Inspiration / Sustainable Sewing

Zero Waste Design

Sustainable Sewing 5 Zero Waste

This story started when I learnt to weave. After hours of winding thread, stretching it tight and pulling each individual thread through a series of holes on the loom I realised that my lifelong assumption of how cloth is made was wrong. Making cloth from yarn is not as easy as it looks. It takes skill, many years of practice, and time.

The second realisation came when I finally came to cutting the cloth from the loom. After hours of preparing the yarn, setting up the loom and then weaving the cloth, there was no way I wanted to cut into the precious cloth! My appreciation for every warp and weft had sky rocketed.   And it struck me that this is why ancient clothing from around the world used simple, minimalistic designs. Using whole pieces of cloth and designing to make the most of every thread carefully woven into place is the basic premise behind the kimono, the sari, the kilt, and the kurta.

In contrast, modern garment manufacturing in a commercial setting wastes 15-20% of the fabric. I’m fairly sure that you’ll agree that as makers, we do our very best to squeeze as much as we can out of the fabric, but there’s room for improvement for us too.   Enter zero waste design with a modern twist. Using all of the cloth and creating no waste without losing a sense of creativity.

Holly McQuillan is a designer on a mission. She is taking the idea of zero waste design and making it fresh. Who hasn’t got a soft spot for the clash of ancient techniques combined with modern technology?

Holly has created a series of designs that are free to download that will have you thinking about cloth in new and exciting ways.   Fancy making your pants from a giant spiralling triangle? How about a pencil skirt with curves that neatly mesh on the pattern? The Make Use platform is a fantastic resource to explore zero waste design.

Holly challenges us to think differently about cloth and sets herself challenges to make garments from seemingly random designs. Her latest project is looking into how 3D modelling can help prototype her style of designing without the need for any cloth, meaning that in the future we may be able to visualise our designs in the virtual world and cut into our precious cloth with confidence the first time.

Simple ways of using zero waste design in your sewing:

  • Consider the whole piece of fabric and how you can use all of it at the start
  • Drape the cloth on a dummy and create darts and tucks where you would like more shaping
  • Cut on a single layer and try several cutting layouts with your pattern piece to make best use of what you have
  • Start with a simple square shaped design then make changes as you need
  • Throw out the rule book and cut off grain when you need to

Resources and other approaches to build your zero waste design knowledge:

I’d love to hear about your zero waste design projects.  Have you tried any of the Make Use designs or is a traditional design your preference for that precious cloth you just cannot bear to cut into? If you’d like to hear more about Holly’s work and approach I highly recommend this video.

Sustainable sewing series on Megan Nielsen Design Diary

About Author

Nicki is the co-creator of Fibershed maker’s movement and has been instrumental in the foundation of Fibreshed Melbourne as she believes connecting communities around slow fashion is the way forward. Reframing sustainability as a something of value to all makers is her passion, and she loves to inspire by doing and learning herself.   As the designer, knitter, weaver and seamstress of her own clothes Nicki has a passion for exploring sustainability in textiles.

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Claire Cooper
5 years ago

I’ve been thinking about using some of the designs from the Make Use site. I’m also really interested in subtraction cutting. Even when using commercial patterns I try to use my fabric as economically as I can. Then I try to reuse the waste, inspired by Zero Waste Daniel. I’m currently making usable patchwork yardage. I’d like to start weaving the pieces that are too small to piece and waste threads. But that’s my next step.

Nancie Chmielewski
Nancie Chmielewski
5 years ago

This is a great series –thank you! I am also a weaver, seamstress and designer :) always looking for new ideas on slow fashion.

Nancie Chmielewski
Nancie Chmielewski
5 years ago

I am also a weaver, seamstress and designer. I love the slow fashion movemebt and really like this series. thanks!

Nancie Chmielewski
Nancie Chmielewski
5 years ago

I too am a weaver, seamstress and designer and am very interested in the slow fashion movement. Thanks for your good series!!

5 years ago

Hey Megan, this is not the first time that I see someone talking about zero-waste design and automatically think ”Romanian blouse”. Old designs that look stunningly fresh and flatter any body type, those are not easy to find. You can see some examples in the link in my name (it’s not my website, but I really love it and believe more people should know about it), scroll down and there’s a button for English, but it’s enough even if you just look through the gallery. Other than that, I always promote upcycling, especially in the case of leftover textiles. I make flowers from bits of fabric, but there are also quilted bags, blankets and whatnot. Our ancestors used to weave rugs out of old textiles and leftovers. Nothing is wasted if you find a use for every little bit :D

branding firms
4 years ago

It’s very cool you share such a rare type of content! I really hope that you will continue to publish such interesting information for your audience.

Rubbish waste
3 years ago

Great idea. Now more and more people are thinking about environmental pollution and this is a great sign!