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Wheelchair sewing

knother | Posted in General Sewing Info on

I’m looking for hints on sewing from a wheel chair. I need to keep my right foot elevated while recovering from surgery.

 I can’t fit under my current table as it is too narrow & low to fit chair & huge cast. The top is the right height for me to sew comfortably.  I can use my left foot to operate the presser foot. 

Need in expensive & sturdy area to sew, serge, & cut.

I sew garments & some quilts.

Would love to finish  machine quilting baby quilt for great niece.


  1. MaryinColorado | | #1

    Best wishes on your recovery!  Remember to wiggle those toes and keep the blood flowing!  I wonder if you could rent one of those adjustable over the bed tables like they have in hospitals for sewing?  I think the serger would be more difficult due to the vibration.  If there is an occupational therapist that you can consult, they would be a good resource for mobility questions.  Or if there is a rehabilitation center or senior center in your area they might be able to help you get set up for sewing and serging, etc.  I am a nurse and those are the resources I have used when doing some home health care.  If you have a physical therapist, they may have some contacts too.  Hope this helps.


    1. WandaJ | | #2

      In the previous post you received some good suggestion. I am recuperating from a broken ankle and I too have had to learn to sew with the left foot, which was not a problem as it relates to controlling the speed. As far as what to do with the right leg, I started out using a stool to prop it on. This was/is an awkward position to sit in and sew.  Then, I began using the stool at the back door to get in the house after sitting outside. However, I now realize I need another stool as I need to get back to propping my foot up again, as the swelling is not good for it. 

      I don't know how mobile you are in your ability to move from machine to machine, but for now my best suggestion is the stool, which should be at a height that is not only comfortable for you but recommended.  Too, do you have room to put all of your machines in one area where you can use a rolling office type chair to move from one to another? 

      Once I had to have a temporary space for both my computer and sewing machine. In this instance I used a really cheap...discounted/clearance countertop that was laminated.  I propped it up with colored milk crates from Target (really good price at that time) and used those for storing things I would not need soon. This worked out great for me, and given you have the space they may work for you.

      I hope these suggestions can help and that your recovery will go well.


      1. knother | | #4

        I have a small sewing room with a rolling office chair. The table I sew at does not accomadate the chair & something to prop foot on. 

        No room to get the wheelchair in there either which is not a big problem as I can use walker. I'm allowed to put 25# of weight  on foot now to work up to 50# by the 06/23. Will be laid up for a total of 6 months--Oct is when I'm expected back to work.

        I have been hunting for an inexpensive table to hold my sewing machine which is a heavy model & my serger.

        I have milk crates holding up an 18" wide door for my serger but the weight is causing them to buckle. It also jiggles like crazy when I'm serging!


        How long before your ankle is healed?


        1. WandaJ | | #5

          I wish that I could give a definite answer. I was not aware until last week that there are stages to the healing process. I expected to be on my way walking when I left the Dr.'s office on Thurs. after having the cast removed. This was not the case. I have the boot/brace, which I expect to be on until the end of June. In the interim I will start therapy sometimes late this month. How long that will last I do not know. What I am now hearing is 5-6 months, and that is not official.  Thank you for asking.

          I know what you mean about small sewing space. I am here with my Mother (84) and was caring for her when I passed out and fell!!. Now, it's who's taking care of whom.  In regard to the former, I have my machine and sewing table in my bedroom, along with my computer and God knows what else. I've been reluctant to start on a garment for me due to lack of cutting space.  But, since my projects for my granddaughters are going so well, and I successfully used the end of my bed and the cutting mat to cut out their dress pattern pieces, I now have courage to start on something for me after I complete the last of the 2 dresses.

          What I've decided to do, is cut my garment 'bit-by-bit.'  If I do this then I don't have to concern myself with fabric sliding, being off-grain, etc.

          Praying that all goes well with you and your recovery.


          1. knother | | #7

            I got my boot cast a week ago but was informed from the beginning would not be walking without walker for quite a while and would be using the wheel chair for 6 months.

            I did have time to prepare somewhat for the duration.

            My husband needed something mended.  I never do mending!!!! But was desperate to sew something! He hauled the machine out to kitchen table. The only table my wheel chair fits under, with the arms off.  Felt good to sew. Decided to put the machine back in sewing room so the Kitten did not mess it up.

            Have numerous projects cut &  ready to sew.  After next Dr. visit I should be able to stand for longer periods of time to to cut out patterns bit by bit.

            How do you manage to find time to sew with taking care of your mother? Not to mention even simple things take longer to do from a wheelchair or walker?

            Will pray for your speedy recovery too.



    2. knother | | #3

      Thank You!  Have home health care nurse & PT too. Had not thought to ask about sewing. They had noticed my floor loom as it sits in the Dining room. One of the PT's said we could use that as therapy when I'm allowed to do weight bearing & range of motion exercises. I will give them a call on Mon. in regards to sewing hints.


