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An Exploration of Zero Waste Designs and Patterns

Posted by Jacinthe Bisson on

April 22nd is Earth Day. What do you do to help restore our Earth? If you have read my post Why Do I Sew? you know that the environment is a topic that I care a lot about and not just on Earth Day. Sewing can be a great environmentally conscious activity and it can also be made better by the choices you make. Embracing slow fashion by making your own clothes, choosing quality items/fabrics that will withstand the test of time wear after wear, mending your clothes, teaching kids or someone else to sew, are only a few of the ways I think of sewing as a great life skill for any eco conscious person.

In 2020 I started to learn a bit more about zero waste design concept which aims at reducing the waste at the early stage of development of a product/project. When it comes to sewing, it means designing patterns that use all the fabric in the most efficient way possible and reducing the wastes to a minimum.

In December 2020, I participated in a very inspiring workshop with Mylène L'Orguilloux, co-founder of the ZWDO Collective, and I have since tried to apply a few of the concepts I have learned to my own practice.

Do you have a pile of fabric scraps in your sewing room? I bet you do. Well, mine is a full large Rubbermaid bin filled to the brim. I keep the scraps telling myself that they could be used for something. I often dig through it to find bits for pockets or to test my machine settings, but I might never see that bin empty. Now imagine what the scrap piles a manufacturer would have after cutting hundreds of garments. They do not keep these scraps. These are wastes. And each year it is tons and tons of wastes that the fashion industry produces. The zero waste design concept is to reduce the fabric consumption and those waste at the early stage of the design process not only by optimizing the cutting layout but by re-imagining the design process. I say re-imagining, but it really isn’t a new concept. Civilizations before us were applying these concepts to maximize their fabric use.

As a home sewist, you might already do a lot by reducing your consumption of fast fashion, but did you know that you can also reduce those piles of scraps by using patterns that are designed to minimize those wastes right from the start? There are more and more resources available now to apply these zero waste concepts to your home sewing practice.

I have learned a lot from ZWDO, Milan AV-JC (Mylène L’Orguilloux) and Liz Haywood. Liz has a great blog where she shares all she knows about zero waste patterns and sewing. These are great resources to start if you are interested in learning more about zero waste design and sewing. 

Zero waste gather dress made by Sew Not Complicated

There are more and more zero waste sewing patterns available. These are a slightly different than the conventional pattern in the sense that they usually are instructions that you follow to “draw” your pattern directly onto your fabric rather than actual pattern pieces. They are designed to use the whole piece of fabric with little to no scraps left. I have tried only a few patterns so far, but I am totally on board with the concept. I made undies from ZWW, the Envelope dress from Cris Wood Sews and the Gather dress from Birgitta Helmersson. I really enjoyed the process and love the results.

Zero waste sewing project: the Cris Wood Sews Envelope Dress

If zero waste patterns feel too intimidating, there is also a lot of ideas to use your scraps out there! Love to sew Podcast had a great episode this week (episode 180) about zero waste sewing – they pretty much said everything that had to be said 😊.

Happy Earth Day!