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Conversational Threads

sewing for the differently able

mvb | Posted in Talk With Us on

I spend way too much time shopping for clothes to fitand flatter my daughter who uses a wheelchair. Depending on the fashion that is mildly difficult or next to impossible. We are currently in a next to impossible fashion cycle. I would love to see Threads address the issue of sewing for a person with mobility and spasticity difficulties.


  1. MaryinColorado | | #1

    This is a great idea and would benefit so many!  Mary

    1. AmberE | | #2

      I completely agree!

  2. damascusannie | | #3

    mvb-- What body shape is your daughter and what styles seem most flattering and comfortable for her? Also, what age is she? For comfort, the trend back to leggings and tunics would seem ideal to me, but I've never been in your daughter's position, so I may be making a false assumption.

  3. dodey | | #4

    Hi, Did you ever resolve your problem with clothing for your daughter?

    I have been using a wheelchair for the past year, and am also at a loss for what looks best on a person sitting down. All the styles I used to make and wear, and the ones I see in magazines,( and that I like) look great on people standing

    I would really like to see an article in THREADS devoted to this question.

    Cheers! Dodey

    1. Gloriasews | | #5

      There are books at the library & Amazon on sewing for people with different challenges.  There were also articles in Sew News a few years ago, as well.  The fitting depends upon what your challenges & mobility are (if you need Velcro closures, need the back or sides or front of your outfit to open easily, if you need extra space in your clothing for appliances underneath), etc.  The articles stated that you do need roomy clothing, so that you're not feeling bound anywhere.  Also, your pants would have to be made longer to reach your shoes when you're in a sitting position (if you are in a wheelchair all of your waking hours).  Same with skirts; they would have to be longer to at least cover your knees.  You would have to consider exactly what your needs are & go from there.  Of course, if you're in & out of your wheelchair all day, these roomy & extra long clothes wouldn't work.   Hope these ideas help.



    2. User avater
      ThreadKoe | | #6

      I concurr. It would be great for Threads to do an article on fitting and the needs for the differently abled. When bodies are very twisted, or are restricted, patterns have to be altered beyond what is normally considered. A lot has to be done by sheer experimenting. Someone must have done this before. There is a lot of info. out there on fastenings and such for mobility problems, but not a lot on the actual fitting needs. Cathy

      Edited 9/10/2008 11:42 am ET by ThreadKoe

      1. User avater
        artfulenterprises | | #8

        When my darling Dad was in a nursing home due to strokes which caused limited mobility and use of his hands, he was always cold.  So I made him a toasty jacket of berber style fleece with a generous "mandarin" collar for his neck and rather roomy (almost belled) sleeves that were easy for him to get into.  The front pieces were long enough to cover his knees, but the back section was only long enough to cover just below his shoulder blades which made sitting in a wheel chair more comfy.  The jacket was closed with velcro tabs so that he didn't have to struggle with buttons which he was unable to manipulate.  After Dad passed away 2 years ago, I found a few scraps of the fabric in my stash and added a section to the back and wear it now and then as a cozy comfort on especially cold winter days (relatively speaking of course....I live in northern California wine country!)

        Edited 9/16/2008 7:03 pm by artfulenterprises

    3. Lovessewing | | #7


      I have a great book in my sewing library at home that was written for this type of sewing.  Since I'm pretty much senile from work stress this afternoon, I just can't remember the author and/or title.  But, I promise to look at it tonight and will have the relevant information for you by tomorrow.

      It's a well-written book with great ideas - there really haven't been that many books published on this topic.

      I'd like to see more such books - it would be wonderful if there were more resources.

      Wishing I was sewing right now,

      Julie (in Houston)

    4. sewelegant | | #9

      One of my past nursing jobs was in an orthopedic, rehab. hospital and I remember the easiest clothing to deal with was the two piece outfits.  Either pants or a skirt.  This allows the top to drop to the waist properly without bunching up and if you like skirts for the "lap" effect that is no problem.  Many people find pants a little binding, but they are excellent for modesty purposes.  I think there are also many comfortable loose pants you could sew and they could have velcro tabs at the waist (the front is like a flap and closed it looks like normal pants or skirt with side pockets).  These also are easy to adjust for comfort while sitting in the chair.  Open front tops are the easiest to deal with, but if its no problem raising your arms over your head you can do fine with pull over tops.

      1. dodey | | #10


        Thanks for the info............I have been going through back issues of Threads and in Threads #70, I found a fitting article called "fitting for sitting". It is about fitting pants for a person who uses a wheelchair, and is very helpful. I can stand up, but most of my time is spent sitting so I will likely do a modification of the fitting.