  2. PASDENOM | | #6

    If the wheelchair armrests are removeable take them off. Test every table in the house to see if you can fit under it better and relocate the machine there. If the height is wrong you may do better by putting the machine at an angle using something like triangular doorstops to prop up the back.

    Make sure you are in the best size wheelchair, though rentals usually come in only one size. If you are thin or short you might find a smaller one.

    I agree on seeing an OT. I am one but can't be there for you.

    1. knother | | #8

      My ot did show me how to swing the arm rest up & back out of my way.

      Chair only fits under kitchen table as aprons on the other tables Hit my legs & cast.

      Have been back to the wheelchair rental place for adjustments shortly after surgery.The leg extenstions weren't long enough. I am tall with very long legs. They had to raise the seat to accomadate the lenght of my legs as the extension in down postion hit the bumps.

      They had quite a time adjusting the chair.

      I will call my OT tomorrow for more hints...

      I appreciate everyones hints.

      Happy sewing. 

      1. PASDENOM | | #9

        Can you transfer in and out of the chair by yourself? Is there another chair you could sit in and something to prop your leg on, or can you shift to the side so your leg is not under the table?

        1. knother | | #10

          I can transfer easliy from wheelchair. Used rolling office chair in sewing room today trying differnt things to elevate leg. Also measured cutting table apron to see if it was off bed risers it would be high enough to wheel under. Got out the Dream Sewing Spaces book for ideas. Hopefully My husband can rearrange things for me this week.

          Has anybody tried an adjustable piano stool? Wondered if that would work to elevate leg. If I can find one for a reasonable price.


          1. PASDENOM | | #11

            Please be careful transferring to a rolling chair and have it well stabilized by another person or in a corner where it can't move away.

          2. knother | | #12

            Thank You for your concern & instructions how to do that transfer.

            As my wheel chair does not fit in my sewing room. I put breaks on wheelchair & transfer to walker then from walker to rolling office chair. Most of my pld farmhouse is handicap acessible. Except for too narrow bathroom door, & the bedroom is a very tight squeeze. The sewing room is very small so the wheel chair goes in & out but does not turn so I can sew! Leg extension calls for a 5' turning radius. I can  even manage wheelchair in laundry room! Whoppee I can do laundry from the wheelchair.

            When some one is here I can tranfer into Lazy Boy--OT showed me how. But arms are very soft. If I sit too long in Lazy Boy I have trouble getting back into wheelchair or walker.

            My Aunt has MS. She told me how to wash floor from wheelchair. but she doesn't sew & she designed her whole house to accomadate her wheelchair.

            Next rainy day I can get family & friends to take a break from gardening & farming to rearrange my sewing room. Then I can get busy making more pants with velcro & zippers to go over my cast.

            Meanwhile I am continueing my search for info


          3. WandaJ | | #13

            I admire your spunk and determination.  I too encourage you to be careful when you are transferring.  You mentioned making pants to fit over the cast. I've been wondering if it's worth the effort for me to do that to get clothes that are not adding to the summer's heat over my leg brace/boot. I've been in surgical scrubs so long that I'm really tired of them. But, to soothe the tiredness of them and sometimes disgust with the slow.....process of getting back at it again, I pray and acknowledge thankfulness, and remind myself that 'this too shall pass.'


          4. knother | | #14

            Yes definitely worth sewing garments to fit over your cast. You will feel better if you can dress yourself comfortably in something cheerful, and flatering to your figure.

            The pair of pants I added zippers to the bottom of the legs to fit over the brace I wore for a year and a half before surgery to ankle & foot.  I also have two gyspy skirts simlar to the skirt featured in current Threads issue.

            I wear it with a La Fred top--I am an apple shape. I don't feel this is the most flaterring on my body but My Husband & a sewing friend say it looks nice on me-

            The nurse likes it as she does not have to worry about it fitting over new casts!

            I've heard you can throw some baby powder down the cast to help with the sweating & heat.  Also was given ice packs at the hospital they help on a hot day too. Even the hair dryer aimed down the cast will help with the itching.

            Now go to your stash and pick something wild & funkt to make you laugh. Sew it up to accomadate your cast. There is even a book on the subject!

            Happy sewing! Attitude is half of the healing battle!


