Zero Waste Sewing

Zero waste fashion, zero waste design and zero waste sewing are all terms that have started to pop up more and more recently and it’s a topic that’s closely linked to my recent series on stash busting and carefully planned sewing versus rushed sewing that never gets worn.

What exactly is “zero waste sewing”?

According to Wikipedia:

“Zero Waste Fashion refers to items of clothing that generate little or no textile waste in their production”

logical so far, yes? Especially in the light of these staggering statistics:

  • 400 billion square metres of fabric are manufactured each year, 15% of that is wasted in cutting
  • that’s an enormous 60 billion square metres, which to put it into perspective would cover Switzerland and Wales

That’s a lot of fabric!!

As makers of our own clothes, we can immediately see how this can happen when we’re carefully trying to dovetail pattern pieces together to get the most out of our fabric, only then to be left with a collection of awkward shaped offcuts. Also as makers, like with so many issues that emerge from the global clothing and textile industry, we have the power to start making a change!

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to find out more about zero waste sewing at a seminar organised by the champion of all things sustainable and ethical in sewing – the lovely Charlie Ross of Offset Warehouse.

The key to zero waste sewing is in clever cutting and creative use of offcuts. Designing a zero waste dressmaking project is an exercise in putting together jigsaw puzzles!Photo © Charlie Ross

At Charlie’s seminar there were a couple of creative pattern cutters showing us how they (and others) manage to do just that. Eve Tokens ( is a creative pattern cutter who specialises in zero waste pattern cutting techniques and here’s what one of her patterns looks like!

Here is Eve again with a dress she made on the mannequin

and what was left over after she’d made it:

just a few overlocked seam allowances!

Franki Campbell ( is also interested in zero waste design and introduced us to the work of some well established zero waste fashion designers (a list of links to the work of these designers is at the end of this post):

  • Holly McQuillan a designer, maker and writer who mainly works in sustainable design,
  • Timo Rissanen a fashion designer specialising in zero waste fashion design who also teaches his techniques in New York,
  • Julian Roberts is a UK based designer and teacher who has developed a technique of “substraction cutting” where the aim is to shape a piece of fabric by taking away strategic small parts.

Now you only have to spend a few minutes flicking through the pages of any book on the early history of clothing and you will realise that a zero waste approach isn’t new; kimonos, saris, clothing worn in medieval Britain you could say that all of these garments are zero waste designs.

However, these garments were all created at times when fabrics have been considered precious and therefore expensive which was the main driver behind their design and minimal wastage.

The fact that we now need to re-educate ourselves about zero waste design is another symptom of our cheap throwaway culture in which many people don’t think twice about wasting great chunks of fabric.

It’s also symptomatic of the way that making clothes has become an industrialised mass production activity as opposed to small-scale craft production. In large scale mass-market garment manufacturing, designers are usually very remote from (and often never even meet) the pattern cutters within a company and this harks back to one of my bug bears about much of the fashion industry (and fashion education); how on earth can you successfully design a really meaningful, well-designed, quality garment that will have a long and well worn life if you don’t have at least some idea of how it will be made? When I’m designing, I don’t just sit down with a pencil and a piece of paper and make pretty drawings of ideas buzzing around my head. I start with a vague idea, I research it and see how it’s been done before and then I start playing with patterns and fabric, it’s only then that my idea really starts to take shape.

How can you incorporate some zero waste techniques into your sewing?

  • Use your leftover scraps creatively (have a read back at my first stash busting post for ideas and inspiration on how to use offcuts for small garment parts and how to use them as embellishment on your garment).
  • Don’t always follow the cutting plan given in your sewing pattern – they’re usually on the generous side so you might find with a bit of jiggling you can get your pattern pieces to fit together in a more snug layout and save a more useful sized chunk of your fabric.
  • Piece together leftover fabrics creatively to use them again in another project.

Sadly we couldn’t stay beyond the seminar at Charlie’s event, which was a shame as the rest of the day was spent making a zero waste dress that Charlie designed for a new book “Slave to Fashion” by Safia Minney (founder of fairtrade clothing brand People Tree). zero waste sewing

If you follow Charlie on Instagram (@offset_warehouse) you’ll see some photos of the gorgeous frocks participants created on the day.

I also want to mention the venue where the event was held – Building Bloqs ( a wonderful open access making space in north London. They have a fully equipped sewing studio complete with a range of industrial machines and pressing equipment and the team there aim to offer affordable spaces for designers and small scale manfacturers and honestly, I’d love to work in that studio!! The whole thing was just spot on, we need more spaces and events like this.

