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sewing for the phyically challenged

MAK | Posted in General Sewing Info on

I’m looking for information on sewing for my 25 year old daughter who uses a wheelchair. Clothing patterns for  people with disabilities seem to put ease of dressing and washabilty as a first priority and fashion way down the list.  She  needs help with everything so dressing is an issue. She is spastic so it is difficult to get coats etc around her shoulders. She uses both hand and leg braces.

 I am looking for pattern suggestions  or suggestions on how to adapt patterns or ready made clothes  so we have fashion and function.  I have often thought that invisable zippers might be the way to go but how do you insert them into exsisting seams?

For every article of clothing I buy and keep  for her I have  already bought and returned 3 or 4. There must be a better way.  Surely she is not the only severley handicapped person who wants to look nice and fashionable.

Any advice you can give me would be wonderful.



  1. Jean | | #1

    I  hope you can find some ideas/help on this link.  There is a long list of associated links at the bottom of the page too. Happy hunting and if you find something helpful, please  report back.  http://www.speciallyforyou.net/

  2. stitchmd | | #2

    Clothing for wheelchair users needs to be longer in back to accommodate the seated position, shorter in front so it doesn't hang too far down. For tops you can adjust front and back piece lengths. For skirts or pants one approach might be to look at where the fabric bunches up or pulls when your daughter is in the chair and adjust pieces accordingly. If you use clearance table fabric or pattern drafting fabric you can make your adjustments before cutting into the good cloth. I'd suggest reading up on pattern adjustments in general before trying to do this.

    For ease of dressing over her arms I don't think zippers would work as they would still be attached at one end, though you might try separating zippers. Blouses which open in back might be easier to get on. For a coat you could try a cape if she likes this style. Or, you could try leaving the side seams and the underarm seams of the sleeves open, just finish the edges and add velcro or large snaps to close the sides and sleeves once it has gone over her head. The coat could be simply belted with the sides overlapped when closed. If she is going to wear the coat just for chair travel and not once she is walking it could be short in back so she isn't sitting on the bulky fabric.

    Please explain what you mean by hand braces. Does she wear splints which interfere with doing closures herself? Velcro closures with loops attached at the same locations might be something she can fasten and open herself. If she can loop it over a finger or her whole hand she can pull it open. You could disguise this as a decorative feature, play it up using a contrasting ribbon or cording.

    1. sarahemily | | #3

      I have done some sewing for a friend with MS.   She is in a wheelchair.  Her husband dresses her.  I'm not certain that what I have done is fashionable but both she and her husband have been so grateful for the dressing ease of the garments.  For trial garments at the Goodwill I bought empire style dresses of cotton knit and denim that were quite long.  We wanted to cover most of her legs-she wears stockings.  I chose garments with buttons down the front.  At the top of the skirt piece, allow enough room for an elastic waistband after removing the waistband seam.  I special ordered (from Tailor's Supply, I think, in Portland, OR) separating zippers long enough so that they ended about 6" from the bottom of the skirt.  I removed the buttons from the left side and made a 5/8" fold to use for the left side of the zipper.  For the right side I left the button holes and top stitched to attach the other side of the zipper.  Usually there was a row of topstitching so I made it look like a double row of top stitching or sometimes I just folded it to look like a placket with no button holes.  The button hole area covered the entire zipper.  Then the buttons were sewed on so that it appeared to be buttoned but actually it hides the zipper and the buttonholes were not usable.  A large metal skirt hook holds the waist closed.  I tried to use very nice or unusual buttons.  I took my button stash to my friend and she selected them.

      It takes some figuring to construct the first couple of skirts.  I have also made them out of corduroy and this summer I plan to make some that appear to be linen and are washable.  One winter skirt was lined with flannel for warmth.  If ever I can find some acetate velvet at a reasonable price, I would like to wash it first, then make it so that it looks like antique velvet.  Didn't get it done for the holiday season this year.

      Her husband can hold the skirt totally open, reach around her back, grab the end, hook the hook, sit her down and then zip up the zipper.  They had been struggling with pants and this is so much easier. 

      Her Christmas present was an IOU for a new spring skirt-perhaps lined seersucker.

      Poncho's are a wonderful idea.  I have made a hooded raincoat poncho and a wool hooded poncho.  As stated- the back needs to be shorter so it isn't under the seat.

      They suggested that I start a cottage industry of zippered skirts for handicapped but I am not ready to leave retirement!

  3. joress | | #4

    My father had Parkinson's. When he became less able, he learned how to put on his jackets and shirts from watching his young grandchildren. They put their hands into the sleeves while the jacket is in front of them (upside down with the collar toward the floor so the sleeves are on the correct sides). Then they flip the jacket over their heads and pull it on the rest of the way. (The kids would spread the jacket on the floor so they could handle it better.) This method worked great--I used it to help my father dress after he showed me what to do so I wouldn't have to bend his arms one at a time. Kids are so clever!

  4. caro | | #5

    there is a company in Oregon called "bentwear" -am not sure of i.d. beyond that, but am sure that you can track them down on the net.  They have a mailorder catalogue of clothing specifically designed for wheelchair, alzheimers, etc, that will give you an idea of how patterns should be ajusted.  Their products are great, I've used them in the past to get clothing for my mother in law.

  5. caro | | #6

    Hi Mak -

    Another note - found the info on bentwear, they are:  wheelies bentwear, p.o. box 455, roseburg oregon 541-679-2318.  If you do a search for "wheelies bentwear", you will get some more very useful sites, good luck on your quest!

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