Monday, October 19, 2015


Life is like a canvas. It begins blank & every day is another brush stroke. Make your life a masterpiece.

Mary Brush's family and friends often refer to her as a "Renaissance Woman" and it's not too difficult to figure out why. She is passionate about a variety of things, including working with small businesses, sales and marketing campaigns, manuscript editing, copy writing, graphic and CAD design, web design, custom sewing, interior design, and therapeutic parenting. Her enthusiasm, talent and hard work ensure that she excels in all of them. Her struggle has often been deciding where to focus her attention.

Today, Mary Brush lends her years of experience to the corporate world. BrushStrokes offerings focus on corporate consulting (including restructuring operations, HR, profit and loss, and sales and marketing - including marketing campaigns and web site design) and editing (business writing, manuscripts, eBooks, presentations and speeches).

BrushStrokes began in 1988 as a clothing design studio, specializing in custom clothing and design, and quickly expanded to include interior decorating, architectural CAD design. graphic design and manuscript editing. Working with entrepreneurs and product development design expanded her skill set to include marketing collateral, presentations, web design and campaigns.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Making Open-bottom Wheelchair Pants

I designed several types of adaptive clothing for my mom with ALS. This post will detail how to make open-bottom wheel chair pants by modifying existing pants (I chose stretchy, elastic waist pants, but it would be possible to use other types of styles and fabrics with some tweaking).  When looking down (or from the side) at the person seated in their chair or laying in bed, the pants will look complete - you should not be able to see any bare skin. Only the person and his/ her caregiver will know the person's bottom is bare.

When my mother needed open bottom pants (to prevent the need to try to push pants down and out of the way when using the restroom and when she was using the lift), we found Silvert's open bottom wheelchair pants. These were great, but apparently they were designed to be used by someone who could stand and support their own weight - because while you could slide the leg part on while in a seated position, the waist closure was in the middle of the back, and this is almost impossible to reach if the person is seated in a chair or laying on a bed.

I decided to modify the Silvert's pants so that a caregiver could put them on easily while the person was seated in the chair or laying on a bed.

 For this project, I'm assuming you are fairly experienced at sewing, so I will not be drawing out every single step. If something is confusing, just let me know and I'll try to explain it better.

To alter a pair of sweat pants (or other knit material not requiring finished edges) to be open back for use in a wheelchair and/or with a lift:

Seated Side Measurement - When the person is seated mark where the person's back meets the chair at the waist, then measure another inch and a half toward the back seam. This is your Seated Side Point. Measure the distance from the center back to this point. This number is your Seated Side Measurement.

  1. Mark the Seated Side Measurement on the waistband. (In this example the Seated Side Measurement is marked on the left, but you can put the mark on whichever side is most convenient for the caregiver to access when securing the pants. Ex. if the person's bed is up against a wall then the opposite side to where the wall is would be the better place to put a closure so the caregiver doesn't have to lean over the person to access the closure.) 
  2. Stitch on both sides of this mark to secure the elastic. 

Seated Back Measurement. When the person is seated. Measure from the top of the waistband to the seat of the chair. 

Marking the cutting line.
3.   Add 2 inches to the Seated Back Measurement. Measure straight down the back seam of the pants the Seated Back Measurement +2" and mark the spot.
4.   Lining up with the Seated Side Measurement mark on the waistband (between the 2 rows of stitches), draw a line  the length of the Seated Back Measurement +1 inch straight down the back of the pants.
5.   From the Seated Side Measurement on the opposite side of the pants, draw an imaginary line straight down the length of the Seated Back Measurement + 1 inch. Mark this point.
6.   Connect these 3 marks with a curved line.
7.   Cut between the stitched lines at the waistband straight down to the curved line.
8.   Cut the curved line.
9.    Open the crotch seam from the curved line toward the front of the pants as far as is needed to allow the person to urinate easily without wetting the pants.  This opening will not be visible when the person is seated with their knees together, but should allow access when the person is seated on the commode with the knees slightly apart.
Adding Plackets:
Material: 2 pieces of fabric 4 inches in width and the Seated Back Measurement +2" in length. Plus, interfacing approximately the same dimensions. 
10.   Apply interfacing to wrong side of placket pieces. 
11.   Fold the placket piece in half (right sides together). 
12.   Stitch 1/2" from top and bottom edge of each placket.
13.   Turn placket piece right side out and press (you can edge stitch if you'd like this to lay a little flatter. 
14.   Apply preferred closures to plackets (velcro, large skirt hooks, magnetic purse snaps... can be modified slightly for separating zipper). 
15.   Stitch raw edge of placket to raw edge of pants openings. 
16.   On the placket piece attached to the side seam side of the pants, you will probably want to zig zag stitch the seam allowance to the placket (or even cover it with seam tape) to make it lay flat and prevent the seam from irritating the skin on the hips and buttocks of the person sitting on it all day.
17.   On the placket piece attached to the back of the pants, fold the placket in to the wrong side of the pant fabric and stitch or tack around all the edges (placket seam will be sandwiched between placket and pants.