          5. Tess | | #15

            I broke my ankle in April, had splints and casts after the surgery and finally got the walker boot last Thursday . . . Light weight on it only: no walking yet. Can they make these boots any uglier or hotter??!! I almost miss my purple cast.I agree that getting dressed in nice clothes (skirts are great) does more for my attitude than hanging around in jammies all day. Also, getting out now and then helps with the depression/anger feelings. Anyway, one thing that makes getting out easier is my "Roll-A-Bout" (brand name) because it is smaller and lighter than the wheelchairs I have, and less stress on my good leg than crutches. The Roll-A-Bout is a 4-wheeled cart with a cushioned kneeling platform for the broken ankle. You walk with your good leg and roll with your injured leg. It has a very dependable brake. You can get into smaller spaces, narrower doors, friends can easily lift it into their cars, and it works great.When I still had my cast, I put butter knives in fridge to slide down against the skin to cool off a bit. It was 90+ degrees for a while here!!! That was a little relief anyway.

          6. knother | | #18

            My husband has been calling the heavy big walking cast the storm trooper.

            Will have to look into that roll about.

            Looking forward to getting  my hair cut tomorrow. First time since Before surgery in April.

            Will be nice visit as the hairdresser sews too!

            Last time I was out of the house was May 26th when my purple cast was replaced by the walking cast.



          7. Tess | | #20

            Here is their site:
            http://www.roll-a-bout.com/I had to go to a Detroit suburb to try one out so I could rent one. Because I have a wheelchair covered by insurance, we are paying for renting the roll-a-bout ourselves. It was unclear if our insurance would cover it if I did not have a wheelchair???... But really, it has been worth having it. My sister tells me that you can find/buy roll-a-bout things on ebay, but I have not looked. Other places closer than Brighton for orthopedic / medical stuff said they COULD order it, but I wanted to try it out before being committed to it...I am thinking about needing to go back to work and the roll-a-bout would allow me to use the bathroom close to where I work--wheelchair won't fit and is too heavy for me to lift into the automatic trans. truck. Also, I can use the knee cushions to keep my foot elevated when I am sitting in a regualar chair. Then use the thing to get around as well.It has been useful to get around my non-handicapped house & yard as well as getting out for shopping and social stuff.

            Edited 6/7/2006 11:13 pm ET by Tess

          8. WandaJ | | #17

            Knother, I'm glad to feel your sense of humor.  That will certainly help get you/me/us through times like these!

            As far as the gypsy skirt after my asking a lot of questions I am not in the rush to complete it as I was. My Mom and sister bought me a really nice crinkled cocoa colored, long...gypsy like skirt and a really cute top to match with beige and turquoise, and a low cut shell to complete the outfit.  Mom said that she got it because she knew I was concerned about my brace/boot's awkward look from beneath my commencement robe, etc.  I decided to use a wheelchair to not hold up the march....

            But, my sister also went in the garage and into my fabric stash last weekend while visiting and she found a nice piece of Indian Cotton Gauze that can be used for a really wild gypsy like skirt that I plan to use the Threads directions, and Gatherings suggestions to make.  I will let everyone know when I complete.

            I have something really funny to tell about this piece of fabric, and maybe it will give other members some ideas for fabric recycling :-}

            About 5 years ago this fabric caught my eye and I purchased it for the purpose of making a table cloth...This for whatever reason did not happen.  And, then I decided to redecorate my adult disabled son's room.  So, since the room had taken on a jungle/male type look because of a large quilted wall hanging I made him whose theme was a lion, I used the fabric for a window topper.

            My son decided to move into an assisted living facility, and the fabric got washed the room switched over for other use, etc.  Now, the fabric has the intent of taking on the complexion of the gypsy-skirt!


          9. knother | | #19

            Glad I could cheer you up! Long process to healing we need to keep our spirits up to aid in a quick recovery.

            Good luck at graduation.

            How do you manage to finish school, take care of your Mom & sew too! With a broken ankle!!!!!

            I loved the recylce fabric story!

            I recieved several calls today each asking if I was getting any sewing done! They were disappointed that I haven't been sewing. Rainy days where are you when I need you???!!!!



          10. WandaJ | | #22

            How do I....

            Mom first. I was staying with her after my husband passed and she became ill and had a triple bypass operation, which was after a previous hospitalization. I had moved back to MI to try to move on with my life but, she and another family member's illness brought me back this way.

            Completion of my Degree...I was one course, the Capstone, which was designed as a Team Project, short of completion, along with writing one reflective paper and 2-hr (became 2-day for me!) team project when I had the fall.

            The course is an online course at Antioch McGregor University. The Dept. Chair told me while I was hospitalized that there was "...no way that I would not complete the program!"

            So, I was given an individual research assignment in lieu of the team Capstone Project; wrote the reflective paper and participated in the Team Project in order to complete my studies and graduate with my cohort on June 25th!  Of course, the Chair also gave me additional time to do the work.  I think about one and one-half months extra time was given to me, and I made it.

