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Knotted Frog Closures

Make intricate designs in your choice of material
Threads #225, Spring 2024

Frogs are an ancient decorative closure that traveled from China to western Europe in the late 18th century. These fasteners are created by shaping a variety of materials into knotted patterns, such as the classic four-loop and the double swirl shape. A frog closure can be subtle when matched to the garment, or bold when made in a contrasting material.

This closure is often functional, with a working, knotted button from matching fabric. But don’t overlook the interest created by adding a button of contrasting material, such as wood, metal, or clay.

Multiple frogs can provide the focal point down a garment’s front. Alternatively, a single loop and button can often be an understated detail. Creating a handmade trim and closure adds a level of quality not seen in ready-to-wear clothing. Though frogs look complex, they can be made easily by following these instructions. Once you feel comfortable with the version shown, you can experiment with your own styles.

Materials and a Knotting Guide

This project can be as easy or involved as you like, but to start, the items you need are knotting material and a template.

Tubes and trims

Tubes and trims

Traditional options for creating a handmade frog closure include rattail cording, soutache, decorative braid, jute cording, narrow lace trims, packaged or homemade bias strips, and corded tubing. Experiment with other ribbons and materials to find new and interesting results. Keep in mind the scale and proportion of your selection in comparison to the fabric and garment design. A dainty silk blouse needs a fine, lightweight closure, not a chunky one. The narrower and more supple the trim, the more detailed the design can be; a thick, heavy cording creates a heavy finish.

Making your own corded tubing ensures an exact match to the fashion fabric. To make tubing, you need to create bias tape from the fashion fabric. Equip yourself with an inexpensive tube turner and follow the instructions on the package. When you are ready to turn the tube right side out, insert the turner, catch the tube’s corner and the cording. Pull the cording through along with turning the fabric right side out. Experiment with the bias strip width, as well as the type and diameter of the filler cording, to find the size that yields the scale of frog you prefer. It’s also possible to make narrow, self-filled bias rouleaux (the fabric’s seam allowances fill the tube and there is no additional cording) for the finest frogs.

handmade knot closures


The template illustrated at right features the traditional four-loop design. If designing your own template, you can vary loop sizes, but the idea is that the completed frog is symmetrical from left to right when fastened.

Four Loop Frog Template

Size the button loops to correspond to the buttons being used in the closure. Like a buttonhole, the loop should be proportional to the button, just large enough to go over the button. The scale of the trim should also match the weight of the button.

Trace the template onto pattern paper, card stock, or heavy paper for multiple uses.

Shape a 4-Loop Frog

Gather a pinnable board, pins, and a needle and thread. Tape the template to the board. You’ll shape the frog over the template, pinning the cording into position and stitching the loops in place as you work. Note that you’re creating the frog wrong side up.

1. Thread a needle. Use a doubled strand of all-purpose thread in a color to match the cording and knot the ends together. When doubled, the thread should be about 12 inches long; make it longer if the frog will be large.

2. Form the upper loop. Pin one cording end to the board, and form a loop that leaves one 2-inch tail and a long tail. Pin the intersection to secure the loop. Take two stitches to join the cording at this juncture, making sure to stitch through the back only. Set the needle and thread off to the side.

3. Create the lower loop. Loop the cording and pin it in place, then stitch the intersection as before. Set the needle and thread aside.

Stitch the intersection to secure
Stitch the intersection to secure.

4. Make the button loop. With the shorter tail from step 1, form a loop that fits over the button you plan to use. Stitch in place, then trim off any excess cording.

make final loop

5. Form the final loop. With the remaining long tail, shape the fourth loop, anchor it with a couple of stitches, and trim the excess. Don’t cut the thread yet.

forming the final loop

6. Complete the frog. Unpin it from the template, and turn it right side up. Refine the shape by hand if needed. On the wrong side, take a few final anchor stitches to secure the shape. Knot and cut the thread.

Turn right side up and shape the knot
Turn right side up and shape the knot.

Knot a Button

A classic frog uses a knotted cord button in a material that matches the looped closure. Practice this technique to find your best way to create a nicely rounded button. I’ll show you how to make these by securing loops to a board, but with practice you can make them without pinning.

1. Make the starting loops. Cut or create a cording length of 12 inches to 16 inches. For a larger button, you may want to double the cording. Pin a 1-inch loop to the board, leaving a 4-inch tail to the left. (For thinner cord, make the loops smaller.) Create a second loop, to the right of the first, and overlap them at the bottom slightly. Pin in place, leaving a long tail.

make the starting loops

2. Weave the long tail through the loops. As shown, weave the long end from right to left, over and under the loops’ sides, until the end emerges from under the leftmost loop. Keep the weaving close to the bottom of the loops.

Weave the long tail through the loops

3. Weave a second pass. Bring the long tail around to the right, through the right loop, under the two middle loop sides, and out through the left loop.

Weave a second pass

4. Tighten the knot. Remove the pins and gently grasp the cording ends. Slowly pull the knot to close and shape it. Pull from both sides, adjusting the cording so the most attractive sides are facing out. Continue pulling to achieve the desired size and shape. Knot the tails on the underside and trim them to about 1 inch. Hand-sew the loops unobtrusively to secure them, then sew the button to one side of the frog.

tighten the knot

Attach the Closure

The frog can be sewn to the garment by hand or machine. Stitching by hand gives more control and is the method I recommend.

Stitch by hand

With a fine hand-sewing needle and double strand of silk or rayon thread, anchor the frog close to its center on all sides with a stitch running parallel to the direction of the trim. Nest the stitches along the trim to hide them.

Once the frog’s center is attached, attach each loop with tiny stitches following both edges of the loop. For trims that have a groove, such as soutache, stitch within that groove. For corded piping trims that are more rounded, stitch over the trim with equal spacing between each stitch. Test your thread and trim to find the best combination for your garment. Hidden stitches offer the most polished finish.

Sew by machine

Many trims can be sewn with the sewing machine. Use a free-motion foot, walking foot, or a foot that allows the trim to easily pass under. Anchor the center of the frog closure and make sure the placement is correct. Select a smaller stitch length, stitch slowly, and note that you will be starting and stopping often to rotate and place the needle in the correct location. Machine-stitching a frog closure is not a time-saver but may add a different look to your design. The sewing machine may flatten the frog closure and produces more visible stitches. This can be a nice touch for costumes.

–Joi Mahon is a designer, teacher, and author specializing in fine sewing and fitting methods. DesignerJoi.com

Photos: Mike Yamin

Illustration: Steven Fleck

From Threads #225


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