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.