        I think I saw an article in a past issue about how the body shape changes when sitting, and I am looking through my old issues to find it. It was to do with making riding costumes for equestrians, and how the pattern needs to be modified to look good. That info may apply to my circumstance too.

        I am interested in good looking clothing, that I can make and wear, and not look like a "sack tied in the middle".


        1. sewelegant | | #11

          It seems to me that soft fabric that drapes nicely would be the only clothng I would find comfortable sitting most of the time.  Denim might be OK because of its properties, but linen, linen like, stiff cottons, corduroy, that type of cloth would not move with you and bunch up so I think the fabric you use would be as important as the design you choose.

          1. Sancin | | #12

            I have been wanting to say this for some time. Corduroy is terrible to move around in bed or in a wheelchair. I ended up in emergency with mobility problems 2x in the past year and each time I was wearing corduroy pants. I can't begin to tell you how difficult it was to get comfortable on a stretcher with a thin sheet on it and nearly impossible to turn over. A wheel chair was terrible as well. Sooo, if you need to go to emergency, try to change if you are wearing corduroy. I imagine corduroy may be difficult on a shiny surface as well as the wale seems to act like little suction cups!

          2. sewelegant | | #13

            I can visualize what you were going through!  How about the new "slinky" travel fabrics?  I have several pair now and find them the most easy to wear of any I have ever owned and they are great for wearing on the plane.  (I can equate that with sitting in a wheelchair)  The seats in economy class are almost always made of cloth and trying to slide from the window seat back to the aisle is a challenge.  The rayon slinky eliminates that problem.  I sewed my last pair and it was not as difficult as I was thinking it would be.  The fabric behaved quite well.  I used a narrow, short zig zag stitch to sew the seams and they have an elastic waist so no zipper problems.  They are very comfortable.  There are various qualities of this fabric out there and the one I made my pants from is a heavier grade (not flimsy) and there is a smooth side and a rougher side that I made the outside but both sides allow easy movement.

          3. dodey | | #14

            Too true!

            But some of the soft fabrics wrinkle too much. I have some nice corduroy that I will try a pants pattern with. Do you know which mag. the article on making clothing for people who ride horses was in? I remember that it said you have to take into account the sitting position,and how the body shape changes in that instance.

            I think that will answer some of my design questions.

          4. sewelegant | | #15

            I'm sorry, dodey, but I do not remember seeing an article like that.  However, I do not subscribe and am missing quite a few issues especially since Threads began publishing 6x a year.  Have you tried the new "slinky" type of fabric?  Or it is called "travel wear" in lots of ready to wear catalogs.  It always looks great even after being wadded up in a tight place.  The wrinkles hang out.  That's why it is so popular for travel wear.  Almost everyone is selling their version these days and it isn't that expensive.  I am a great fan, but I do not know how it would work for sitting all day.  The seat might get a bit shiny.  But would that matter? 

          5. dodey | | #17

            Actually it wouldn't, because no one sees it anyway.I am not sure I have seen it advertised here in Canada in fabric stores, but I can look.

          6. Gloriasews | | #18

            You can get Slinky from http://www.macpheeworkshop.com (based in Edmonton AB).  Linda MacPhee also has lots of info on sewing with Slinky, & patterns, too.


          7. sewelegant | | #19

            I just visited the McPhee site you posted and was "thrilled" to find all that slinky info.  I am really a FAN of that fabric, especially for a trip, but my black slinky pants are a wintertime staple.  They are the blackest black I've ever owned and I like that.  It does feel heavy when you lift it but not when you are wearing it.  I am now wondering how that 50# airline weight limit is going to be affected because I am taking a trip back East next week and am planning on packing at least 5 slinky pieces.

          8. Gloriasews | | #20

            I'm glad to have helped.  If you have a bathroom scale, why don't you weigh your clothing & suitcase while you're packing?  Five outfits certainly shouldn't weigh 50 lbs.  While you were in the MacPhee website, did you check out the beggar cloth, as well?  She also has some sweater knits - all kinds of goodies, eh?  I hope you have a safe trip.


          9. sewelegant | | #21

            I will check out the McPhee site in depth when I get back home.  It's true the slinky clothing will not weigh 50#, but I was thinking when I started planning this trip that I would make myself all kinds of lightweight, wispy tops, etc. and now, since I didn't follow through I am going to be going to dinner in slinky and sweaters, but that's alright because it is the Fall Colors Cruise from New York to Quebec and back and I don't suppose light wt. clothing is what most of the others will be wearing.  It's just that shoes and coats, etc. weigh more than sandals and sundresses.

