Finding clothes that fit, due to my scoliosis, unusual body shape and because I’m sitting down all the time, is sometimes quite hard, so I’m very lucky that my mum can sew. So, when it comes to many race day dresses, they’re from the label “Made by Mum”. From 24 hours dresses to complex designs, she’s done it all, but the need to sew has stemmed from a need for wheelchair friendly stylish clothing.
The story of getting well fitting clothes is nearly as old as time, but it has definitely become more of a challenge as I’ve gotten older. This may be stereotyping based on what I see in shops (especially Valleygirl which is a shop I love, because let’s be honest, it’s cheap yet stylish), but girls my age (because I want to shop in the young adult section) are wearing incredible revealing clothes and sleeves and warmth in winter are basically unheard of. This is a problem for me for a few reasons. The first one is that short skirts and dresses just don’t work for someone in a wheelchair unless we want it to look like we’re not wearing any pants, and that’s certainly not the look I’m after. The second problem is that I feel the cold easily, so if short clothes don’t work in summer, they’re definitely not going to work in winter! Trying to find even long sleeved stylish tops in nearly impossible.
I’ve gotten better at knowing which clothing designs suits my body, for example, cutaway shoulders, high neck jumpers and stretchy waists are the best, but it’s still frustrating, so this is where Mum’s sewing comes in very handy! I’m not really sure where Mum’s passion for sewing came from, but it started around the same time I started going to the races. I would say that, as of when this post was published, maybe 75% of my race day clothes have been made by Mum and nearly all of the others have been altered by Mum. Below are a few of my favourite creations over the years (haha after uploading all of these photos I noticed I definitely have a style I like!).
So, for those that don’t know, when you sew a piece of clothing, you start with a paper pattern and then you use that to cut out the material before sewing it. Depending on the design determines how difficult the pattern is. However, the problem with patterns is that they’re all in normal sizes, which means that to fit me properly lots of alterations are needed. This is where Mini Diana comes in!
Mini Diana is what my dress mannequin is called. She didn’t come with a name like most mannequins, but Mum’s one is called Diana, hence we called mine Mini Diana. Now she isn’t an exact replica of me, but Mum added foam to her sides to replicate my scoliosis and foam to her shoulders because mine sit higher than normal people. My waist is also not straight, so the black tape shows Mum where my waist sits.
So, what’s the process of making a dress for me? Well, let me step you through it! The dress featured is my Fashions on the Field dress that I wore on Saturday, hence why I couldn’t publish this post earlier (haha didn’t want to give away my secret).
Depending on what we’re making (haha the royal we!) the start does differ, but we usually find a fabric that we like and then find a pattern to match. In terms of fabric, online stores like fabric.com or fabric mart are our favourite, but Spotlight is also good. Our ultimate favourite fabric for me is scuba knit, because it’s super stretchy and, therefore, comfortable, but also because it has a nice structure to it (not too flowy). The green for my FOTF dress is a cotton boucle from fabric.com and in this case, we started with the fabric. I can’t quite remember how we chose the pattern, but it’s Vintage Simplicity 6676 (pictured below). Here’s a tip for all the sewers out there, Mum keeps a photocopy of all of her patterns covers in a folder so we can quickly flip through them to find one, instead of pulling out all of the patterns (especially as Mum has quite the collection now).
Mum’s been doing this for a while now, so she knows what to do in terms of adding/taking away fabric from certain areas at the cut out stages, but we always measure twice and cut once! Once the material is cut-out, Mum will loosely sew the pieces together and this is where the try-on starts. The dress will go back and forth between Mini Diana (when Mum is working on it) and me, till the dress is right. Common adjustments needed include taking in the side seams from the waist up, as my waist is a size 12 but my chest is a small, and also taking it up on the shoulders.
The last two things that are done include the hem (I usually go for a hem length either just above my knee or below) and then putting any extra details on (in this case it was the daisies, which are from Spotlight).
So below is the finished product. It was a classic retro look, but I absolutely love it! This is a very versatile dress, as I can dress it down with yellow sandals for a summer BBQ, for example.
It must be noted that a few fashion designers, like Tommy Hilfiger who has a range called Tommy Adaptive, are finally considering what people with disabilities need in clothing, such as long dresses or no buttons on shirts because they’re too hard to do up. We’re also consumers like any other person, so this is definitely a market with huge potential. Until then though, the “Made by Mum” label will continue to be kept in business!