Chapter 5. The Adaptive Apparel Designer’s Guide to Patternwork

Chapter 5 focuses on pattern work for adaptive apparel. It covers patternmaking techniques useful for adaptive apparel and includes guidance for obtaining body measurements of persons experiencing a disability, including digital options. The chapter also overviews how to use resources provided in chapter 1—descriptions of disabilities and their impact on dressing and clothing needs and illustrated glossary of clothing adaptations organized by wearer’s needs—to create adaptive apparel patterns.

Brief overview of using patterns in apparel design

In the patternmaking steps, designers and product developers develop patterns for the garments they will produce. Patterns are used as a guide in cutting out the fabric pieces to be sewn into the garments or soft goods products. Thus, they are an essential communication tool, and their accuracy is paramount. Patterns may be developed through a variety of processes, most commonly flat pattern or draping. Many books cover these techniques.

Guidance for Obtaining Body Measurements of Persons Experiencing a Disability, Including Digital Options

Taking accurate body measurements is one of the keys to provide great fit and comfort for wearers. Body measurements should be taken how garments are used, especially it is very critical for those who spend lots of time during the day in a seated position.

Tips for taking measurements of the seated body:

A seated figure has a ruler paced against the base of their chair up to their natural waist.
Illustration of taking a rise measurement while the individual is seated. Image Source: Mueller & Sohn. Used here for illustrative purposes under fair use.
  • All Measurements: If possible, ask a caregiver for assistance in taking measurements, to make the client feel more comfortable.
  • Lower Body Rise or Crotch Depth: Sit the client being measured on a flat surface, such as a hard chair, stool, or wheelchair, and measure along the side from the lower edge of the waist measure tape vertically downward to the seat of the chair.  It may be easier to use a ruler for this measurement.
  • Hip: Measure the hips at the fullest part
  • Inseam: Measure the inseam along the inner thigh and calf, from just below the crotch to the knee and ankle with a seated position
  • Outseam: Measure along the outer thigh and calf, from the waist to the knee and ankle with a seated position

3D scanning:

3D body scanning can provide effective technical solutions for the body measuring processes. Body scanning can be faster than hand-measuring processes as all measurements can be taken simultaneously. It offers the additional advantage of creating a permanent 3D record of the person’s body, which the designer can reference later, without the client having to be present. Here are some tips to consider when 3D scanning an individual with a disability:

  • To capture 3D body scan data, consider if the target customer can enter the limited space of a stationery full body scanning booth. Handheld scanners may be more appropriate.
  • The customer needs to stand with arms and legs extended and hold the position for a short time (e.g., 5 seconds). The process might present barriers for customers with disabilities.
  • To obtain a seated position of the customer (if the position is important for the apparel design), an assisting tool (e.g., a chair) is needed to avoid the data loss on the top and undersides of the legs.

Additional online resources regarding 3D body scanning can be found at The 3D Body Scanner (Cornell)

Expert Advice On Working with People in The Disabled Community for Measuring for Patternmaking and for Fittings

This content was provided by Morgan Tweed, CPACC. Morgan is an Accessibility Specialist in Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Morgan has participated as a client in apparel design class projects focusing on adaptive apparel.

Anytime you must touch their person, ask first. Autonomy is something that people tend to keep from disabled people. This is an important step in respecting your client.

There are many different adaptions to the measuring and fitting that may help depending on the situation. Below are some of the major adaptations that should be considered. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list by any means, and everyone may have different needs.

Disability Advice for measuring for patternmaking
Deafness and Hard of Hearing
  • Show them that you are going to touch them before doing so.
Sensitive skin and skin conditions
  • Ask if any area hurts before measuring.
  • You may need to do measurements over clothing or instruct someone else to do the measurements.
Wheelchair users
  • When you are measuring, make sure to get the line of the lower back/butt/legs in the seated position. This will make a big difference to comfort.
  • Measure the back of the shoulders with the arms extended forward. Most people have their arms down often. Manual wheelchair users are constantly reaching forward.
Other mobility aids and mobility needs
  • Ask them what their most usual postures are, and measure based on those. For example, if they use forearm crutches: The shoulder measurements are likely to be wider from an arched position.
For weight differences
  • Ask where they wear their waistline most often. Over or under the belly.
For unique shapes
  • If there is a unique shape, measure all the aspects you can to ensure comfort. If they are ok with it, take pictures.
  • Not all unique shapes are obvious. Measure everything!
  • Don’t avoid measuring stumps, missing limbs, and unusual areas.
  • If they wear them prosthetics the time, measure with it on. If they take it off and on, make sure it is accessible.
For swelling
  • Measure areas prone to swelling.
  • Don’t pull things tight to measure over swollen areas, it can really hurt.

