sew bicycle cape
February 12, 2012 7:55 AM   Subscribe

How to sew a bicycle cape

Hello, I want to sew a cape to wear while riding my bicycle. What factors should I take into account to get the best looking cape possible?

I've already had a first attempt where I used a very light fabric and tapered rectangular shape, but the cape doesn't sit well on the shoulders or flap in the wind in that superhero kind of way that one would want. I figure I need to round the shoulders out more so it sits better. One idea I had from the get go was to use a velcro clasp that will come loose if the cape gets caught on something.

What things should I consider in creating my cape 2.0? I'm open to suggestions on anything: Fabric type and thickness, shape, additional safety features, reducing drag, incorporating lights...
posted by vegetable100% to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
How floaty/floppy/whippy do you want it to be? You can make it from satin or you can make it from felt or you can use a cotton blend. To keep it from getting wrapped in your bike wheels, I'd go for a child-length cape like these. (I have ordered a custom one from Homemade Heroes and was as happy as you can be for $20, FWIW!)
posted by DarlingBri at 8:07 AM on February 12, 2012

Go for a heavier weight fabric than you're using. I assume you'll also want it to drape a bit, so make sure you make it wider than you want and then gather the fabric into the collar (like you would when making a full skirt with gathers). That will give it more fullness. If you need to weigh it down at the bottom you could sew in small weights (they make these for curtains) or even use washers.

Safety features could include reflective edging if you're riding at night. I like to sew a lining/inside layer to my capes to add more weight and cover up the less attractive wrong side of the fabric if using something shiny like satin. Bonus on that is you can make the inside a different color for style or to make it reversible. You could even make the inside reflective if you found the right material.

Keep in mind, movie superheroes have the help of wires and wind machines for the perfect "flapping in the wind" look. We'll need to see pictures when you're finished!
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:08 AM on February 12, 2012

Ooh, I want a reflective bike cape!

Could you have it sort of loop under the arms to keep it on the shoulders?
posted by yarly at 9:15 AM on February 12, 2012

I'm a little confused, are you trying to sew a rain cape? Does the fabric need to be waterproof? I occasionally wear a rain cape and would be happy to send you photographs of the shoulder construction, but both of my cycling capes have a cut (and features like internal ties) intended to eliminate flapping in the wind.
posted by pullayup at 9:26 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sewing pattern companies offer costume patterns with capes, especially around Halloween, that would probably give that flapping-in-the-wind effect. Here's one that might work, but you'd have to shorten it considerably for safety and good flapping (even the Robin Hood version looks too long). You'd want to make the closure out of Velcro, too, or some other quick-breakaway fastener.

I think the nicest flapping would come from a light-to-midweight satin. Depends how fast you normally ride, of course. (Light satin is tricky to sew, though.) For dramatic flapping you want a lot of fabric, so I think these very full capes would be better than the flat towel-types that kiddie costumes usually have. You'd toss the front parts over your shoulders while you're riding; that seems to be how Christopher Reeve's cape is arranged in these images.

Reducing drag: I think you're hosed, here. A big flappy cape is basically a drogue, but a nonflappy cape is no fun. Smooth lightweight fabric is probably the best you can do, so stick to satin. Lights: may be too heavy to permit flapping, but reflective safety fabric might work. It comes in tape and yardage; ask at your fabric store - they may not carry it but might be able to order some for you.

Costume patterns frequently turn up at thrift stores (usually in kid sizes, but it may not matter for a cape, since you want it short and the shoulders probably aren't fitted per se), as does cheap crappy satin for experimenting with. Good luck!

P.S. I love this idea. The world needs more superheroes on bicycles.
posted by Quietgal at 10:27 AM on February 12, 2012

Super heroes almost never get strangled when their capes get caught in the wheels / brakes / chain of their bike, so yeah, a tear away closure and a judicious choice of length are good ideas.

Plugging the phrases half-circle cloak and full-circle cloak into Google will get you all kinds of patterns from the medieval reenactment community, but, basically, these either start with a half circle or full circle of cloth (hence the name) with a radius equal to the desired length (less the neck opening), often assembled out of triangles.

The real issue is that if you try to close the thing in any sort of traditional way, you're going to have it bunched around and pulling back on your throat and not out on your shoulders as you have already found. The superman cape seems to be attached to his shirt as a sort of really tall collar. That's not going to work so well unless you want to have a bicycle shirt AND cape all in one, or make several of the things.

Borrowing some design elements from the Australian Drovers coat might work. The capes are typically separate pieces of cloth held on with 5-7 snaps (1-3 around the back of the neck and two more for each clavicle) with straps running from the front outside corner to some point in the back. I have one of these and it's an awesome coat.

Drovers coats are pretty much the Batman's utility belt of outerwear to begin with. Make one in blue and grey with a little bat logo on the neck tab and the gusset in the back and you'd pretty much have the costume for Batman in the universe where Bruce Wayne's parents where sheep ranchers and Joe Chill was an Australian highwayman. "Me? I'm Batman, mate."
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:27 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are using a triangle shape, you're not going to have the nice drape across the shoulders that allows for form-fitting and floaty-ness. The cape should shaped at the shoulders, and/or gathered. The bottom should have a slight curve. If you look for patterns, the better ones will be fitted in more sophisticated ways with seams. Look at some of these examples.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:29 PM on February 12, 2012

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