came up with Fray Check, Fray Block, Fray Fusion, Fray Stop. So (anti) Fray is the way to go – user1798 Oct 11 '17 at 0:15
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I used to take ballet lessons, and the methods I've used for preventing frayed ribbon ends were to apply clear nail polish on the cut ends, or to quickly melt the cut end using a candle flame.

For the melting method, as Stephie mentioned, the cut ends are usually tucked out of sight anyway, so even if the end isn't perfectly melted, it won't be visible. However, some problems I've had with this method are:

  • Depending on the lighter or candle that you use, the flame may not stay constant (ie they flicker or sway with any disturbance in the air). This can make melting the ribbon and creating a smooth, even edge challenging sometimes. Uneven melting can also result in a slightly warped ribbon, which may be more difficult to tuck in.
  • I've also accidentally singed my ribbon a few times. You'll definitely need some patience, practice, and a quiet place to avoid making mistakes like this.
  • It may also not be a kid-friendly way to go about sealing the end of the ribbon. (I was probably 12 when I tried doing this for the first time, and I was so entranced at watching how the ribbon melted that I melted too much of it.)

Nail polish avoids all of these problems, but there are still some precautions you should consider.

  • Nail polish produces irritating fumes, so unlike the open flame method, you'll need a space with good ventilation and air flow.
  • It also takes longer to dry, whereas the melting method takes mere seconds, maybe up to a minute or two.

However, nail polish is also an excellent tool for stopping runs in tights, so it's a good thing for ballerinas to keep on hand, anyway :)

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    The rather fierce blue flame lighters (or chefs' blowtorches) give a much more precise flame that's not easily blown around. You don't actually need to get the material in the visible flame, just next to it (at least, this is true with webbing, which is what I normally need to seal) – Chris H Jul 3 '18 at 15:29
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One other method of heat sealing the ends would be to use a butane torch lighter and an Xacto type of craft knife.

Hold the blade over the flame until it gets hot then cut the ribbon. It may take a bit of practice to get the right amount of heat.

If at all possible (I don't know much about ballet shoes) lay the ribbon down on a piece of wood before cutting, it's easier and safer than trying to cut it freehand. That's how I usually cut Paracord.

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Either very small bead of superglue applied with the item sitting on plastic wrap

Or clear nail polish, applied over plastic wrap also.

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    Other answers already suggest superglue and nail polish. Do you have additional advice they didn't offer? Also, why do you personally prefer plastic wrap? I thought that was interesting advice. – user24 Sep 10 '16 at 0:14
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If you need to cut a lot of ribbon, you can also invest in a "hot wire" cutter:

Expensive ($300): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rp9E5tkKTFg

Budget ($30): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oka_ERvOuYU

I've got the expensive one, it takes a little practice, but works as shown in the video. I don't have any experience with the cheaper one (some of the ribbon I cut was too wide for it, so I've never tried it). Just google either product if you want one - the cheaper product in particular can be found online in various craft stores in most countries.

For low quantities, sealing with a flame as suggested elsewhere here also works, but takes a bit more time and practice to get right (I tended to melt the ends unevenly on wide ribbons, so gave up!). Have not tried nail polish or glue. Here's another video demonstration if you want to try either of those:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTit6tNWkx4

I'm surprised there's not otherwise a more automated product, or anything "hot wire" that does anything other than a straight cut (i.e. a pinking cut). We put a lot of ribbon through a ribbon printer (hundreds at a time), and spend hours having to cut it all manually once printed.

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    Your answer would be even better if you could relay a bit of the information found in the videos to your post. – Joachim Jul 13 '19 at 14:30

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