Patternmaking techniques useful for adaptive apparel

The goal of this section is to identify changes from typical patternmaking techniques that can make clothing function better for individuals with disabilities. The table below identifies types of garment adaptations, patternmaking techniques that can be used to achieve these adaptations, as well as how these techniques can help people with disabilities. The designer may wish to research additional specific patternmaking adjustments such as clients with for shorter statures and spinal differences.

Types of adaptations Patternmaking principles and techniques for adaptive apparel Relevant clothing needs of people with disabilities
Increase garment rise Modify the pant pattern for a seated position. Extend the length of the crotch on the center back and reduce the length of crotch on the center front. Also, the total crotch length is extended. (See the figure below.) To provide enhanced comfort and fit in a seated position (for wheelchair users)
Easier opening Apply Velcro and magnetic snaps for the fly front zipper of a pair of pants To make the donning and doffing process easier
Easier opening Extend the fastener (e.g., zippers or snaps) longer on the side seam or the entire length of side seam To make the donning and doffing process easier
Easier opening Add extra openings through dart manipulation and/or style lines to allow the garment to easily open To make the donning and doffing process easier
Sensory comfort Use or modify as flat-locked seams or inside-out seams To provide enhanced sensory comfort and avoid sensory sensitivity
Sensory comfort Remove tags To provide enhanced sensory comfort and avoid sensory sensitivity
Sensory comfort Modify patterns to minimize or remove seams at pressure points (by combining pattern pieces or moving seams to different locations) To provide enhanced sensory comfort and avoid sensory sensitivity
Sensory comfort Remove back pockets of pants To provide enhanced sensory comfort and avoid sensory sensitivity
Storage Create additional pockets which can hold medical items on existing seams or side seams To provide additional storage for users with diverse needs
Storage Attach pockets on the thighs or knees of pants To provide additional storage for wheelchair users
Easier manipulation Replace existing closures with adaptive closures (e.g., Velcro, magnetic snaps, magnetic zippers, snaps) To provide easier manipulation of closures
Self Dressing Add loops to waistbands. To assist with holding the pants while pulling them up.
Garment comfort Create an adjustable slit (e.g., zippers at the pant hem) To provide comfort and mobility (for wheelchair users)
An example of patternmaking to increase garment rise.

How to use Chapter 1’s Disabilities’ Impact on Dressing and Clothing Needs to create adaptive apparel patterns:

  • Review this section of chapter 1 with your user or target market’s needs in mind. Note all their dressing challenges and design considerations that can alleviate these challenges. Make of note of how you will adapt your pattermaking method to implement each desired design consideration. Jot down where you can look for information on completing that pattern alteration. This may be a printed book, web resource, or even an individual with expertise. After planning all your patternmaking steps, carefully consider if there might be any conflicts between the planned alterations. If you identify any, consider alternatives. You may to create and evaluate physical samples of various techniques to choose the best option for your project.

Client’s Name:



Dressing Challenge

Design Consideration

Patternmaking Method

Source of Information on Patternmaking




(Add rows as needed)

Potential interactions:

Download a Tracking Client Dressing Challenges template [DOC] for your own use.

How to use Chapter 1’s Illustrated Glossary of Clothing Adaptations to create adaptive apparel patterns:

  • After deciding on your which design considerations are needed to address the identified dressing challenges, use these illustrations to help you visualize the patternmaking changes that will be needed. For example: “I can see that this specialty closure requires a different attachment method. Will my typical seam allowance work with this specialty closure?”

References and Resources

Dallas, M. J., & Wilson, P. A. (1981). Panty Design Alternatives for Women and Girls with Physical Disabilities. Home Economics Research Journal, 9(4), 336–346.

Hernández, N. (2000). Tailoring the unique figure. GÖTEBORG UNIVERSITY.

Hobbs-Murphy, K., Morris, K., & Park, J. (2022). A Case Study of Developing a Paralympic Shooting Jacket for Disabled Athletes. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 1–18.

Kidd, L. K. (2006). A case study: Creating special occasion garments for young women with special needs. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 24(2), 161–172.

Reich, N., & Shannon, E. (1980). Handicap: Common Physical Limitations and Clothing‐Related Needs. Home Economics Research Journal, 8(6), 437–444.


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