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Sewing for Scoliosis

Sewing for Scoliosis

I FINALLY learned how to sew and it's awesome! Especially because I can tailor around my scoliosis!

Quick (ha! this is actually a kinda long post for me but I hope that it'll be helpful) background on my scoliosis and why learning this skill is a total game changer for me. 

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine. Above is my x-ray post-op where the largest curve is now fused at 55 degrees. I have a relatively severe curve. O.k. I won't bore you with any more medical stuff, let's get into why this is a pain in the butt for buying clothes and why learning to sew is the best thing EVER. Because honestly trying to get clothes right has been one of the biggest ongoing challenges in living with scoliosis. 

The structural issues to work around:

  • The right side of my body from under my arm to my right hip is a straight line while the left side is curved.
  • I have a hump on my back caused by the ribs curving outward.
  • I have a more severe case of scoliosis so my rib cage actually enters into my hips. Making a waist measurement on me actually a rib cage measurement. This means I've lost between 3-4 inches in height too. Making my upper body short, squat, and full of weird curves.
  • All that torso anatomy is smooshed into a smaller space meaning at a healthy weight even at a low BMI a tummy will happen.
  • My right shoulder is higher than my left. 
  • Some people with scoliosis have different length legs. That's not my case but would make pants challenging for those folks.

Over the years I've learned what to look for in clothes:

  • Elongating the torso is good!
  • Avoid clothes with any kind of spandex in its fiber content. These will hug all the curves we want to avoid accentuating.
  • I personally don't care much if my scar shows but for some people a higher back might be preferred.
  • I've decided that pants aren't worth the effort but back when I did try to make them work I found low-rise hip huggers to be the best. Trying to work around that "rib cage as a waist measurement" thing is very difficult. Those people with different length legs have to hem the pants and avoid any with shaping down the leg.
  • When shopping online I look closely for darts and zippers of any sort. An outfit might look like it could work on the model but when you see those waist darts it's a red flag that the outfit will have less ease and more shaping.

How I've been dressing with scoliosis:

Like everyone, I want to look my best and be comfortable. I don't mind addressing my scoliosis but I don't want it to distract people from what I have to say. As mentioned, I've decided to just quit pants altogether. My go to has been shift dresses. Some people will say empire waist (seam under the bust) dresses are a good option for those with scoliosis but NOOOOO. This is bad! Remember the smooshed torso mentioned above...pair that with empire waist and it starts to look maternity. Skirts with shirts are o.k. but only if the shirt is loose and untucked. A waistband right under the hump only exaggerates it. A tighter shirt could work if a cardigan or hoodie or something is used to help drape over the hump. Shift dresses have been awesome because they are cut straight up and down. They can be dressed up for work and if the shoulders fit properly it looks very put together. They can also be dressed down with a hoodie or leggings etc... If it's made out of rigid fabric it will have a nice tailored structure to it and if it's out of softer jersey it will rest on the shoulders and bust, drape over all those torso challenges, and then rest on the hips. Not all ready to wear shift dresses are made the same. Some have weird sleeve lengths, some are too long, some are sold as shift dresses but really have a curved side seam. Sometimes shift dresses aren't in style and are hard to find. Then, of course, even a well-structured dress might be in a color or pattern you just don't like. I always said if I could sew just a simple shift dress I'd make dozens and be all set for life. 

My first attempts at sewing:

A couple weeks ago Craftsy (not sponsored) had a free weekend for their classes. I scanned their site and wasn't feeling the painting, drawing, or knitting classes; but there was sewing! Better yet a class on how to sew a shift dress! The lesson was very clear and detailed even sharing problem-solving techniques. After that class I sampled classes on how to adjust and tailor a dress pattern. I learned that to shorten a dress it's best to remove the height on the paper pattern right under the arms. This made a ton of sense as to why RTW was so hard to tailor.

 I went online bought some fabric and a couple dress patterns.

I started with the New Look pattern in view B (yellow dress). In this fabric from Rifle Paper Company.

This was only my 2nd project ever using a sewing machine so I decided to make as few changes as possible. I shortened the length by 4 inches (under the arms on the paper pattern as I had learned from the classes!). I also did a different size for the shoulders/bust than the waist/hips so I had to transition my paper pattern between those sizes.

It fits well! It has enough ease to drape over the scoliosis and the shortened length makes it feel less like a potato sack by having more movement. I like the rigid hem, it helps the dress flare out slightly which is cute. The pattern included pockets which are a good addition to any shift dress because then you can cut the dress closer to the hips and the pockets will provide the ease when you sit. Also, they're just convenient! The seams on the sleeves sit perfectly on my shoulders providing some nice structure to the look. My biggest problem is my inexperience in sewing. My lines are wonky in places and my curves aren't perfect. I also don't love the sleeve length here. It's sort of right above the elbow, I'd prefer short sleeves or 3/4. Regardless, this was a major win for me. I've decided that I need a wardrobe of these dresses in various patterns, fabrics, and with a variety of sleeve, neckline, and hemline variations. Could you imagine going to your closet and the only decision you gotta make is which color and pattern to wear!? Knowing that all your clothes will fit well and you'll feel both confident and comfortable in all of them. Ah, that's the dream! I've ordered more fabric and pattern paper so I can draft those neck/hem/sleeve variations for future dresses. 

I also rounded out my supplies with a new iron and a foldable cutting board/ironing board.

While I waited for those supplies to come I made the Simplicity dress. 

I like the fabric and it's pretty cute but the tie that goes around the back isn't flattering for scoliosis. It likes to fall beneath the hump. Also, this pattern didn't have the clearest of directions (esp. for a super new sewist like me) and the two sizes I wanted to transition between were on different sheets of the pattern paper. So, I had to commit to one size. That didn't end up being such a big problem since it's a simple dress style with lots of ease but definitely something I'd want to keep an eye out for if buying more patterns. 

Phew, a very long and very different post for me but I hope that it's helpful and inspiring to others who find buying clothes to be a frustrating and depressing activity. I think there's a good lesson here. If you find yourself not fitting the "normal" and you struggle just to be "standard". Then use your creativity and ingenuity to fix it. Customize your experience!

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