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.


  1. I've gotten to the point where I can no longer stand and will begin modifying my pants...I am so glad I found these instructions. This is exactly what I visualized I needed but I couldn't work it out in my head.

  2. Thank you for this informative post. I am in the process of modifying some clothes for my uncle who is now in long term care, and the pants are something I have been struggling with. Thanks again 😀


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