Chapter 6. The Adaptive Apparel Designer’s Guide to Creating a First Sample

First sample development is a key part of any apparel design or soft goods product development process. This chapter provides construction techniques useful for adaptive apparel and helpful hints for fitting adaptive apparel. Additionally, the chapter overviews how to use resources provided in chapters 1, 3, and 5 to develop first samples of adaptive apparel.

Brief overview of using first samples in apparel design

First samples are garment prototypes, typically made of muslin or another low-cost fabric that is representative of the intended final garment fabric. First samples provide the product developer the important opportunity to evaluate the interaction of the planned pattern, construction techniques, fabrics, and notions in a prototype product or garment.

Creating a First Sample: Design & materials useful for adaptive apparel

How to use Chapter 1’s Disabilities’ Impact on Dressing and Clothing Needs to develop the first samples of adaptive apparel:

  • Consider the specific dressing challenges related to your client’s disability and identify design considerations for your design. If not already addressed in the patternmaking process, make sure that appropriate design elements, seam types, and construction techniques are included in your first sample.

How to use Chapter 1’s Textiles (Selection and Rationale) to develop first samples of adaptive apparel:

  • Review the descriptions of textile properties—thermal protection, comfort, easy care, and breathability—and decide which factors are most important when selecting fabrics for your garments or soft-goods products. Note key fabric selection criteria and potential fabric types appropriate for the first sample of your design.

How to use Chapter 3’s Sourcing Guide (Where to Buy Notions and Materials for Adaptive Clothing) to develop first samples of adaptive apparel:

After identifying notions and fabric types appropriate to meet the needs of your client or target market, use Chapter 3’s sourcing guide to source these materials to test in your first sample. Be sure to keep track of important sourcing information, so you can easily re-order if you decide to implement these materials in your final product. This might include:

  • Fabric or notion name
  • Source
  • Garments used in/yards per piece
  • Total yards
  • Price per yard
  • Shipping cost
  • Total cost
  • Delivery time
  • Construction
  • Fiber content
  • Width

For your own projects, review: Materials Selection Chart [Spreadsheet download]

Creating a First Sample: Construction Techniques useful for adaptive apparel

Construction techniques useful for adaptive apparel can certainly vary with the specific needs of the intended target market. Considerations may include low-profile and non-irritating seam types for users with sensitive skin or seated body types. Other considerations may include seams with exceptional durability, such as a lapped seam. For example, this may be necessary for seams receiving extra strain due to the way the garment is pulled during donning or use. Coats provides a guide to seam types and their uses: Seam Types (

Seam type should be considered as part of the patternmaking process (Chapter 5), as different seams require different amounts of seam allowances to be incorporated into the pattern. Planned seam types can be tested in the sample notebook phase, as well as part of the complete product or garment as a first sample.

How to use Chapter 1’s Illustrated Glossary of Clothing Adaptations to develop first samples of adaptive apparel:

  • Use the illustrations of clothing adaptation to guide your construction of your first sample. For example, flat seams may be used to provide sensory comfort, or an elastic band may be used at the waist to allow the garment to open extra-wide. These illustrations may be incorporated into construction guides or specification packages.

Fitting a First Sample: Helpful hints for fitting adaptive apparel

A key part of the first sampling step is to fit garments on the client and correct the patterns as needed. The fit session may also uncover a need to use a different fabric, notion, or construction technique. This section covers fit sessions, what good fit is, and how to evaluate fit.

Fit Sessions

Fit refers to the relationship between the human form and the garment form. When fitting the garment on the model or client, fitters need to confirm that the initial design is appropriate for the design intent and fabric choice of the specific style. Through a fit session, the integrity of the design needs to be evaluated, based on the functionality or mobility of the garment. Here are what should be considered for a successful fitting session with clients with disabilities.

  • Space: Make sure you have a separate area for privacy. Make sure the temperature is controlled. It is important to keep the fitting area well-organized and accessible for people with disabilities as they are our clients. The space for fitting should be adequate, for example, all tools be put away when not in use. Entering the space should be also easy and accessible.
  • Time: The duration of a fitting session should be short, as client more easily get tired because of their physical disabilities.
  • Fitting Assistant: Two fitters are better than one –position one in front and one in back­–, each measuring, checking, and evaluating.
  • Hearing Assistance: For those who are hearing impaired or offer audio translation, closed captioning services, etc. Make sure an ASL translator is available if necessary.


To achieve a good fit, a garment should be comfortable to wear and allows freedom of movement. Clothing should lie smooth, without wrinkling, pulling, or sagging unless it is intended. It should be easy to wear and use, look proportional, and follow the design intent. Clients also can identify certain issues, such as whether the garment is hard to get on or off, if something feels off about the garment, or if it is itchy. Make sure to consider how the garment interacts with medical equipment or devices, This can include garment opening placement for tubes or cords from medical devices.

Fit Evaluation

Every body is unique. Especially when a client has a physical disability, it is important to note the client’s body posture and shape. Here are the steps for evaluating a garment fit:

  • Evaluate the proportional relationship of each area, front and back and side to side, to the previous area and to the whole of the body.
  • Identify figure areas that may be larger or longer, smaller, or shorter than the average or ideal–body length, arm length, hip width, bust, and buttocks, and so on.
  • Observe body conformation. You can determine the degree of angularity or curvature by the comparative amount and distribution of body weight.
  • Identify specific variations that may influence overall garment appearance–angular hip bones, protruding abdomen, shallow chest, and so on. If you observe a variation in one area, examine other areas of the figure for a corresponding or related variation. For example, rounded upper back, resulting shallow chest or recessed collarbone, prominent shoulder blade.

Fitting Guidelines

  • Side seams should be perpendicular to the floor (straight up and down), not swinging to the front or back, or twisting.
  • The neckline should not pull to the front or back of the garment.
  • Sleeves should be proportional to the length of the garment, and the design intent.
  • Sleeve openings should not be too wide or too narrow.
  • Garments should not have “whiskers” or “drag lines.”
  • The crotch of the garment should not cut into the body or hang too low below the body (unless this is the design intent).
  • Sleeves should not bind when arms move.
  • Pants should not gape at the back waist when sitting.
  • Pants should be comfortable to sit in, move in.
  • Jackets should not be tight across the back when arms are crossed in front of the chest.
  • Hems should hang parallel to the floor (unless it is an asymmetrical hem).
  • Busts should fit comfortably in the garment: no drag lines between the apex of each breast, squishing of the breast tissue, etc.
  • Bust darts should point to the apex of the breasts and should end roughly 1-1 ½” away from the apex of the bust.
  • Waist darts should be parallel to the CF/CB of the garment.
  • Shirt collars should roll nicely, rather than fighting to stand up or flay out flat.
  • Buttons and zippers should be easy to use.
  • Pockets should be proportional, functional, and easy to get into and out of.
  • Hoods should not pull the garment up and away from the body.
  • Hoods should have a nice shape, not pointy (unless that is the design intent).
  • Do the design lines look proportional and intentional?
Fitting and Pattern Alteration Examples:

Sewn Adaptive is an education platform for tailors and sewers to learn alteration techniques to adaptive garments to make it more accessible to people with disabilities. Their video clips provide demonstrations of how to conduct fit sessions with clients with disabilities and how to adapt the existing garments.


Liechty, E., Rasband, J., & Pottberg-Steineckert, D. (2016). Fitting and pattern alteration: a multi-method approach to the art of style selection, fitting, and alteration. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

Schnabel, H. (2021, March 21). How to conduct a fitting session. Startup Fashion.


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