          10. Gloriasews | | #22

            The slinky should be fine for your trip.  For a fall cruise to Quebec, you'd better take sweaters, socks & shoes & a warm jacket, as it may well be chilly.  A scarf  & even gloves may be considered as well.  I'm in central BC & we had snow twice yesterday (it didn't stay, thank heavens) - but winter is coming.  You might check the EnvironmentCanada.ca website for the weather before you go, too.  Have a great trip.  Hopefully, fall colours will still be there.


            Edited 10/11/2008 2:55 am by Gloriasews

          11. sewelegant | | #23

            You do not sound very encouraging! Are your fall colors gone?  Or do you need a good snow to get things started?  We know it is late and should have booked at least a week earlier, but had a conflict.  This is the last cruise of the season so you know it will be "iffy".  BUT, we will find everything very interesting and worth the trip even if it is too late.  I am going to enjoy eating in a fine dining room for evey meal for 10 days!  Some may think that's a pretty expensive reason to go on a cruise, but for me that is pure luxury.  I have never gained wt. on a cruise because it seems like it is easier to make good choices.  I will definitely take my gloves and scarf, thanks.  I envy you living in B.C. it has to be one of the prettiest places on the planet!

          12. Gloriasews | | #24

            Sorry - I didn't mean to discourage you.  It HAS been warmer in the east lately, so you may well be in luck, even though, as you said, it is late in the year.  But the cruise, itself, sounds wonderful!  The food, for sure (no cooking or washing dishes for you), as well as the experience & seeing new things.  You'll enjoy it.  I hope you have a good time & meet some great people.

            Yes, BC is a beautiful province.  Unfortunately, most of our beautiful leaves here were down by yesterday - many bare trees today, & only 1 degree above freezing.  All it takes is lots of moisture (whether rain or snow) & lots of wind, & fall is over.  It seems to be early here this year.  Now, if only the serious snow holds off for awhile, all will be good :)


            Edited 10/14/2008 1:15 am by Gloriasews

          13. Sancin | | #25

            I have a neighbour who arrive home this mid week from what sounds like the same cruise you are taking. She said the leaves were just starting to change colour so you should see some pretty ones in the next week or so. It will get cool at night and in the evening. Apparently temperature has something to do with the sugar in the trees and leaves that makes the leaves change colour. I am also in central BC and I still have leaves on my birch trees - they leave late and are very messy - so much for poetry about Birch trees. Even with our early snow that didn't stay autumn is my favourite time of the year.

            Edited 10/12/2008 9:14 pm ET by Sancin

          14. Gloriasews | | #27

            Sancin, I'm not going on the cruise (I wish!) - it's Sewelegant who is.  I'm sure she'll see your message, as I sent her one just before yours & she'll probably continue reading.  That's good to hear that the east is having a late fall - lucky them!

            I suspect you live in the same area as I do & yes, there are still some beautiful trees out there, but some of the gorgeous golden poplars are now bare, but the weeping birches & mountain ashes are still hanging in there - so far.


          15. sewelegant | | #30

            Your message is very encouraging, thank you!  Since you and others who have responded live in B.C. I expect that your weather conditions have been a lot different than the East Coast so I take that into consideration as well as the message from "Threadkoe" who lives in eastern Canada.

          16. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #26

            The fall colours here are really just starting to come.  The reds in the maples have really just started to turn, and the yellows are really just starting to come along, lots are still pretty green.  By the time of your trip, you should have full colour.  It is a little on the late side this year, we have been having cool weather, but late frost.  We are expecting colder weather next week, so I suggest packing a warm jacket for evenings, and light gloves.  Weather this time of year here could go either way very quickly, but it was Tshirt weather today, and warm sweaters last week!  No call for snow until at least Halloween anyways,     Cathy

          17. sewelegant | | #28

            Thank you for the weather report!  I was getting a little bummed out by the "colors have peaked" reports, but the maples are my favorites so I am so happy to hear you say they are just peaking.  I'm sure we will think it is absolutely beautiful no matter if we are a little late.  We do get Autumn colors here in the San Diego area near and in the mountains and would you believe we had weather in the low 60's all last week and one night it was in the 40's... not like your weather, but for us it was very unusual.  Our "winter" usually falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas and during that time we will get frost in our little valley so we have to take that into account when we plant things.