I’ve got my copy of “Zero Waste Fashion Design” by Timo Rissanen & Holly McQuillan,

here’s some suggested reading and watching if you’re inspired and want to know more:






Listen While You Sew

listen while you sew

One of the many things I love about sewing is that keeping my hands busy frees up my ears and head for listening. If I’m writing or doing what I fondly refer to as “thinky work” I need complete silence as I’m just too easily distracted. However, when I’m doing any kind of practical work like sewing, drawing or pattern cutting I love to listen and my choice of listening includes what you might call “eclectic” tastes; from Radio 4 to 6 Music to Seamwork podcasts.

I feel like I absorb things that I’m listening to more when I’m sewing, almost like I’m concentrating on what I’m listening to but in a different kind of way because I’m also focussed on the familiar movements of sewing or drafting patterns. It’s the same when I listen to stuff while driving; maybe the two activities use different but complimentary parts of your brain? I’m not sure, but it’s a habit I got into early. I remember spending many enjoyable hours working on my textiles homework and various art projects from school in the 80s while listening to A-ha and Transvision Vamp on cassette, or watching Treasure Hunt and Moonlighting on the telly. Sadly I don’t sew at home any more as I don’t have space for a sewing machine in our tiny Brighton flat, so I never get to sew with the telly on, but I do plenty of listening.

Here’s some of the stuff I enjoy listening to while I work.

At home I have a radio in every room and also have one permanently on in MIY Workshop, mostly it’s tuned to:

  • Radio 4 – without doubt my favourite radio station, I just love the unexpected things I learn, it also has great drama, spoken word, topical discussion and political and intelligent debate.
  • When the news on Radio 4 starts to get a bit depressing (or I just can’t bear to listen to another episode of Woman’s Hour talking about childbirth) I retune to 6 Music; Radcliffe and Maconie in the afternoon always has me laughing out loud at some point during their show, Lauren Laverne is a good listen in the morning, particularly Desert Island Disco and I was once on Steve Lamacq’s “Good Day Bad Day”. It was a good day and I chose Michael Jackson’s “Shake Your Body” still a great track in my book (there are soooo many things to love about it and this video: if you don’t love those jumpsuits there’s something wrong with you, some excellent trumpet playing and a fresh-faced Jackson without all the cosmetic surgery…..).

I admit to being a bit of a late-adopter of podcasts and only really got into them a couple of years ago, but now I love them and they’re a big part of my listening. Here are some of my favourites:

sewing podcasts

While She Naps by Abby Glassenberg – Abby began her US podcast in 2012 and at time of writing she’s currently on episode 102, with a new episode usually released twice per month. Episodes are roughly an hour long and Abby talks with a varied selection of craft designers, personalities and business owners; from big business such as Etsy and Spoonflower, right through to local businesses about topics as broad as body image through to how to be successful on Youtube.

sewing podcasts

Blogtacular by Kat Molesworth – UK based Kat organises the popular Blogtacular events in London that aim to inspire budding and already successful bloggers and online influencers with her line-up of talks from the latest creative movers and shakers. The Blogtacular podcast continues this theme with interviews from creative bloggers and indie business owners. The podcast started in 2015 and at time of writing has just reached episode 24. Episodes are roughly an hour long and are released at the rate of around 2 per month.

sewing podcasts

Seamwork Radio by Sarai Mitnick of Seamwork magazine and Colette patterns – the Seamwork podcast began just after the launch of Seamwork magazine in the US in 2015. I was really enjoying the Seamwork podcasts; they’re a bit shorter in length than the others at around 30 minutes and have featured some great guests from Jenny Rushmore (Cashmerette patterns) to Joost De Cock and I love the podcast’s strong focus on “Stories about designing, making and wearing your own clothing.” The podcast started out with a similar fortnightly schedule, but they do seem to have become a bit sporadic; we’re currently on episode 15, but this was released in September 16.

sewing podcasts

Thread Cult by Christine Cyr Clisset – another great podcast that mainly keeps its focus on dressmaking. Started in the US in 2012, Thread Cult is a well-established podcast. Episodes are roughly half an hour to 45 minutes in length and don’t seem to follow a set release schedule. Currently on episode 42 which is the first one since August of last year. Christine interviews designers and makers from both the home sewing communities and couture experts and museum curators, her varied guests have included our very own Rosie Martin of DIY Couture through to couture sewing expert Susan Khalje.

sewing podcastsCrafty Planner by Sandi Hazlewood – is a varied podcast about craft and the creative process and so has a varied line-up of guests. Started in 2015 Sandi is prolific with her podcasting being on episode 120 already! Her guests have included Jen Beeman of Grainline patterns and Charlotte Newland the last winner of the Great British Sewing Bee. Episodes tend to be around 50 minutes in length and are usually released weekly which is one hell of a schedule to keep up!

