Friday, August 17, 2012

How to Make Medals

So one accessory that can really add to any steampunk outfit is a medal.  Or tons of medals.  I have been collecting photos of different styles of medals on Pinterest, and I encourage you to check them out for inspiration.

We HAD to buy this one.
 It's shaped like a gear!
You can buy medals, both ones meant to be costume pieces, and real medals.  My husband and I found some old swimming medals for cheap in an antique store when we first started in steampunk.  People often asked where we found those medals, and never realized they actually had pictures of people swimming on them.   You can also find military medals in antique stores, military surplus store, and other dedalers. We've bought a few of these as well.   But sometimes they are prohibitively expensive, or maybe you don't want to wear real medals.  Maybe you just like making your own.

The easiest way to make a medal is to buy a pre-made one from a craft store.  Yes, Making Memories sells medals that you can customize with messages such as "Happy Birthday" or "#1 Dad."  We bought several of these about a year ago at Michael's when they were on sale.  They are actually pretty nice, so long as you want your medal to have a round, flat base.

The most obvious thing to do with these is the ever popular "glue a gear on it."  And yes, I did it.  I kinda like the way it looks, actually.  Ok, so not the most original medal ever, but if you're looking for quick and easy, this is it.

But maybe you prefer to make a medal from scratch.  There are several things you need to be able to do this.  First of all, you need appropriate ribbon.  You would think it would be fairly easy to find vertically striped grosgrain ribbon.  Yeah, not really so much.  I went through all the ribbon in two craft stores and didn't fine any vertically striped ribbon that I thought was right for a medal.  The only plain stripes I found was red, white, and blue, and I didn't want an overly patriotic feel.  The rest of the striped ribbon was pastels and stripes of weird thicknesses.  It just didn't look like medal ribbon.  I settled on some ribbon with harlequin diamonds.  Finally, in the third store I visited (Joann's) I found some plain black and white and red and white striped ribbon and some brown with blue pinstripe.  And those were the only vertically striped ribbon they had.  It's just weird that this is so hard to find.  I even searched the internet and couldn't find anything in the right thickness.

Ok, so the second major thing you need is your medal charm.  This can really be anything and is subject to your imagination.  Any kind of pendant or charm can be used.  There are some jewelry companies that make pendants that look like medals.   But feel free to think outside the box.  An octopus medal?  Sure.  Mustache medal?  Awesome.

Other supplies you will need are large and small jump rings, fabric or craft glue, super strong glue, a pin back, and pliers.

Frenzy Universe has a great tutorial on how to make the ribbon part of the medal.  But the problem is that it only works if you have the same style of pin back they are using.  And those pin backs are a little difficult to find and quite pricey when you do.  I wanted to use a standard pin back from a craft store, so I developed my own method.  It's a little less polished, but I think it works.

Step 1: Cut a length of ribbon about an inch longer than double your desired medal length.  Or eyeball it, whatever.  Make this into a loop and glue the ends together, overlapping by 1/4-1/2", with fabric or craft glue.  Let dry, or mostly dry.

Step 2:  Place more fabric glue on the inside of the ribbon loop,  pressing this end flat so that the interior raw edge of ribbon is at the top.  You can see the exterior raw edge of the ribbon is still showing on the outside at this point.  Let dry.

Step 3:  Fold the top of the loop down again, covering the raw edge on the exterior of the ribbon.  Glue and let dry.   So you now have all the raw edges covered, and a thick pad of folded ribbon at the top.  This is where you will glue the pin-back.

Step 4:  Now it's time for your charm.  Attach the small jump ring to your charm and then link that to the large jump ring.  (I'm using 15mm rings for the large one.  It could actually be bigger, and I'd prefer thicker.)  I find it easiest to open jump rings with jewelry pliers and close them with normal pliers.  YMMV. I'm really unskilled at this jewelry stuff, though.

Step 5: Fold the corners of your ribbon loop in and slide the jump ring through the loop.  Close the jump ring.

Step 6: This is actually the tricky part.  It's getting the folds in the ribbon to be even and look decent.   You just have to mess with it.  Alternatively you could cut the ribbon so it is a perfect shape and then glue the angled edges closed.  That is actually how the pre-made medals are made, but real medals are folded.

Step 7:  Apply a good amount of strong glue to your pin back and press onto the thick part of ribbon.  I use E6000 for this, but not for the rest of the gluing.  It seems to work well for metals and plastics, but for fabric to fabric, I don't think it works all that well.  Make sure you don't get glue into any of the moving parts of the pin back, though.  Let dry.

And now you're done!  Here is a collection of medals I made, of various styles.  I have more styles and techniques I want to experiment with, and I'll naturally update this when I have more to report.

*cough* Some of these are for sale.


  1. Thanks for the instructions. I'm going to try my hand at it now. Wish me luck!

  2. Every time I look for a tutorial on something steampunk, I find links your blog! You are just awesome! I've been reading all your new posts for about a year, but clearly I need to go back and read everything from before I discovered you! This tutorial is perfect for what I need!

  3. Michael's does not appear to carry the "medal kits" anymore--at least the one in Kingston, NY. Was able to find "faux" military style medals in Spirit Halloween Store and convert to steampunk fashion. The only problem is that the Spirit Halloween Store is a seasonal store and had to get the only three medals left in stock.

  4. Hi. I found this tutorial and i was amazed by it. What type of ribbon did you use? i found a someone that make a purchasable document that explains how to print your own ribbon. i just want to make sure i can use your ribbon to keep it as authentic as possible. i will include the link the the person that is selling the document if anyone is interested

  5. Thank you for this. My daycare kids want to have a Wizard of OZ week but I needed an idea that would appeal to all and this is a great idea, now i just need to find something that is courage, heart, and brains ... thinking a diploma shape or a lightbulb shape