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Help Wanted: Plus Size People Need Adaptive Clothes Too

As a fat disabled person, I came into sewing for two main reasons: a hobby for my good days that made me feel “useful” (awful capitalism) and, a way to have access to garments in the style and fabrics that make me happy. I constructed my first garment (a M&B Torrens Box Top) in March 2020 and have made enough garments in the past year to feel comfortable participating in Me Made May this year.

And while plus sized patterns are becoming more diverse, properly fitted and accessible, unfortunately part of the plus sized community is being left out of the proverbial sewing bee. Folks like myself who have accessibility needs don’t have access to plus sized adaptive clothing patterns.

What Is Adaptive Clothing?

With nearly 1 in 5 adults living with a disability in the world, the need for adaptive apparel represents a large market and need. Adaptive clothing is designed to make it easy to dress and undress for folks who have difficulties due to age, disability or general lack of mobility.

What Makes Adaptive Clothing Different?

Often the clothing is designed for comfort in a seated position. Some examples of how this is achieved:

◙ Higher rises in the back of pants for more coverage
◙ Higher back hemlines on jackets which prevents bunching and makes it easier to remove jackets without needing to stand up
◙ Seamless tailoring in bottoms to prevent chafing and sores
◙ Softer waistbands to prevent digging in at the waist
◙ Closures that are easy to open and close securely, such as snaps, zippers and neodymium magnetic closures

There are also adaptive garments that are designed to be easy to put on without raising your arms or legs, some examples:

◙ Side full length closures on the sides of garments (similar to 90’s tear away pants in function)
◙ Discreet closures at necklines and underarms to allow more ease in the garment when dressing or undressing
◙ Socks and bottoms with loops which are used to assist in pulling the garment over legs
◙ Bras with easy closures such as snaps, magnets or zippers on the front

Some adaptive clothing is designed to make it easy for a personal support worker or family member to easily change the garments of their family member or patient. These garments can use any combination of the above adaptations to accommodate the disabled persons abilities.

Other adaptive clothing fills a medical purpose such as having ways to allow lines in and out of the garment for feeding tubes, ostomy bags, insulin pumps and other medical devices, these types of clothing are called stoma-clothes. Supportive stockings, socks and leg wear prevent swelling and blood clots in individuals with poor circulation.

What Options Are Currently Available?

I started looking for my own adaptive (and medically necessary) clothing when my doctor suggested compression socks and leg wear to ease swelling in my legs from being in a seated position for long periods of time while using my electric wheelchair. When the largest calf and hip measurements I could find in the ready to wear garments were several inches smaller than my own measurements, I figured it was no big deal. I would just find sewing patterns and make them myself! I knit, crochet and sew, so I figured it would be easy to find a pattern for at least compression socks in one of those mediums. I was wrong.

After searching for days on the web, searching on my local library’s online catalogue and searching online bookstores for anything on adaptive/medical garments in plus sizes, I was shocked to find that nothing was available in my size (or style for that matter, everything seemed to be targeted at folks of *ahem* a certain age,) except a few shapeless cotton-polyester house dresses. The only other adaptive clothing sewing resources I could find was for children’s clothing, which would not be appropriate for drafting up to my own size. There were two resources that were close though:

I found a website SewWhatAlicia.com

This website is a blog written by a mother whose son needs adaptive clothing. She uses ready to wear garments and makes alterations to them to make them adaptive to her sons wheelchair use. This option is great in a sense, but is also limiting and assumes that there is already ready to wear options readily available in the size, colour and style preference of the person with a disability. As we all know, this often isn’t the case in plus sizes where garments are already limited, which is why many of us turn to sewing to have access to properly fitted garments.

I also found one ready to wear option whose sizes extended beyond a 42” hip. IZ Adaptive makes tailored adaptive clothing up to a 3X (54” hip.) While they don’t offer compression clothing, they do offer rain repellant jackets in a wheelchair cut which would fill an enormous gap in my current wardrobe, if it only fit my measurements.

So this is my plea to plus sized pattern drafters, adaptive clothing pattern drafters and ready to wear adaptive clothing brands: We are here. We need to be clothed. We deserve to be included. We deserve comfortable, easy to wear and stylish clothing.

I can’t survive a Canadian winter in an oversized cotton-polyester housedress.

Val is an award winning musician and songwriter. She became a mobility aid user in 2016 after a life saving surgery injured her spinal column.  Sadly, the doctors refused to let her to keep the 15lb tumor as a souvenir.  She is a fan of slow and ethically made fashion. She loves to sew her own garments, but despises winding bobbins. Val currently resides in the Ottawa Region in Canada with her two dogs and her brother, Aaron. She can be found on Instagram at @val_leclair or on SoundCloud.

3 replies on “Help Wanted: Plus Size People Need Adaptive Clothes Too”

Thanks so much for writing this post and providing such great insight into what types of things can help a pattern be adaptive and accessible. There’s definitely a gap in the market for patterns that meet these needs. I think RAD patterns is one of the only ones offering any at all up to a 70″ hip and their selection is small.

Thanks for mentioning RAD patterns. They didn’t show up in my search because they’re using calling it accessible clothing. I did take a look at their patterns last night but unfortunately their offerings are limited at the moment.

Hi Valerie! I’ve been thinking a lot about your blog post, and really sitting with it the past few days. I have suffered from some back issues over the past few years that on occasion have left me temporarily immobilized, so I do have some personal/firsthand experience with the frustration of trying to get clothing on and off in a seated position and/or with limited mobility. I am still very new to the indie sewing pattern scene and developing new patterns is still a very long and time-intensive process for me (so far averaging one every 8-12 weeks) but I am now committing to adding a page into my instructions template that specifically speaks to some construction techniques or modifications that could help improve the accessibility/adaptability of each new design that I release. I just wanted to thank you for bringing up this topic, and I really appreciated the specific bullet points and suggestions because this information would have taken a lot of time and research to compile and it was such a gift to have it presented concisely in one place! There are obviously many facets to adaptability and I don’t think it’s possible for each design to check every box, but I do think it’s so important to think about all of these different aspects as we begin the design process. Thanks again for the inspiring article! ❤️

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