If you or a loved one uses a wheelchair all day, you know how uncomfortable it can be to sit on a stiff, thin cushion or a worn-out one. Instead of buying an expensive wheelchair cushion replacement, why not make your own?
Here, you’ll learn how to make a wheelchair cushion and customize it for your comfort. You can even use bright, unusual fabrics you’d never find in a medical supply house.
A few basics: Choose the fabric and pattern you like and then find a foam cushion with the appropriate size and thickness. Check the cushion that came with your wheelchair. Are you replacing it because it wore out, or because you want to customize the cover and make it fit your personality? Do you need thicker foam for better comfort? These are all things you’ll want to consider before you start.
How to Measure for a DIY Wheelchair Cushion
You’ll need to have the proper measurements before you start sewing. The wrong measurements will leave you with a too-thin, too-short or too-thick cushion.
- Measure the part of the wheelchair seat between the arms. Then figure out the length of the seating area from the back of the seat to the front of the seat. Determine how deep the cushion should be based on your preferences. Modify the thickness of the cushion depending on cushion depth once it is compressed.
- When you’re seated, measure between the widest part of your thighs or hips. Add one inch to the width for movement. Measure your lower body from the back of your buttocks to the rear of your knees when seated. Take one inch from measured dimensions for a manual or electric wheelchair, and two inches if you use your legs to move around so your calves won’t rub the seat cushion.
Here are a few DIY wheelchair cushion tutorials from around the web. Please note that there aren’t a lot of tutorials specifically designed for wheelchair cushions. You’ll need to adapt DIY for seat cushions to fit your wheelchair.
Types of Wheelchair Cushions
Most DIY wheelchair cushions use foam for padding, but there are other types of padding.
- Gel wheelchair cushions are small gel pouches placed on top of the foam. The gel adds weight to the wheelchair, but the gel pouch may leak.
- Air flotation cushions contain no foam, only air. Air cushions may leak, and should not be used by people who move around a lot in their chair.
- Urethane honeycomb cushions help distribute weight efficiently in the chair due to their beehive pattern. Honeycomb cushions absorb shocks and weigh less than foam cushions.
It is possible to buy a urethane honeycomb cushion and make a covering for it, but it will take some experimenting. You can’t buy “Plain urethane honeycomb and dress it up like you can with foam.
How to Make a Wheelchair Cushion
Make a smart-looking wheelchair cushion using a standard foam cushion and cover using a piece of low-density foam and a piece of high-density foam. Find the right size cushion to fit your chair. (You can have a cushion cut for you at a local fabric store if you can’t find the right size pre-made.)
Find fabric you like. You can use any fabric –cotton, velour, flannel – as long as you will feel comfortable sitting on it all day.
You can make a cushion cover back and top after measuring the length, width, and thickness of your cushion. Hem the back pieces, sew back to front, and then miter the corners. You may also use an alternative miter method by cutting square notches from the lower side after stitching the side seams.
Turn the cover right side out and place the cushions inside it when you finish sewing.
You can also craft a homemade wheelchair cushion cover with tips from a wheelchair user. You may use a cotton pillowcase or a tougher fabric as the cover and fit the foam inside. You may also want to cover the foam for extra protection with a sturdier fabric (for example, flannel), before putting the cover or pillow case on top of the foam
Don’t want to fuss with fabric? Cut a pillow case so it will fit over the foam. Sew the edges together. Make sure the truncated pillow case fits snugly over the foam before using.
Bypass sewing by using fabric, fabric glue, scissors and measuring tape to cut your wheelchair cushion cover. The following tutorial is adapted from a YouTube video on how to create a no-sew seat cushion cover.
Cut a piece of fabric and another piece of fabric 1.5 times as long as the first piece, and then cut it in half. The two smaller pieces will make an envelope on the back of the pillow. Iron the edges of the two pieces and glue them down.
Lay the sheets with the right sides facing each other. Glue all the way around the edges. Let them dry for a few hours, then turn them to the right side. Put the foam cushion inside the fabric cover and fold over the flaps.
Use a single strip of fabric if you want to sew the edges instead of using glue. When you put the foam cushion on top of the fabric, you should have two centimeters on either side (0.78 inches). You need to pull the fabric three-quarters of the way down on the cushion and three-quarters of the way up on the cushion so they meet in the middle.
On each side, turn the fabric over twice and stitch down the column of fabric. Put the cushion inside the fabric strip and pin one edge of the fabric.
Then take the cushion out and shake it out, level it up and pin the other side. Then stitch 1.5 down both sides. Turn the cushion cover inside out and poke corners through with scissors. Push in the cushion. Learn more at the Molly Quest YouTube channel.
It should only take you a few minutes to measure and sew a new fabric-covered foam wheelchair cushion. You can also buy a gel pack separately and add it to the foam cushion before covering the foam with a fabric cover. Be sure that the gel pack is correctly positioned before closing the cover.
Anyone with special needs (relief of pressure sores, incontinence, etc.) should ask their doctor or therapist about the best materials to use in a DIY wheelchair cushion.