            Sewing...Sewing began after I completed my coursework. I have been chomping at the bits to sew since I began grad school 2 years ago, which also should be noted as being my filler for being in small-town USA while caring for my Mom. I could not find the time, even when we had our 2 Christmas breaks, to sew.  And, when my surgeon's nurse suggested that I try my left foot on the pedal of the machine and get the pressure under control then I could sew. 

            I practiced for about 5 minutes with the pedal thing and I was off to the races.

            My Mom ended up caring for me, especially the preparation of my meals and making sure I had water, clean linen, etc. during the first one and one-half months of my fall/break.  I could hop on the walker as I could not bear weight for about two and one-half months.  Then, of course, last week the cast came off and I graduated to the boot/brace and began putting pressure on the ankle/foot (painful too!), and here I am.

            Now, here's the kicker: Mom hasn't been looking quite right for about 2 wks and she's been sleeping excessively for about 2 months. It all hit the fan today. We convinced her to go to the ER and they kept her. It seems that she now needs a pacemaker.

            As far as the ankle/foot...you should have seen me 'hopping' down the steps of the deck to get to the car to get her to the hospital as she refused to go by EMS!

            Mom was doing well when we left the hospital tonight.

            The answer lies, I believe, in my belief that "By His stripes I am healed."


          11. knother | | #24

            What a brave soul! Good luck with your Mom. Glad she is doing well now.

            My Dad had a pace maker last year. Was an energency My brother called said to meet him at the hospital. Two & a half hour drive for me. Husband ended up coming home to take care of critters. I stayed for the week until Dad was released from Hospital. My stepmom was not in good shape. Her good children live out of state and called everyday. We where worried she would end up in the hospital with Dad.

            They are both doing great and where here for the surgery.  

            What would we do with out friends & family?

            Find the weight on my foot to be painful too, I have a lot of pain in my hips too..do you?

          12. WandaJ | | #25

            Thank you for your encouraging words. Mom is holding at a steady, acceptable heart rate. No pacemaker, at this point, is going to be put in. Will know more,hopefully, tomorrow. WandaJ

          13. Jumala | | #16

            Radio Shack has a 3 height piano/drum set stool for $30. It has crossed metal legs, cushioned top and comes in black. Not easily adjustable, requires tools. I use mine to sit on by the embroidery machine and it goes under the table when done.


  3. mimi | | #21

    knother:  best wishes on a speedy recovery!  I went through this 2 summers ago when I had my left ankle rebuilt, so here is my advice:

    • raise the height of your sewing machine by using a table that is high enough to fit your leg under and accomodate the chair so that you can get close enough.  Perhaps putting the machine table on risers would help!
    • try approaching the machine at a slight angle,
    • If you do not usually use the uninjured foot on the foot pedal, practice on some scraps till you get used to the amount of pressure needed.
    • Have someone look for a set of sawhorses (or a saw horse kit and some extra long legs) and an old door or peice of MDF to use as a sewing surface.  This might accomodate both your machines!

    Be patient and remember that this too shall pass; you should be out of your cast in six weeks!


    1. knother | | #23

      Thanks Mimi

      Funny I was telling my husband saw horses would work for sturdy legs for the mdf board left over from making an extra large ironing board!

      Will try machine at angle..

      I have used my left foot off & on the presser foot for several years as my right foot was so painful after a day at work. So that won't be a problem just now. When I am allowed range of motion then the practise will begin.

      Since April 11th I have had a splint, pink cast, purple cast & now a walking cast.

      The walking cast is actually a very large & heavy plasitc air cast.  Not much weight to be placed on the right foot yet.   


      1. mimi | | #26

        knother:  I have had an antique singer sewing machine cabinet for over thirty years (my machine sits on top of the cabinet instead of in it).  Since my surgery was on my left foot, I was able to sit at the machine with my foot propped up.  Last year my husband happend upon the cast iron base of another antique singer; he refinished it for me, down to the gold seal, and topped it with a piece of plywood.  My new Viking sits on that and all my accessories sit on the old machine.  This gives me a larger surface to work on and the weight of whatever I am working on does not pull on the rest of the garment.

        Have a speedy recovery, I know just what you are going through!


        1. knother | | #27

          Thank You.

          Maybe it will rain tomorrow & Husband will get a table rigged so I can sew.

          I have been on the look out for sewing machine bases for years at the right price.

          Bought my first one many years ago & finished it with a 36" round maple top with black checker board & horses stenciled on it. I use it for kitchen table--wheelchair/leg bump the base:>(



          1. knother | | #28

            Hurray! Sewing room set up to sew & even can get wheelchair in there!

            Many Thanks to all suggestions.

          2. WandaJ | | #29

            Congratulations. Happy Sewing.

            Wanda J

          3. PASDENOM | | #30

            Thanks for keeping us posted, it's good news!

          4. mimi | | #31

            Congratulations!  I was thinking about this post this afternoon while I was sewing, and wondered how you were making out :)


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