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.
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 (www.thecreativecurator.com) is a creative pattern cutter who specialises in zero waste pattern cutting techniques and here’s what one of her patterns looks like!
and what was left over after she’d made it:
just a few overlocked seam allowances!
Franki Campbell (www.frankicampbell.co.uk) 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).
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 (www.buildingbloqs.com) 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:
- The RSA’s Youtube channel is inspiring and challenges accepted “norms” about society and how we work: https://www.youtube.com/user/theRSAorg
- “Slave to Fashion” by Safia Minney.
- www.makeuse.nz – website of Holly McQuillan where you can find several zero waste dressmaking projects to download for free.
- www.timorissanen.com – where you can follow the artist’s work.
- www.julianand.com – for more on the work and teaching of Julian Roberts.
- Books about zero waste clothes from the past: “The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant” by Sarah Thursfield and “Cut My Cote” by Dorothy K Burnham.