Sewing with Disabilities, by Laura (@green.circle.textiles)
Updated: Jun 2, 2021
Now I'm far from qualified to talk about the experiences of all disabled people but I wanted to share my own experience of what it's like to be a part of the sewing community and also be living with chronic illness and disabilities.
Doing anything when you live with a chronic illness or disability is difficult but if we all stopped doing things because they were difficult, we wouldn't live our lives. Sewing is no different and there are a number of benefits and drawbacks to being a disabled sewist. I wanted to discuss how we can make the sewing community a more accessible and inclusive space for everyone.
For me, the biggest benefit of sewing my own clothes is that I can choose a fabric and style that I feel most comfortable in. I have sensory issues which means that I feel uncomfortable in particular fabrics or styles which cling to my body. It doesn't mean I can't wear them, but when I do it can cause fatigue and lead to an emotional meltdown in combination with other sensory
triggers. Sewing my own clothes has meant that I can choose fabrics which feel comfortable on my skin. I can choose styles that fit me comfortably and help me portray my personality to the world. Of course this is the main benefit to sewing for most people but it's particularly helpful if you have disabilities or sensory issues.
Living with disabilities means you often spend a lot of time in pain or discomfort. Having the ability to remove some discomfort caused by our clothing can be an empowering tool.
Unlike many other hobbies, sewing can be done from home on a schedule that suits you. It can fit around other commitments and extra rest that is often required when living with disability.
Although sewing is more accessible than other hobbies, there are many things that we can do to improve accessibility to the sewing community online.
As someone with sensory difficulties, I find it particularly frustrating when shopping for fabric online. When a website tells me additional information about the fabric, it can help me to know
what to expect and determine whether the fabric suits my needs. A good example of this would be Rainbow Fabrics. On their website they list the fabric content, the drape and the opacity of the fabric. The extra information helps me to make better decisions when buying fabric for particular projects. They get extra points for stocking mainly deadstock fabrics! Other websites,
like Minerva, have videos to demonstrate the weight and drape of a fabric which can help me to visualise whether or not the fabric is suitable. If you own an online fabric store, consider whether
you can provide more information to make shopping during the pandemic easier for your disabled customers.
There are many different actions we can all take to make sure that the sewing community online is more inclusive. If you are an able bodied person, think about how you can display your makes
in a way which considers disabled bodies. For example, why not take pictures of your makes while sitting down to show how the garment fits and drapes differently in comparison to standing up. It can help those in a wheelchair see what this pattern/garment might look like on them.
When buying patterns online, consider whether the company you buy from is inclusive of all bodies. Do they have an extended size range? Do they show marginalized bodies in their sample images? Do they employ disabled models? If you live in a privileged body, think about how your actions can help shape and influence companies in the community you're a part of.
You could choose to purchase a similar pattern from a company who is inclusive, or you could write to the company and ask them what they plan to do to make their designs more inclusive.
These might seem like small actions, but if everyone took them then companies might get the message!
There are also a number of things I have done to help my own sewing practise. I try to sew when my mind is clear and focused. This helps me avoid the inevitable meeting with the seam
ripper. I've been lucky in that my partner has built me a desk which is at waist height for cutting. This helps me to avoid straining my back by cutting on the floor. I'm fortunate to have a dedicated sewing space which has allowed me to think about placement of tools and machines to avoid overreaching and causing injury to my body. And most importantly, I rest. A LOT! I try not to compare myself to other sewists online who can whip up five garments in a weekend. I take my time, I rest when I need to, stretch when I need to and trust the process.
Are you a disabled sewist? What sort of adjustments have you made in your sewing space to make it more accessible? I'd love to hear your thoughts on accessibility in the online sewing
community. Feel free to drop me a message @green.circle.textiles to continue the conversation!