Thursday, April 4, 2013

Changing a Garment to Fit The Disabled

That easy to install center back invisible zipper that has become ubiquitous in rtw today is not so easy for anyone with shoulder injuries that prevent full range of motion.  My daughter Alex is only temporarily disabled, thank goodness but she still can't, and won't be able to for quite a few months yet, get into any of the dresses in her wardrobe because she can't get that damn zipper up by herself.  She had surgery at the end of January to repair a posterior labral tear in her left shoulder  that she suffered in the fall from a climbing mishap.  For the uninitiated, that's the part that keeps your arm connected to your shoulder. It was worse than the MRI showed and she probably has 6 more months of physical therapy until she regains full mobility. Fortunately, she has very good insurance with unlimited PT.

I had fit Vogue 8815 for her in the fall when I saw her, but didn't finish  it until this week. There were so many other projects to work on and really, lack of sewing mojo lately made it a late birthday present. Not that late, her birthday was the 21st of March. She is visiting this week, it fits and she loves it and happily posed for me.

The blouse is silk charmeuse from Mood Fabrics in NYC that she had picked out some years ago. It also lines a suit  jacket I made for  her with pants and a skirt a few years ago. We never got around to a blouse.  

Changes I made;

As far as fitting changes unrelated to  mobility, I added a 1/2" full bust adjustment. With a 32 DD bust you'd think that she would need more room, but there is only a 2" difference between her upper bust and her full bust.  She has a muscular back and pectorals from climbing that accounts for the B cup measurement.  I made a size 8, the smallest size.

The second alteration I made was to narrow the cross chest measurement by 3/8" making it 3/4" narrower.

For mobility I changed the back invisible zipper to a regular zipper installed on the side. I made it open at the underarm and the opening is as long as I could make it.  There's a small hook and thread loop at the waist seam to keep the zipper from opening when she wears it.  I bought Susan Khalje's Couture Dress class on Craftsy, and I installed the zipper by hand using her instructions.  I've done this before, but not in many years.  It was easy, probably easier than sewing it in by machine on such a slippery fabric.  She wanted it on the right side opposite of the usual placement, but it worked better for her injury, which is her left shoulder.   
Now of course the neck wouldn't fit over her head. I could have made a v neckline or a deeper curve, but she liked the high neckline.  Keeping the back seam I just made a turned and hand picked opening in the back with a hook and eye to close it.

As you can see, she can get into it on her own.  The hook at the neckline is a bit of a pain one handed but she can always get someone in the office to hook that for her.  


  1. Having torn both labrums (in two separate injuries), I have a lot of sympathy for your daughter's plight. I learned how to lean against the corner of a wall to anchor my business dresses in place while I reached around behind me with my uninjured arm to start the zipper on its way up, first from below my elbow, then reaching over my shoulder. I couldn't fasten buttons because I couldn't use my injured arm at all for several weeks following surgery. Snaps were okay for low-tension areas, but zippers were the easiest fasteners--assuming that I could find a way to anchor the closed end well enough to get the zipper moving with my uninjured hand.

    I, too, went through six months of very painful PT following each injury. It is easy to become discouraged in the face of so much pain, but I was able to regain full range of motion and use of each shoulder, even though the second injury happened when I was in my 50's.

    I extend your daughter my best wishes and encourage her not to lose heart even when it seems like the healing process is endless. She is very lucky to have a mother who can and is willing to help her with her clothing, which is one of the big areas of difficulty while recovering from a major shoulder injury.

    1. Thanks. She is working hard at PT and at home doing her exercises religiously. She's made good progress, but she has a long way to go.

  2. Beautiful top and fabric. The color is fabulous on Alex.
    It's an aweful long time to recover, best wishes to her. You must be happy you can sew and make a garment with a different closure for her.

  3. Beautiful fabric! The top looks great on her. I hope she makes a full recovery as soon as possible. She sounds like a busy, active girl and the present limitations mst be very frustration.

  4. Pretty blouse! What a great idea to put the zipper on the right. I don't know why I didn't think of that for myself. myself. I have MS and I have trouble with my left arm too. My sympathies to your daughter. Physical therapy is no fun

  5. First off, your daughter is a stunner. Second, I was holding my breath waiting to find out how her head got through! All that aside, the top is lovely and I wish her a pain and problem free recovery.

  6. I've had a labral tear (also from a fall) and can understand the pain and loss of mobility your daughter is going through following her surgery and PT. I never regained full range of motion despite extensive PT. I hope your daughter has better results.

  7. Lucky daughter to have a custom made top, but not so lucky on that big fall while climbing. Having had a few lay-offs from sports due to injuries, I totally relate to her frustrations. Best wishes for a healthy and complete recovery to her!

  8. So sorry about your poor daughter. Hope she heals quickly. It's good you can help her out with clothing until she's mobile again.

  9. Here's to a full recovery for your daughter - how lucky to have a seamstress caring for her dressing needs! I know the situation all too well - it was the need to make usable clothes for my disabled Mum that got me back into sewing after a long long absence - we were both lucky in the results of that! :)