Zero waste makes

This post is about my own adventures with zero waste sewing, and I’ve had a few! It follows on from a previous post for the Sewcialists about the concept of zero waste and some free patterns for you to try.

I had fiddled around on the fringes of zero waste, appreciating the idea of it without producing anything very interesting. Then I did the Fibres West (a Perth biennial residential programme) week long workshop with Holly McQuillan and this was a complete game changer for me as I finally understood the rigour behind the design processes.

The first thing we made was the bog coat. This is based on a 4000 year design of a coat found on a man buried in a bog in Denmark. It is a simple shape with a couple of cuts. Holly’s bog coat is slightly more sophisticated, I think. My finished coat looks like it has a lot going on and it even has pockets!

Sue stands in from of a white door with stained glass panels. She wears the 'bog coat' described in the post.

You will notice that the seam lines are bordered with a mustard colour and this is part of the technique.

These lines are painted on to the fabric using house paint and they stop the fabric from fraying when it’s cut, meaning that seams are sewn differently and don’t need any sort of other finish. I found the concept of painting the design lines on to the fabric and then cutting and sewing to be completely fascinating.

This photo below becomes the coat shown above. How cool is that? Can you identify the components?

A flat  piece of grey fabric, showing the cutting lines for the bog coat, painted on with house paint.

The bodice and the sleeves can be given shape by cutting off sections and rotating them. If you look at the finished coat you will see that the back is lower than the front and this is done by manipulating the shapes

Below is a silk top I made using this technique. One side is shorter than the other and, although it’s not terribly clear, one side curves in.

Sue wearing a white zero waste t-shirt with appliqued black pattern, made more interesting by rotating the elbow and lower body bands before sewing them back on.

In my previous post I refer to Rissanen, T., &  McQuillan, H. (2016).  Zero Waste Fashion Design. London; New York: Fairchild Books, and this book contains many designs, including a pair of trousers with spiral legs. These fascinated me so I had a go at making them. The design is basically a rectangle cut across diagonally and the cutouts for the front and back crotch become pockets. The legs can be darted at the knees to give them a bit more shape.

The cutting layout of zero waste spiral trousers showing the diagonal line as well as the crotch cutouts.

It’s hard to see how this shape can be transformed into two trouser legs, but it happens by sewing each leg as a spiral (hence the name!). Only careful examination shows the seam lines and they look like normal trousers but with no fabric wasted.

A person stands in a garden, wearing the spiral trousers, made up and sewn in natural colour linen.

Also in my previous post I referred to “Zero Waste Sewing” by Liz Haywood from A Craft of Clothes. The book is size inclusive and contains 18 sewing designs which are all zero waste.

The front cover of the book called Zero Waste Sewing by Elizabeth Haywood.

I have made several versions of the bathrobe, as I think it is the best pattern going. This one is made from one of my late mother-in-law’s wool blankets and it’s lined with one of our old doona (duvet) covers. This is both warm and functional as it gives so much coverage. I have made four of these for myself (summer and winter versions) and two for my husband.

Sue stands in front of a door and garden furniture, wearing a bathrobe from Liz Haywood's book "Zero Waste Sewing". The bathrobe is made from an ornage plaid vintage blanket and duvet cover.

One of the fears that people have about zero waste is that you rarely get a pattern, instead a set of instructions is published and the sewist has to draw the design lines straight on to the fabric prior to cutting. This is a bit nerve-wracking at first and I find myself measuring many times before I actually cut. However, it’s nice not to have paper patterns and it means that if you want a different size due to weight changes, or making for others, then it’s a simple matter of adjusting the measurements. I would exhort everyone to give this a try at least once, you might surprise yourself with how enjoyable it is.

The photo below is the Clair Skirt also from Liz Haywood, but from a standalone pattern, not the book. I made the skirt from a thrifted doona (duvet) cover and everywhere I wear it I get asked about it. It is one of my favourite things to wear at the moment and it takes me from day to casual evening.

Sue stands in a garden wearing the zero waste Clair Skirt, made from a thrifted duvet cover which has a large -scale blue and white print. She is also wearing a cropped white t-shirt.

Another of Liz’s patterns is the Cendre top, and I always think that it doesn’t look like a zero waste make. It is both contemporary and stylish.

Sue stands in front of a pool , wearing the Zero Waste Cendre top, made from a piece of green and cream hand blocked Indian cotton.

Pattern Union has also begun to dabble in zero waste although she is yet to publish a pattern. I am lucky enough to have access to her as a friend and we have days when we play around with designs. This is a pair of regular trousers that we were able to turn into a zero waste pattern by utilising some of Holly McQuillan’s principles. We did use a pattern for these as we were converting an existing pattern to zero waste. In fact there’s a tiny bit of waste which I’ve shown at the side of the photo!

The pieces for a pair of zero waste trousers are shown laid out on a table. A regular pattern has been and modified so the pieces fit on a single rectangle of fabric. Tiny leftover scraps are shown.

I mentioned in my last blog post that there is a common view that zero waste clothes are rather shapeless as the easiest method of designing a zero waste garment is through a series of squares and rectangles. However, the newest trend is to simply fit all the pieces together, a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s clear above that this is a fairly traditional pair of trousers which, with a few tweaks, has been able to be designated zero waste. The fit is pretty spot on, and it’s hard to believe that they are zero waste.

A person stands in a garden wearing grey trousers made from a regular trouser pattern , that has been converted to a zero waste pattern. They are worn with a navy blue sweater.

This evening dress designed by Sarah from Pattern Union is a case in point. It looks quite complex, has a wonderful 1930s vibe and is extremely stylish.

Sue stands in the graden wearing a 1930s-style draped dress made from Japanese silk shibori. Front is belted and back shows how the rouleaux create shoulders and a draped cowl.

It is, in fact, a very simple, but clever piece of design. However, it is knowing how to put it together that takes the skill.

Pattern layout diagram for 1930s- style draped dress.

My fabric for the above dress was very narrow as it is a piece of silk Japanese shibori, but it was able to be adapted to the zero waste design.

These garments are but a small sample of the zero waste garments I have in my wardrobe. I am so fascinated with the process that I am constantly seeking out the designs to play with. My next post will include a mini- challenge for you, dear reader. I’m going to make a zero waste garment and you might like to follow along or you might like to try something different. The main thing is to try it!

Sue lives in beautiful Western Australia where the weather is most conducive to making easy to wear zero waste garments. She is retired (so has lots of time) and blogs at and is on Instagram @suestoney.