Friday, 23 May 2014

Making a Shire horse flight set Part 1 - The flights

Making flights is a simple and fairly cheap thing to do, although easily available to be purchased ready-made online, these traditional decorations were originally made by the heavy horse owner so it seems obvious that they are quite easy to make yourself. With relatively few tools and only a few simple techniques you can make your own flights and be ready for show season! These flights (sometimes called 'flags') pictured here are the traditional Shire flights. Originally they were kept to the primary colours and white probably because these were the most available at the time but times have changed and you see all sorts of colours in the show ring now - even pink! There are over 30 plain shades available in grosgrain ribbon as well as prints, so you can be really imaginative and individual if you wish to be or you can stick with tradition.
Flights with with side ways bows or plumes are called 'standards'. These are made for the Clydesdale traditionally and other heavy horse breeds and you will be able to find the tutorial on making these in the topic list on the right hand side in the page along with plaiting guides for your particular breed (coming soon)!

You Will need:
  • Grosgrain ribbon - In the above pictures the Emerald green and Royal blue uses 25mm wide ribbon and the Royal blue and Bright orange uses 25mm blue and 15mm orange. Grosgrain ribbon is strong and will hold itself up. Its a woven ribbon with a good sheen and is available for around £4 - £6 for a 25m reel (which is by far enough for around 2 sets of flights and neck bands)
  • Medium thickness garden wire. (not heavy duty or you wont be able to bend it by hand once twisted)
  • Pliers
  • scissors
  • Thread and needle - Thread matching to the ribbon colour you are using in the centre of your flight.
  • a pin
  • sewing machine (this is optional and can be hand stitched, or not stitched at all, for the tulip shaped flights)
All bits and bobs assembled in the same place.
Here is a photographic guide to making your own Shire horse flights in both styles, first the more open type of flight:
 Firstly cut 2 pieces of ribbon one in each colour. These can be however long you want your flights but for people who need a measurement around 18cm long. Grosgrain has clear woven lines so it is easy to cut in a straight line.

Fold the ribbon in half and cut around 5mm on the folded side to the top corners to make a V shape in both ends of both pieces of ribbon. Make sure you cut all at the same angle by cutting the same distance from the top every time so all flights match. This is easier than it sounds once you get started!
 You will end up with something like this!

 Fold your pieces of ribbon in half points matching so the centre ribbon is on the outside here my centre ribbon will be the purple (which looks like blue!) and my outside spikes will be green. Lay on a flat surface to make the next part easier.

Spread whilst on the table the inside colour (green here) one half to each side. Once you are happy with how they look put a pin in the bottom of the flight near the fold as shown here. The outer petals spread more once you insert the wire so a little closer than you would like as the final flight would be perfect.
Stitch together both halves of the middle ribbon (purple here), about 1cm from the inwards point. As left picture above. To stitch I use double thread (matching to the ribbon colour, here shown lighter so it was able to be seen better in the photographs) knot your thread at the end. Enter from the middle of the 2 halves of the ribbon so the knot is sandwiched between and not seen on the outside. Stitch 3 neat stitches through both halves and then put the needle through one side towards the middle and knot off around the stitches so the final knot cannot be seen from the outside.

Once you have done the middle ribbon, stitch through the middle ribbon at each side (see middle picture) catching your outer spikes in the middle. You may need to do a little moving before you stitch to get both sides matching and as you would like them to sit. Stitch in the same way as you did the middle ribbon going through all three pieces of ribbon. Once this is done you can remove the pin!

Cut a piece of wire around 55cm long or however long you would like.

Fold your ribbon from one side at the bottom and turn it out so your outer spike coloured ribbon now sits across your middle coloured ribbon. Like the picture below
 Fold your wire in half.
 Insert one leg of your wire on each side. Inside your fold so that you are on the open side of the fold-over like above.
 Pull down and arrange your flight so it sits nicely.
Use your pliers, whilst holding your flight in place, and twist the wire so it is secure. Continue to twist to the end of the wire.
And there you have it one flight. To make a full set make 15 in total. This is the number in an in hand set, you need 9 for a harness set but its a good idea to make a full set so you have spares should any get dirty. Its unlikely you will use them all at any one time unless you space them very close together.

How to make the second type of flight - the tulip shape:

Firstly cut two pieces of ribbon one 25mm (here royal blue) and one 15mm wide (here orange). The 15mm should be 2cm shorter than the 25mm ribbon. This thinner ribbon will be your centre ribbon.
Cut the ends as with the other type of flight by folding and cutting around 5mm away from the end of the ribbon on the folded side to the top corners forming inward points. Take care to make these the same angle of both pieces of ribbon.
 By eye, place the centre ribbon on top of the base ribbon with points equally spaced from each other at both sides and the end inwards points down the middle of the ribbon matching on the centre line. Pin together the ribbons.

At this point I like to seam down the middle with my sewing machine but if you do not have one you do not need to do this part. I like to because it keeps the ribbon more closely together from the sides but you can skip this part and still have a great looking tulip flight.

The seam foot fits perfectly on my sewing machine so it is easy to do a quick seam in a matching thread. Sew a straight line without reversing at either end. Pull through the front thread to the back using a pin and tie at the back, these knots will not be seen on the front of the flight, cut the tails.

Fold the two ribbons in half with points matching.

Stitch at about 1cm on the centre line from the inward point of the centre ribbon.

Cut your wire as before to around 55cm or however long you want and fold in half. Insert in the fold of the ribbon.

Using matching thread or crochet cotton if you prefer (its slightly stronger but thread would also do fine if its of a good quality) Tie around the base just above the wire. 

 Loop one tail of your knot and then wrap the cotton around the base till tight then insert your end through the loop and pull down, tie ends then cut tails.
 Twist the wire with your pliers to secure the flight in place, not ruining the look of the ribbons, but so it doesn't flop over. Twist the wire to the bottom of the cut ends.

Make 15 in total as before for a full set. 

Coming soon in this series:
Part 2: The Shire mane roll
Part 3: The jug handle
Also to follow How to make Clydesdale standards and a series on plaiting!


  1. Does anyone have video of putting the jug ring and sprigs on the tail

  2. Hi Kimberly
    I saw one on youtube it's called How to Plait a Traditional Shire Horse

  3. The link it here -

  4. Has the Clydesdale standards and plaiting been done?