Tag Archives: sustainable fashion

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 (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!

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 (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). 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 (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:

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Slow Fashion October – Introductions

slotober

Are you taking part in this year’s “Slow Fashion October“? It’s organised by Karen Templer of Fringe Association and I remember seeing lots of posts on Instagram from last year’s event and thinking “That’s something I want to take part in”.

Each week in October will have a different theme and last week’s was “Introductions”. Go and have a read of Karen’s post, it’s a great introduction to the project and why it’s important. She’s included some really thought-provoking links. OK, I’m a little late to the party, but better late than never, so here’s my introduction post.

Karen asks us to consider these questions:

  • Who are you, and what does slow fashion mean to you?
  • What got you started thinking about it — people, books, films, etc.
  • Are your concerns environmental, humanitarian, financial?
  • Most important: How does your thinking factor into your life and closet?
  • Also, any special plans or projects for Slotober, and what are you hoping to get out of it?

My Slow Fashion October Introduction

I am a clothing pattern designer, a maker, a teacher and a sewing book author. I’ve been doing this since 2007 and my days are occupied with how clothes are made. Before 2007 I worked in the fashion industry in the UK for 7 years. I worked for the 2 extremes of the industry; at the fast fashion, disposable end of the industry I designed boyswear for Matalan at the start of my career in 2000, then in 2001 I became the product development manager for a newly established organic cotton brand called Gossypium. This gave me a great insight into what needs to change and what is actually possible in the clothing industry.

While working at Matalan, I literally churned out designs; 80 – 100 new designs a year, mainly “inspired by” (aka copying) garments that buyers bought on “inspirational shopping” trips around Europe and the US. I had no idea how and where any of these garments I was creating were being made (and nor did the majority of people I worked with, including the buyers, I know because I asked the question). To say it was a depressing job as a graduate fresh out of design school would be an understatement. It was, however, an eye-opening reality check and I lasted 7 months.

At Gossypium I worked with cotton farmers, textile specialists, garment makers and home weavers in the UK and in India. I was hands-on, I got to talk to people about ideas they had about how to make clothes, I got to play around with fabric to create garments rather than just draw imaginary garments on a computer screen and I got to sit beside machinists while they made them. The brand was (and still is) a success; within a few years I saw my designs that I knew the complete history of stocked in Harrods. I loved that job and am incredibly proud of what I did there.

denimlace-cubeA development sample from my MA

After I left Gosspium I pursued a different but related route and undertook an MA on ways to recycle textiles. That work is ongoing and even though I haven’t really picked it up in a while I get involved in projects that use recycled textiles wherever I can; I’ve taken part in Portia Lawrie’s The Refashioners event for the past 2 years and right now am working on a collaborative project with a local Brighton charity on recycling.

I love the process of making and it makes me incredibly sad to see how detached we’ve become as a society from the process. I think our inherent creativity and ability to make things are fundamental parts of what makes us human and what can help to keep us happy.  A dangerous knock-on effect of  this deskilling makes it easier to ignore the conditions around how things are made and I feel it’s the same in food; meat comes packaged on the supermarket counter with no trace of its origins in coming from an animal and how many people would be willing to visit an abattoir to see the real story behind their roast dinner? That’s why I don’t eat meat.

I don’t often buy ready-to-wear clothing any more (mainly as I can make most things myself), but when I do I really consider it; I do my research and find exactly the thing I want and I wait until I can afford it. I buy quality that I know will last, will maybe have a re-sale value if I don’t want to keep it and ideally is made in the UK, but if not, then made by a responsible manufacturer. I very rarely shop on the high street and I try really hard to practice what I preach.

I’m starting to apply these same principles to my fabric shopping. I’m not lured by cheap, I like quality natural fibres, I love organic fabric and I try to buy from fabric shops who have a direct relationship with their suppliers rather than just buying from faceless wholesalers and middle men. I’m also looking at ways to produce my own fabric, obviously not from scratch, but sourcing high quality organic fabrics that I then print, dye and decorate myself. That may become my focus for Slotober.

I’ve written before about applying these principles to your sewing, rather than sewing something because it was a free pattern with a magazine and you’ve seen lots of other people making it online, stop for a minute and think – does that style really work for me? Do I need another of those garments? Am I going to rush this project just so that I can join in with the other people who have made this pattern online? Focus on what you want to sew, why you want to sew it, how much you’re going to wear the finished item and enjoying the process. I call this “Thoughtful Sewing”.

My slow fashion concerns are environmental, humanitarian and financial; using natural fibres, organic farming methods, water based inks and low impact dyes isn’t impossible. People with a skill and a trade wherever in the world they live deserve the dignity of working in a safe environment with access to trade unions, time off and earning a fair wage which is a reflection of their time and skill. The shirt/dress/jeans on your body are not worth sacrificing those things for.

I don’t have any special plans that I wouldn’t normally be doing for Slow Fashion October (other than the fabric work mentioned previously), but I am looking forward to being inspired by what everyone else is doing and how everyone else deals with these challenging issues at @slowfashionoctober on instagram and the #slowfashionoctober hashtag.

I’ve written more about similar subjects to this here.