To Use:
While person is seated or laying down, slide the pant legs up the person's legs and into place (legs will be completely encased in fabric, but the bottom will remain bare).
If the person is in a chair, lean the person slightly forward and slip the back panel between the person's backside and the chair. Secure the back panel on the side using closures.
If the person is laying down, press the back panel against the person's hip. Roll the person onto that hip and keep rolling until you can see the back panel. Smooth the panel flat on the bed and roll the person back toward you until they are flat on their back. Secure the back panel on the side using closures.

For comfort, and in case of incontinence, a towel or absorbent pad can be placed on the seat under the person. This pad will remain on the bed or in the chair when the person is lifted out.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

New Custom Bag - Leather Luxe

This is the bag I designed for the most recent BeTA Trauma Mama annual fund raising auction.

The winner of the auction wanted a simple black and gold bag that people would recognize as being custom. 
 The base and top of the bag are real leather as are the gold straps (which were covered with a black strap as the gold looked a little gaudy by itself).
 The bag zips shut at the top.  The inside of the bag has lots of pockets and is made with Ripstop nylon which is easy to wipe clean.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Open Bottom Pants for Wheelchair/ Lift/ Sling Use

I've been designing clothes for my mom as she has progressed through different stages of ALS.  I won't be using pictures of my mom out of respect for her privacy and dignity.

As my mom's left arm weakened to the point of immobility, she was unable to dress herself.  Unfortunately her husband, her primary caregiver, has Essential Tremors, and therefore had a lot of difficulty with snaps, buttons, zippers...  He is also pretty oblivious about comfort and fitting (He once fastened my mother's bra so that the bottom band crossed directly over her breasts.  Unfortunately since she cannot speak, and has less sensitivity on affected parts of her body, when I came by in the afternoon, it had been like that all day!  Ouch!)
Back opening dress
When mom was still using a walker, I made wrap dresses and front closing bras so that she could be dressed while sitting on the bed.  When she switched to the wheelchair full time, we tried switching her tops to back openings with velcro or snaps on the shoulders so that she wouldn't have to lift her arms as much (she was still trying to wear t-shirts - which had to go over her arm brace and her neck brace.).  This way the shirt could be pulled up over her arms, and then fastened in back.  Here's a link to how this works.  I called this a "Tulip back"

Tulip shirt front
Tulip shirt back
Electric wheelchair
Once my mom got to the point where she needed to be in a wheelchair all the time to prevent falls.  We quickly started discovering issues with the bathroom.  First of all, the wheelchair didn't fit in the tiny little potty room, so someone had to help Mom rise from her wheelchair, then help her balance until she could hold onto a grab bar mounted on the wall.  She then shuffled until she was in front of the toilet.  We had a second grab bar installed there, and she held on to that for balance.  Since by this point she only had the use of one hand, and that hand was holding the grab bar, that meant someone else had to drop her pants for her (and help pull them back up when she was done).  There was very little dignity to be found in this situation!

Suddenly we needed "open bottom" pants for my mom.

