Reverse Pattern Puzzle: zero waste

timo_zero_waste Normally I post a garment photo or sketch and challenge you to come up with the pattern. This time I’ll post the pattern and you tell me what the garment looks like. You can get a larger version by clicking on the image. Ready?

This draft is from Timo Rissanen’s site, Fashion Creation Without Fabric Waste Creation (and where Danielle nudged me this morning). I wrote about him before and he also hangs out around here when he has the time (hi Timo!). Timo is a fashion professor working on a dissertation about the concept of zero materials waste in apparel manufacturing. His concept of zero waste is clearly illustrated in the draft above. By way of introduction, here’s what I wrote before:

The point he makes in his paper (pdf) that I think many people lose sight of, is how the production of a garment is driven and how this affects material utilization. He rightly says “Hierarchical divisions of labour within the fashion industry can create limitations for innovation in sustainable fashion design strategies” meaning that the traditional means are designer ->pattern maker -> marker maker. Unfortunately, the tail end of the process is where most utilization strategies are focused. I stressed the problem with this approach in my book and discussed ways to reduce the problems but it seems that the tendency remains to assign responsibility for cost cutting through out the entire cycle on the cutting and sewing floor. Reiterating Abernathy and Dunlop among others, Timo says waste reduction must be realized at the front of the line in design, which is then incorporated in patterns rather than leaving all the responsibility for waste reduction and reducing fabric costs with the cutters.

I think Timo’s work deserves more exposure. First it is seductive, pandering to my love of waste-less. Self serving as the latter is, Timo has a gift for mentoring. With influence and leadership, he guides students and practitioners to follow his examples. That is the mark of a true teacher. Perhaps you remember I wrote of his protege Mark Liu before as well.

Here’s an example from a protege (?) or colleague (?) of Timo’s, also shown via reverse pattern puzzling.


The sample above is from Holly McQuillan (good reading too).  On the left is the draft. On the right is the paper model of the pattern partially constructed. There’s also an “explanation” of how this pattern goes together. And it makes my head hurt.

For better photos of the drafts and garments constructed, this is the best place to find them. This draft (the garment is shown at lower right), makes me wish I were a designer and young enough to start over again. On second thought, scratch that. I’d prefer being in charge of getting it through production. No laudatory acclaim but it’d be due all the same.

The answer to Timo’s pattern challenge is here but of course you can’t look at it if you intend to participate in the puzzle.

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  1. Timo and I have become friends partly as a result of a blog post I stumbled across a few years ago. It is quite cool but we both developed our work independently of each other and only saw each others work recently. It is really great to finally have someone to chat with about the difficulties and issues that arise using these processes. Timo is fantastic, I love his work, it is so much harder to design menswear using his process that womenswear which is so much more forgiving.

  2. Lisa Shoemaker says:

    Looking at these makes me want to play with fabrics. I recently revisited Julian Roberts designs though, so coupled together I just want to experiment with stuff. But, instead this weekend will be spent making a pair of pants and a website. And also trying to get people to go to a car show with me.

  3. Dawn B says:

    Some sort of hooded top with a button front, cuffs and elastic waist. Duh, that’s just from reading off the pattern pieces. I can’t get my head around how center back and center front meet at the point of a triangle…I’m thinking part of a hood where they meet perhaps. Ugh, I am going to have to cheat.
    I did develop an almost zero waste diaper pattern but that’s easy-peasy compared to this stuff. Still, I like not having (many) scraps at the end of the cut.

  4. Thanks Kathleen! (I visit pretty much daily, I’m just quiet) And thanks Danielle! And Holly is definitely a peer and a friend. We finally met recently during the Fashioning Now project – check out – and I was completely blown away by Holly’s work. I should also flag a guy called Sam Formo at the California College of the Arts, who, under the guidance of Lynda Grose, has been developing some lovely no-waste garments. Mark Liu is back in Australia so I’ll be catching up with him soon, too.

    On the garment above, I’d be happy to give a brief lowdown on what worked and didn’t about it after everyone has had a go. I should note that my project has been exploratory in focus; not everything has been ‘perfect’ either from a design or manufacturing point of view. These are things I’ll be discussing in my thesis, which I am desperately trying to finish before moving to New York at the end of the year. I’ve accepted the position of Assistant Professor in Fashion Design and Sustainability at Parsons, beginning at the start of 2010. Very excited! But back to above and the rest of the garments, it’s been quite exciting realising that no-waste isn’t limited to a particular ‘look’ or aesthetic; I think all the work in the area – Mark’s, Holly’s, Sam’s, mine and others’ – is quite diverse. There are still lots of manufacturing issues to sort out, and perhaps the key problem is that fashion design education in general, anywhere, doesn’t really present patternmaking as an effective design tool. Julian Roberts, of course, is a beautiful exception, and others are emerging.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading the responses. Thanks again, Kathleen!”

