Patterns designed with accessibility in mind

In her kick off post for this spotlight series, Brianna suggested some of the ways that pattern designers and companies could make their products more accessible. She gave examples of designers using clearly defined size lines and layering for sewists with low vision, audio and visual resources (including accurate captions) and ensuring their websites are accessible.

But what about designing specifically for people with a disability? What about patterns that incorporate accessibility or potential for accommodation to the individual within their design?

As a neurotypical person without disability, I have been struck (yet again) by how much thoughtfulness, representation and clear labelling matters. As I sought to research patterns for this post, I discovered how hard it is to identify the specific relevant features of most patterns that might help with particular needs.

An example of this would be skirts that can be put on while sitting down, which are helpful for people with limited mobility. There are probably a bajillion skirts that fit into this category, but very few that would be labelled in a way that was helpful in immediately identify that this was the case. This puts all the effort onto the customer to find those skirts by clicking through to each pattern to determine what features are available, rather than helping them to be easily found.

With that in mind, it felt obvious that we should have a post which celebrated the pattern makers we could find who are labelling their patterns in this way, or providing information on how and where their patterns might be easily adjusted to accommodate the needs of the individual sewist.

Rad Patterns

Rad Patterns are the standout designer in this regard. When I go to their site, one of the categories I can select is “Accessible.” There I can find patterns they have designed with specific needs in mind, including their description of how / why the pattern has been designed in this way.

So for example, the Back to Business Raglan pattern details how the back opening is useful for those in a wheelchair or who have limited over the head mobility, and the instructions include modification for different types of closures depending on dexterity needs (or style preference).

A person is shown sitting in a wheelchair, with hands on the pushrings.  they are wearing a black skirt with white spots on it and a white top with elbow length sleeves.  The skirt has an exposed zip running up the wearers right hand side.  They are looking away from the camera.

Another Rad Patterns design is the Clara Skirt Pattern (pictured above). The skirt overview notes:

  • The front of the skirt opens fully, allowing for getting it on and off while seated.
  • The instructions are included for using snaps, zippers, or velcro for the opening depending on your dexterity needs and style preference!
  • The skirt is fitted enough to avoid excess fabric that could get caught in a wheelchair without restricting mobility.
  • The side seams sit slightly forward of the natural side of the body, shifting them away from areas that could cause chafing or abrasion while seated.
  • The pockets sit on the thigh, making them perfect for seated use.
  • The back rise sits slightly higher on the body so it provides comfort and coverage while seated, but still looks great standing as well.

This type of description gives a great overview of the design choices that they have made to accommodate individual needs and make their pattern more accessible – it would be great to see more of this in the sewing pattern world!

Jalie Sewing Patterns

A screen shot of a Jalie underwear Pattern which shows four dressmakers dummies each wearing a different version of the underwear, including one which has a pocket for an ostomy bag

Another notable pattern I found was this Marie-Josée Briefs (underwear) pattern for women. This incudes a view for ostomy underwear – with a lining that creates a pocket for the bag and keeps it away from the skin – and 100% of sales for this pattern go to Centre Philou, a charity supporting children with multiple disabilities. Spoiler alert – I now own three Jalie patterns…

SO what else?

Not much, to be honest. I googled a fair bit and found the following links, but didn’t come across much which was as specifically and thoughtfully aimed at accommodating sewists with a disability as the patterns above.

Here’s what else I found:

  • this Threads Magazine article on accommodations that may be useful or necessary for sewists with a disability
  • this Swedish site who have some pdfs which can be downloaded for basic patterns which you can then alter, along with tips on how to alter. They look to have put an enormous amount of effort into this, though it remains more advanced as an approach than the usual pdf pattern offering would be

While it’s great to see these patterns and find some helpful resources – I wondered whether I might have missed a whole set of patterns (google isn’t infallible). I do suspect that there will be multiple Facebook support groups and other mechanisms where people are self organising to share tips and approaches, but I was still disheartened by how few patterns are specifically designed in this way. The overriding feeling you are left with is how great the task becomes once you take an intersectional lens on the issue – how many plus size patterns that are also suitable? Or how do you find a binder pattern that works with restricted mobility?

It would be great to hear from the Sewcialists community on this. What recommendations do you have for patterns which are designed with disability and adjustment in mind? What other patterns and accommodations work for you or those you sew for? Let us know in the comments!

Chloe is a Sewcialists Editor who lives and sews in Australia, on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. She blogs at chlo-thing.com and can be found on Instagram here


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