Tutorial: Make your own reflective ribbon trim

by Jessie Kwak

As I mentioned last week in my Bike Craft roundup, I’ve been thinking a lot about visibility. In Seattle, we’re coming off an unprecedented number of gorgeous, rainless days, but even as the sky stays clear, the sun is setting sooner and sooner.

That’s fine, though, because we’re about to enter my absolutely most favoritest month: October.

It’s the month of butternut squash and sage ravioli, apple pie, delicious hearty soups, crunchy leaves under bike tires, sunny crisp days, and the return of my favorite wardrobe item, the scarf.

There are all sorts of reflective trims available for the home sewer to add to sewing projects. Big box fabric stores like Jo-Ann’s often carry trims—in fact the Jo-Ann’s near my work has reflective piping, black and fluorescent yellow reflective grosgrain ribbon, and iron-on reflective ribbon.

Specialty stores like Seattle Fabrics will have more esoteric things. In addition to the basic fluorescent shiny stiff, Seattle Fabrics also carries nifty reflective piping, reflective shock cords, and more. They also carry reflective fabric by the yard. It’s pretty reasonably priced for what it is (I think it’s around $22 a yard), and some day I’m going to make a coat, or a pair of panniers or some such out of it and just blind the hell out of everybody. Maybe I’ll make an evening gown.

There’s a common problem with the ribbon trims, though. They’re meant to be high-vis, and as such they’re often neon yellow or orange, or some other bright color. At the very best you can find them in black.

It’s understandable—there’s not nearly enough of a demand for these ribbons that they would be available in a wide range of colors. No Rose Smoke or Tangerine Tango or Rhapsody.

Which brings me to today’s tutorial:

Make your own reflective ribbon


  • Iron-on reflective ribbon (I got mine at Jo-Ann’s)
  • Grosgrain or satin ribbon
  • Iron
  • A press cloth

First, can I tell you about press cloths? I didn’t even know what one was until last winter, when I finally broke down and bought a yard of silk organza to make one. (One yard makes 4 press cloths.) I was making a nice wool winter coat, and every blog I read about coat making talked about how important it was to use a press cloth with wool to keep the iron from leaving all those shiny marks in the fabric.

I use it for everything, now.

A press cloth is really helpful for projects like this, where you’re dealing with materials that could potentially melt on your iron. Silk organza can withstand high heat, and is see-through so you don’t have to guess what you’re doing.

The directions on the package seem pretty self-explanatory: peel off the backing, iron to the fabric, peel off the protective front coating.

I followed it all up to the last, but after I’d ironed the reflective piece on I couldn’t find the protective coating to peel off. It seems to work, though. I guess it’ll just be like when you get a new phone, right, and you don’t realize there’s one of those protective screen films until like three weeks later when someone else is using your phone and points it out, and then you just shrug and say that you keep it that way to prolong the resale value, even though it was just the free phone from Sprint, and later you peel it off when no one’s looking. Or maybe that’s just me.

Where was I?

Ah, yes.

1: Slice up your reflective trim

Use a rotary blade to cut your reflective trim into 1/4″ strips.

2: Peel off the backing

Fingernails are a plus, here. The newly exposed side will be a sparkly graphite color. That’s the reflective side.*

3: Iron it onto your ribbon

Center the reflective strip sparkly graphite side up on the ribbon. Lay your press cloth over it, then use the tip of your iron to tack it down every few inches. Once it’s nice and stuck in place, press it fully according to the directions.

Awesome, right? Now go forth and be well lit!

*Wait–so is this the protective coating that I’m supposed to peel off after ironing it on? Then where’s the clear backing? Either way, it worked for me and I only found one layer to peel off. Please enlighten me, oh crafty folk of the internet.


Bike Craft link love: “let it shine” edition

by Jessie Kwak

As the days begin to shorten and my morning commute gets darker, I’ve started to obsess about visibility. I know, I know. I could go buy one of those boxy neon yellow vests with the reflective trim—and honestly that works fine for my utilitarian, put-your-head-down-and-pedal commute through sketchy Tukwila. But it’s not exactly what I want to wear when I’m out running errands or meeting up with friends.

I’ve been playing around with unique ways to add reflective touches to the clothes I like to wear (with an eye on developing a couple new items for my Etsy store), and I wanted to share some of the cool tutorials and inspirations I’ve come across.

So grab some reflective ribbon and light it up!

Cycling dress with reflective detailYoga mat bag with reflective detailsCycling skirt with reflective accents

First, and absolutely most inspiring, is Tin Lizzie. She’s a cyclist and seamstress out East with an awesome flair for combining reflective shine with super chic style. Check out her awesome projects using reflective ribbon (which she lovingly refers to as “grown-up sparkles”). The “Tron” dress is incredible.

(Click on any image to go to its respective blog post, and then just keep wandering through her blog to read what she has to say. You can always come back to me again.)

Cycling hoodie with reflective detail

A close second for creative awesomeness is Breaking Chains and Taking Lanes. She’s lead a few demos (in Edmonton, which is unfortunate for those of us not in Edmonton) on how to apply nifty graphics out of retroreflective materials repurposed from industrial manufacturing.

She’s also got a good explanation of exactly what “retroreflective” means (essentially, the light bounces straight back at the source).

Want to learn more about the techniques of adding some shine to your own wardrobe? Nona Varnado has a nice video of a workshop she led for an Etsy Bike Craft Night.

I like her theory of placement: Use reflective tape in such a way that you’re instantly recognizable as a human on a bicycle by a car, so they can know to avoid you.

How cool are these reflective patches? Suddenly I have a desperate need for an embroidery machine.

DIY flower with reflective detail

This is super cute: a DIY reflective flower to put on your handlebars. From Giver’s Log.

Reflective bow for a bicycle helmetCrocheted reflective flowerSilver reflective flower pin

And forget about adding reflective accents to things—what about just using the reflective materials to make accessories? Like these adorable bows from One Two Three Speed, or this flower crocheted out of reflective yarn from Two Knitting Kitties, or these reflective flower pins from Maked.