In the five years since I started my blog, I have become obsessed with reflective fashion – not just making it but buying it when I can. Naturally I prefer to make my own but I love seeing what other designers are making (Current fave Chance of Rain). Because my reflective sewing projects are intended to be fashionable in the office AND make me more visible on my bike, I’ve refined what and how – just throwing reflective spots here and there aren’t necessarily the best. So I thought I’d share some of my lessons learned.
Where to Be Reflective
One of the most important things I’ve learned is where reflective trim should go to be most visible to drivers. Shoulders, wrists, elbows, ankles, lower back, side seams of pants and skirts – all the best places. Collars and anything on the front, while there’s nothing wrong with that, tend to be less visible. I’ve made tons of lovely things that are covered up by long coats and scarves in the winter, so I really need to work on making outerwear!
I buy patterns from anywhere; I haven’t yet gotten around to drafting any of my own. I love the big companies, Simplicity, McCalls, Vogue, Butterick, New Look, and wait until they go on sale then buy in bulk. I have also bought patterns from some of the independent companies, and downloaded a few as well, but I don’t use too much of them. The designs tend to be a bit too vintage and sweet for me (I don’t do peter pan collars, for example), and honestly, downloading, printing, taping together and the trying to figure out which size lines to follow, well, it’s more work that I really care to do. I’m thrilled that these companies exist, and love the Colette sewing planner, but I personally want to sew things a bit more on trend.
When I choose patterns, I look for seam details that will easily allow for adding reflective details: back yokes, cuffs, side seams and extra seams, any sort of sleeve interest… Check out this McCalls pattern as an example:
Personally, I always struggle with finding patterns that are “corporate” enough for work; most of my sewing projects so far are a bit more “business casual” or “Friday casual.” I have done some things that don’t have any reflective trim at all, like the Simplicity 8166 blouse I finally started.
This is the biggest challenge – where to source reflective fabric? It’s hard to find and usually expensive when I do find it. Mood Fabrics currently has some lovely reflective fabrics (check out the sequined fabric! I can’t tell if it’s “my” reflective or just reflective because of the sequins, but I may need to find out…), and Rockywoods is still selling the water repellent reflective camo nylon fabric I bought last year. I had purchased some silver reflective fabric from Britex Fabrics, in San Francisco, but they don’t carry it anymore, and Dritz Notions stopped making their reflective piping a while ago but Seattle Fabrics sells it. Wherever I find it, I buy it. However…. some of this fabric, as lovely and reflective as it is, has a few drawbacks – it’s heavy, it’s hard to sew, it doesn’t press, and most importantly, it doesn’t breathe! This is a problem for biking in the summer! So I place it with care, knowing that I’ll sweat like mad under wherever the fabric is, yokes, collars, etc. Natural fibers reflective fabric is no! Admittedly, lately I’ve made a few things that don’t easily suggest reflective pieces, so I’ve simply added a tab of reflective grosgrain ribbon – not terribly useful in terms of safety, but, well, I feel obligated…
The other challenge in sewing bike fashion is how bikeable garments are. Pencil skirts are a challenge, and the main reason why I wanted a step-through bike. I don’t mind hicking my skirt up further than is acceptable because I wear Jockey Skimmies Slipshorts or Bikie Girl Bloomers under skirts and dresses, but not being able to throw my leg over the top tube of my commuter bike is the challenge! Full skirts and circle skirts, on the other end of the spectrum, tend to be too much fabric for me, but half-circles, A-lines and similar skirt and dress styles are perfect. I also gravitate towards tops with longer backs; thankfully high-low tops and tunics are stylish these days! Jackets, blouses and other tops need to allow for extended arms, and I always lengthen sleeves anyway, so long sleeves don’t end up halfway up my elbows.
All Together Now
So as you might guess, there are many calculations that go into my reflective bike fashion sewing! Can I bike in the garment? Does the pattern offer easy places to add something reflective? What goes with my limited stash of reflective fabrics and notions? Will the fabric be weather-appropriate? Given all these things, it’s a wonder I get as much sewing done as I do!
As you set about on your reflective sewing projects, I hope that these tips and ideas help. And if you find any new sources for reflective fabric, please be sure to share! Happy sewing!