Zero Waste Fashion Design -an interim report

zero waste fashion designWednesdays, the factory is quiet. I’m the only one here so I can do what I want which often means obsessively checking on my feral cat population. The grey fluffy one is missing again and I try not to let it upset me. Today, I decided I’d write an interim report of the fun we’ve been having with Zero Waste Fashion Design, a book written by Timo Rissanen and Holly McQuillan. It includes work from the usual suspects (Julian and Shingo, among others), making me wish I were 30 years younger and unencumbered so I could scamper off and ingratiate myself with the younger and smarter, pattern cutting crowd. If you’re not familiar with Zero Waste, see this, this, this, this and this.

If I may remind you, I’m not very good at actually reading pattern books; my verbal turns off with all the spatial candy -and this book has plenty. Wait, plenty of candy but also reading. This means I’m going to be burnt if I don’t give it the attention it deserves, hence make note of interim report. My cut to the chase is that this is a must buy if you’re smart phoning and tl;dr.

These look better in real life.
These look better in real life.

So, we made up two styles from the book. We had to pick relatively fast and easy projects because, well, the help expect to get paid and with overhead and pending jobs, I couldn’t invest what I really wanted to do at the time (Timo’s hoodie was a top contender). We selected the pants on page 115 and the kimono on page 121.

The pants came out well if not overly full, exacerbated by muslin. McQuillan does make it clear that the user will have to determine dimensions based on desired fullness but me, moving forward at full tilt, cut the pants the full width of muslin I had on hand. Other than the crotch being too shallow for my preferences (easily rectified), these were a hit. A customer even asked if it were possible to license the pattern design but I haven’t followed up on that yet. holly_pants_pattern

I’d like to interject something at this point -based on the most cursory of text scanning, it is obvious that the authors put a great deal of work into trying to move zero waste out of the conceptual stage and into practical application. By way of example are the supplemental pages of the pants in which a variety of cutting suggestions were made that could be adopted for larger runs. Tantalizing really, I’ll read it more closely later.

Our second project was a kimono (pg 121) that was inspired by Anita McAdam of Studio Faro fame. And before anyone asks (again), I pioneered the concept of pattern puzzles but Anita has made puzzles into a calling, much to the gratitude and enjoyment of all of us in internetlandia. Her posts can be as addictive as Pinterest -you’ve been warned. Moving on.


Our kimono project wasn’t as successful as we would have liked. It must be said too, that my staff doesn’t always do what I prefer or want but you’ll never have people working for you who will become effective and independent problem solvers if you don’t give them a little rope. And if you can’t let them make mistakes, you’re doomed to micro manage and annoy everyone with your presence -and then, miss out on all of the wonderful solutions they devise for you. Again I digress.

The book has links to patterns to get you started that are available online. You’ll have to scale them but it’s doable. What I did was photocopy the pattern and then digitize it. I scaled it to the proper size, aided by the authors’ careful notation of dimensions. I can’t tell you how helpful this was.

Okay, I’m done for today. I plan on following up with Zero Waste Fashion Design, particularly as it could be applied for use in a commercial environment (cutting is an issue…). I believe this book to be a very important work that can nudge our thinking in more dynamic and creative ways. At the very least, it is loads of fun. My sincerest thanks to Timo and Holly, and their colleagues who have worked so tirelessly to make this scholarship available to the rest of us.


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  1. Jennifer says:

    These are incredibly clever, they remind me of dissections in recreational math–a pair of geometric shapes which can be formed into one another through a finite number of cuts. Still, I guess I’m not clear on the intent. If a garment is zero waste but uses more fabric than a similar style including the waste, what is gained? (E.g. couldn’t one cut another pant style from that same length of fabric? There would be waste but what’s the harm if the same resource is used to make one pair of pants.) Is this recreational pattern design? A study of the style that emerges under the constrained of zero waist. What are the ground rules? Stuffing scraps into a pocket shouldn’t count, and using a scrap as ornament might be in-eligant. Turning the crotch cut away into the pocket bag is more satisfying. But, I guess I’m less impressed with designs that rely on lots of folding to suppress excess fabric into a garment. Clearly some of that could be cut away and seamed instead, for what I’d normally consider a more fully conceived garment. E.g. a sari would be zero waste and is a clever construction (I’d need a lesson), but an extravagant use of fabric. I always figured traditional garments tend toward zero waste because as long as the fabric is uncut it can be reused. Sorry to go on, I’m sure the book would explain this, this is just my immediate question from your review.

    • Very good point Jennifer. I was thinking the same. I love the concept and think it can inspire us to think differently in the design face. I specially enjoyed the puzzle part.
      This way of constructing patterns are just one way of zero waist approach. You can also construct patters in a way that the left overs get used to other smaller projects and the tiny scraps could be used to fill pillows or for applications.
      I have seen designers using the left over fabrics in ruffles and applications. Some designers also use only left over fabrics in their collections.
      Wiki definition:
      “Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.
      Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.
      Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health”

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