As she became less able to support her own weight, we quickly discovered that she needed a lift (including a lift in her spirits!).  The problem with lifts is that they lift you out of the wheelchair in a sling and then lower you onto the potty - which is great, except when/how do you lower your pants?!  The sling has a circular opening where your bottom "hangs out."  A quick bout of research (found an awesome site called Silvert's with some "open bottom options") and we quickly discovered this meant you had to go "commando" so your clothes had to discreetly cover you everywhere, except your bottom.

 That left mom with 2 options.

One, the tulip backed dress with a cut out for the bottom.  The person looks fully clothed when you're looking down from above.  The sides of the skirt are tucked under the person's legs and the back of the dress goes to the chair seat and stops.  We still had to add access to the PEG tube for feeding (see this post for details).
.Option two was pants, capris, shorts.  This was mom's preference, and with the purchase of a pair of Silvert's open bottom pants and this video which showed me how they worked, I thought we were in business!  She tried out the pants for a couple of days, before I made more, and I'm so glad we waited.

Step one, while still in seated
position pull pants up over legs.
Secure adjustable waistband.
"Flap" will cover hips, but
bottom is exposed when in
seated position.
In theory, these are awesome!  In everyday use?  Not so much.  The crotch seam was sewed so far down that you couldn't easily access the front parts of the body that need "wiping."  That seam had to be opened up to allow the slit to come further toward the waist.  In theory, the generous amount of fabric in these loose fitted pants, and the fact that my mom never sits with her knees spread apart, keeps them from gaping open enough to show the opening.

The worst part?  To secure the snaps in the back - already difficult for someone with Essential Tremors, Mom had to lean forward in her chair - which inhibited her breathing.  Not wheelchair friendly at all!
Original design

Shifted to side closure instead of center back.

So I opened up the left side of the back "flap" and added some velcro strips (could use a separating zipper as well).  That way the flap could be slipped behind the person and then secured on the side (much easier than trying to secure it behind their back).

This worked much better so I altered a pair of her loose fitting (she's lost about 70lbs on her liquid diet), elastic waistband, knit shorts.  Instead of velcro, I used magnetic purse snaps (my new favorite closure!).  It's pretty easy to alter the shorts (although it helped to have matching color fabric for the new flaps needed for the side closure), but I've also drafted a pattern so I can make new ones in any colors I wish.

I can add more details if anyone is interested in doing any of these projects themselves.
Here's my tutorial post about altering existing pants to be open bottom pants.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Modified Tops for Nursing and G-Tubes

I've been designing clothes for my mom as she has progressed through different stages of ALS.  I won't be using pictures of my mom out of respect for her privacy and dignity.

First she got a  feeding tube, also known as a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG).  This meant she needed access to the port and the carrier for the tube which is kind of like a fanny pack.  Clothing couldn't be tight across the area, and she didn't want to just lift her shirt, because that left her stomach exposed (or worse if she wanted to wear a dress), not to mention that the fabric had to be secured out of the way.

I immediately thought of some of the things I'd made for myself when I was nursing.
Fabric overlaps and secures with Velcro
Stretchy fabric is pulled out of
the way for easy access.

A similar concept with a knit fabric.  No need for Velcro because the fabric was overlapped more since it was stretchy.

I also began purchasing
"arthritis bras" and
altering her bras to
make them open in the front.
 She was actually fairly happy with t-shirts on a daily basis, but wanted some nicer dresses for church.  She'd also begun having issues with the use of her left hand so needed clothing that was easy to put on and take off (no awkward back zippers!).

Voila!  The wrap dress!

Next problem - if you untie a wrap dress, it drapes open like a bathrobe and once again shows everything. So I extended the under panel to go all the way across the body to the other side (in other words, the "wrap" part of the dress was pretty much faux.  The under panel covered the body of the dress and was secured with Velcro in the upper shoulder to prevent it from sagging.  Cut a slit in the under panel to accommodate the PEG/ feeding tube and we were done!

Until the next issue - Being dressed by caretakers and making accommodations for being in a wheelchair!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Baby got Bling!

It may not be obvious in the picture, but this dress is covered in "rhinestone" bling!  My oldest daughter was inspired by this rhinestone covered chiffon gown.  