          18. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #29

            We usually get our first snowflakes round halloween, altho some years we get lucky and have shirtsleeve halloweens.  Never know wether to make the costumes big enough to fit over snowsuits or not!  Cathy

          19. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #33

            Silly Me, was just realizing something about your packing.  McPhee has a really nice basic Shirt pattern, the one with the scooped hem options, that I have used for a couple of years now for lots of things.  I made a dress and jacket outfit from that pattern!  It would be great for those slinky fabrics.  The pattern is roomy enough to layer, esp the cardigan style tops.  Perfect for this time of year.  A pair of easy fit leggings or dressy evening pants and you would be laughing!  Easier to layer a couple of articles of clothing this time of year than to pack a heavy coat.   A lightweight  windproof raincoat would probably be better this time of year over the whole works than the winter coat.  Cathy

          20. sewelegant | | #34

            Well, I am back from my Canada cruise and happy to report there were lots of trees in beautiful colors still gracing the countryside!  Especially in Quebec and Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. 

            NOW, I have to confess something!  My slinky pants do not slide across that airplane seat like I thought I remembered.  (It had been three years since I flew and that was in first class, thanks to a not so full plane and frequent flyer miles).  Well, this time I had to put up with the seat in front of me holding up my chin for most of the flight and it was very difficult to get in and out.  The fabric seat covers almost felt like velcro.  So much for that! But I did really like them for wearing around the ship.  I had two black pair and that was good because the damp weather was causing them to stretch a bit after wearing.  I wonder how others deal with that problem?  I was turning the waist over.  I have had both of these for several years so didn't expect that.  The plum pair I made seemed to fit and wear a lot better (can you imagine that!)  We had beautiful weather, but it was cold.  It only rained on the last day as we were leaving the ship in New York City.  It feels good to be back home.  I am not the best traveller.  I miss my own bed.

          21. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #35

            You can blame the humidity for the stretch in your pants.  I forgot to warn you about that.  Microfibre does absorb it from the air, and become a bit heavier from it.  What makes it comfortable to wear can be a downside as well.  The good part is that it does not wrinkle much! 

            Glad to hear you enjoyed the colour, and that the weather held for the most part.  The cold seems to be a part of that unfortunately.  But cold weather seems to do something to the sunlight that makes the colours glow in a way that is almost unreal. 

            It is my honest opinion that airplane seats are built to stick to everything.  Between the cramped spaces and stick to your clothing covers, they are designed to keep us in one spot.  Even a slippery silk satin sticks to them.  I gave up years ago, and wear my most comfortable denim pants (the ones a tad too big),  that are soft and cozy.  Not the most fashionable, I admit, but at least I am comfortable, and if I swell up a bit, they still fit.   I always ask for an aisle seat anyways....   Cathy

          22. sewelegant | | #36

            Denim is definitely the thing.  I was probably the only one out in public in the last month who did not have any "jeans".  I plan on remedying that soon as I found some stretch denim at JoAnne's in my favorite denim shade and I liked the way my self-drafted pants (that I made up in the slinky) fit so well, I will try it in the denim.  Not jeans, I feel more comfortable with just nice pants.  Strange thing about humidity, but I should have guessed... when these items are washed I never hang them on a hanger to dry because they will "grow".

          23. User avater
            VKStitcher | | #31

            Gloria, thanks for posting the link to MacPhee Workshop.  I've had a piece of Slinky for over a year, and I love the color and the way it feels, but I am intimidated by it!  The tips on her website really help to ease my fears.  I hope to get a top (or a dress if there's enough fabric) made from it soon.

            I also just got the "Urban Jacket" pattern from MacPhee Workshop.  It looks comfy and flattering.  I'm thinking of using either fleece or wool for it.

          24. Gloriasews | | #32

            You're welcome!  I'm glad to have helped you find the MacPhee Workshop.  Almost all of her patterns are designed for any kind of body.   The fleece or wool would get great for your jacket.  Good luck with it.     Gloria

    5. mvb | | #16

      Thanks for asking. It has been awhile since I was on the site. I made her a couple of summer skirts because we got tired of looking for ones that were long enough to cover the knees! They were a pretty plain style because too much width gets caught in the wheels and bunches under her. Other than waist not too many fitting issues to address. The front of the waist sits too high but she wears her tops out. Makes for a longer looking torso.The fit issues are a bit more complex for pants. They need a higher back, roomier in the seat, but not roomy in the thighs. I liked the suggestion about looking at riding pants. I am a pretty hit and miss sewer and don't have a lot of time to figure and try things out, although if I could just do it it would probably save time in the long run. It is that huge difference between front and back rise that I find difficult to transition smoothly. Perhaps if enough of us request Threads to do an article on how to adapt patterns to accompodate the seated figure it might happen. We know what the fit issues are. We need help in solving them.

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