  5. Reid B. says:

    Wow. That is awesome. I looked at it for a minute or two, and then cheated. The concept of zero-waste is one I should explore more. I have been struggling a bit recently because I have been making really simple stuff for looks, which leads to really low efficiency. I really dig this because it blends a classic style of garment with a new idea. Thanks for sharing!

  6. DesignerElla says:

    It looks like a sweatshirt, but that is also from reading the notes.

    I must attempt something like this for leather, a most important material to be precious with. Of course many bags are much simpler than this, and rectangles don’t cause waste unless one makes a mistake. Also there is always waste in leather, I know, unless the designer uses a lot of raw edge stuff. Which is cute.

    Actually I already factored something like this into a bag that has a few diagonal lines. I planned the cutting and made 4 pieces with diagonal edges from 2 longer rectangles. Actually it was a bit intimidating even that way. I do get quite paranoid about mistakes or misfiguring.

    Perhaps I’d skip this for rectangles unless it actually helps speed things up.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Re: shaping of leather pattern pieces. Perhaps rectangles are a good shape if the pieces are small. As a point of comparison, see the style labeled 4217 which I designed with diagonal lines to circumvent the problem of large rectangles.

    For a rundown on all the entries in the leather bag series, see this one.

  8. One of the two designers for Material By Product (Australian designers who utilize no-waste/waste reduction into their design work) who spoke at the Fashioning Now symposium in Sydney (that Timo helped organize) had a bag she had made using leather and zero-waste. The void created from the shoulder strap became the closure flap and it used the raw edges of the hide to great effect. She said that they also had designed a leather coat which utilized the raw edges of leather as a feature. Their work is beautiful – have a look

  9. Marie-Christine says:

    Fabulous stuff, but the patterns look more interesting than the finished products :-).

    Actually there’s a whole body of work to draw on without going to pioneering extremes – traditional handwoven clothes. Great stuff like Egyptian shirts where you take wedges out of the top to make gussets for the bottom. I still wear my 80s Miyake coat where you cleverly slash and wrap the 5 yards of wool in one piece, and you’re left only with a piece perfect to make the patch pockets. Aaaah. Now that’s design.. Those of you who’ve ever spun and woven any length of cloth can relate, I’m sure.

  10. Erin says:

    Just want to say I LOVE what you all are doing! I strive to create garments using organic, hemp and other eco-preferable fabrics. However, the “eco” factor of the fabric itself is somewhat meaningless is much of the fabric is left on the cutting room floor……I will definitely be researching this topic more, and while I always love to utilize all those scraps of fabric that are left over, it is wonderful to think of ways to utilize them from the outset.

  11. Julie says:

    This is all a very seductive…but I’d argue wrong headed way to look at eco friendly or sustainable.
    What matters isn’t how much waste is left on the cutting floor. It is how much fabric PER GARMENT. And multi-use garments are even better. You need fewer in the closet.
    Eventually the garment wears out and is discarded. We should focus on patterns that achieve more garments per length of fabric purchased by the manufacturer. More than one thing can be made from the fabric. Cutting “scraps” could make different styles of garment if they were sewn together to create new creations or fabrics OR if the fiber were reprocessed to create new cloth.

    Try putting your amazing creativity in that direction. Don’t just say it’s not wasted fabric because you made a big flowy garment that people are drowning in.

    • Avatar photo

      Sustainability has been a long term topic on this site. My beef is less with fabric utility than with the greatest driver of waste -namely push manufacturing. This can be found in the lean manufacturing category. It annoys me that so much focus is placed on buying organic fabrics (more “organic” goods are sold than the organic fabric needed to produce them) instead of the manufacturing model.

      If you’re interested, here are some links:

  12. Julie says:

    Ok. I looked at a few of the designs where people weren’t drowning in excess cloth. And some were quite nice looking as well.
    Those I like.
    Of course, to use every bit of fabric space they are almost by definition one size fits all, right? No way to size up or down without changing your rectangle’s size also…

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