I recently took an online class called Fast Track Fitting by Joi Mahon on, which creates perfectly fit basic pattern pieces based on detailed measurements.  I really like the class and used the muslin it made to create a cover for my dress form that can be used over and over again for each individual client

For this dress I drafted the bodice and lining by adapting the basic patterns created by the Fast Track Fitting pattern.  The skirt is simply multiple layers of tulle gathered and attached to the bodice.  Trimming the bodice is double strands of the "rhinestones" in an optical illusion of waist definition.  Draped from the waistline of the skirt is a rhinestone mesh separated into single strands that hang loose and move with the skirt.  The necklace is made from a rhinestone piece of trim held by two "rhinestone" strands.

Pattern Description: - A satin and tulle cocktail dress with "rhinestone" trim and drape.

Pattern Sizing: Custom fit using techniques from "Fast Track Fitting by Joi Mahon on" for a curvy apple figure with a 34D bust.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? This dress was only intended to be loosely based on the inspiration dress.  It did look like the sketch.

Were the instructions easy to follow? There were no instructions for this simple dress!

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? The "rhinestone" mesh had to be cut into individual strands and hand sewn to the bodice and waist.  It was a lot of work!

Fabric Used: White satin for the bodice, nylon lining material and "rhinestone" mesh from the home decorating department.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? This was a simple dress, flattering to the client.  I will probably make a similar silhouette multiple times for this particular client. 

Conclusion: This dress was designed for family Christmas pictures, and hopefully prom, but ultimately to wear to my 20th wedding anniversary party. This daughter loves all the shiny bling!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Chiffon Cocktail Dress adapted from RTW

Inspiration dress
Cocktail Outfit Contest

My youngest daughter tried on this dress -->
and instantly fell in love.  It was very expensive (about $300), but my main concern was how much leg showed on her 6 foot tall frame (she's obviously taller than this model because it almost showed her panties!).  She especially loved how it fit her elongated hourglass figure by accommodating her (substantial) bust, clinging to her tiny ribs and flaring over her hips.  She also asked that the hemlines in front look a little more blended and wanted a little bling added (like this other version of the dress that we found on the website).  We also created a necklace to draw the eye from her decolletage to her pretty face!

I looked everywhere for a pattern, since I'd never worked with a pattern with this particular fit and drape.  I finally stopped procrastinating, took a deep breath and drafted my own pattern using some techniques I'd learned in an online class called Fast Track Fitting by Joi Mahon on, which created perfectly fit pattern pieces based on detailed measurements.

Pattern Description: - A hi-low cocktail dress in multi-layered chiffon with rhinestone details.

Pattern Sizing: Custom fit using techniques from "Fast Track Fitting by Joi Mahon on" for a 6 foot tall elongated hourglass figure with a 34DD bra size.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? This was an adaptation of RTW LaFemme 18049 I believe it looks a lot like the original with the exception of a few requested modifications.  I wish you could see this dress in motion. We didn't have a fancy wind machine like the RTW models!

Were the instructions easy to follow? There were no instructions for this complicated dress!

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I really struggled to get this dress to cling to the ribs and still flare over the hips without using any darts and very few seams. The top layer was bias cut, but the fabric wasn't wide enough to do the same for the rest of the layers.

Fabric Used: Fabric from my stash, in this case Nylon chiffon drapery fabric! Yes, this is another dress I stole from our family room curtains.  "Rhinestone" mesh for the trim and necklace.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: The original RTW dress was waaay too short in front for this 6 foot tall girl. She also wanted the hemlines in front to look a little more blended and wanted a little bling added (like another variation of the dress on the website ).

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I actually would make this dress again. Once I got over being intimidated by all the layers and how form-fitting the dress needed to be, and actually started on the construction, it turned out beautifully, and my incredibly picky client loved it!

Conclusion: I made this dress for my youngest daughter, who is a total fashion diva, to wear for family Christmas pictures, and hopefully prom, but ultimately to wear to my 20th wedding anniversary party. Over the years I've made a lot of dresses for this daughter, and she has never been totally happy with them... until this one! I tried a lot of new fabrics and techniques on this dress and I am proud of how this dress turned out.