UPDATED 18/8/17 – I can’t believe I forgot the Modern Sewciety Podcast! Here it is:

Modern Sewciety by Stephanie Kendron is a podcast about all things sewing. She features bloggers from across the crafting industries and chats about what what blogging has brought them. Of course there’s also a sprinkling of behinds the scenes and what makes each guest tick. Recent guests have included Blair Stocker of WiseCraft Handmade, Taylor from Blueprints for Sewing and Kate of The Foldline. The podcast started in 2013 and at time of writing is on episode 127, averaging around 2 episode per month and episodes vary in length from just over half an hour to over 2 hours!

If you’re new to podcasts and are tempted to give them a go, here’s a quick guide to getting started:

  1. You need a podcast player – sometimes you can listen to podcasts directly on the podcaster’s website. It’s ok, but you’re likely to want to listen to a variety of podcasts so you really need one place to keep them all.
  2. If you use an Apple (Mac) computer, Ipad or Iphone you can find podcasts through Itunes – just search for the name of the podcast (note: not all podcasts can be found via Itunes). Once you’ve found the podcast, select it and click on the “subscribe” button. On Ipads and Iphones this will then open Apple’s own podcast app. If you use an Android tablet or phone and have a computer other than Apple, you need to use a different podcast player – I use Stitcher other players are available, just search “podcast player” on Google Play. You can also use Spotify and Deezer to listen to podcasts.
  3. Once you have your player, you can get subscribing. Search for the podcast you’re interested in and click on the “subscribe” button. You’ll get a list of the most recent episode and all the previous episodes.
  4. If you want to listen to an episode while not connected to the internet, you will need to download the episode. Some podcast players do this automatically, others require you to manually download each episode you want to listen to offline.

I also have an Audible account. I like the idea of this more than I actually use it. I originally signed up with the intention of listening to lots of dry business type books that I wanted to read, but knew that I never would. Confession: I have started listening to a few, but not reached the end of any yet….

So, there are my recommendations, how about you?! Do you listen while you sew and if you do, what tickles your ear canal? If I’ve missed anything that you love, leave a link to it in the comments!





July’s MIY Maker

MIY Makers

Sharon’s Granville Skirt just pipped Ros’s Fulwood dress to win this month’s MIY Maker!!

Such a nice version of the skirt and a great way to show off a lovely bit of fabric. The perfect summer skirt, now we just need the sun to return to the UK…..

Sharon will be enjoying her next MIY Collection pattern for free, congratulations!!

Want to make your own wrap skirt? The Granville is from my last book “A Beginner’s Guide to Making Skirts” which you can get here.

Want to enter your make to August’s MIY Maker challenge? Full details on how to take part are here. I look forward to seeing your makes!

Vote for July’s MIY Maker

Argh, it’s that time of year when time starts to morph into one big blob and the end of the month slipped past me unnoticed. So, a little later than planned, here are your choices for July’s MIY Maker.

Clockwise from top left:

Who gets your vote to be July’s MIY Maker and win their next MIY Collection pattern for free?

Leave a comment with your choice.  I’ll announce the winner on Saturday. Voting is also open on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.

Full details on how you can enter your make for August’s MIY Maker are here.

June’s MIY Maker (& MIY Makers is a Year Old!!)

MIY Maker sewing challenge

Well it was a pretty strong win this month for Tracy’s bee print Brighton Skirt from my last book “A Beginner’s Guide to Making Skirts”.

Tracy has chosen her next MIY Collection pattern which is buzzing it’s way through the post to her.

And can you believe it’s already been a year of MIY Makers – here they all are! A strong showing from Brightside Shrugs and Fulwood Dresses.

If you want to win your next MIY Collection pattern for free and want to enter your next make (or a previous one) into July’s MIY Maker challenge, all the details are here. I’m looking forward to seeing your makes!!


Vote For June’s MIY Maker

MIY Maker Sewing Challenge

It crept up on me this month – where on earth did June go??!! Here are your four wonderfully summery choices for June’s MIY Maker. Whose make gets your vote?

Clockwise from top left:

So, another crop of fabulous makes all worthy of being this month’s MIY Maker and wining their next MIY Collection pattern for free. Who do you think should win?

Leave a comment with your choice.  I’ll announce the winner on Monday. Voting is also open on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.

Full details on how you can enter your make for July’s MIY Maker are here.

Two New Summer Sewing Classes at MIY Workshop Brighton

I’ve just added two fantastic summer sewing workshops to the MIY Workshop timetable to make all your holiday essentials:

kaftan making class

make a beach bag class

Only £45 each, they’re bound to get booked up fast and there are only 5 spaces on each class! 

Full details and booking information here.