What is Zero Waste Pattern-making?

As a designer, you’ve probably noticed that no matter how hard you try to strategically layout your pattern pieces, you’re inevitably left with excess fabric. In fact, the entire fashion industry has this problem; roughly 15% to 20% of the total fabric bought in the industry is wasted.

There are ways to recycle or reuse the scrap fabric, but what do you do if you don’t want to have any leftover waste?

Zero waste patternmaking is the process of altering a pattern so that no fabric is left unused. It can be a bit tricky and requires some creativity, but some very cool designs have been made using this technique. Here’s a pattern and paper prototype of a blouse created by well-known zero waste patternmaker Timo Rissanen.

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Zero waste patternmaking isn’t necessarily a new concept – the Japanese kimono and Indian sari are famous historical zero waste fashions. The kimono is traditionally made from a single bolt of fabric called the tan. The entire bolt is used to create two wide body panels, two more narrow sleeve panels and thin strips for the collar.

Likewise, the sari is a single bolt of fabric draped around a woman’s waist and shoulder. There are well over 50 documented ways to wear a sari so there is no shortage of possibilities for zero waste designing!

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How can you implement this?

While zero waste patternmaking might not be right for your products, there are alternative design possibilities for scrap fabric to reduce the amount of fabric waste. Some companies have used scrap fabric to make underwear or other smaller items. If you own an athletic brand perhaps you could use the extra fabric as hair-ties for your customers? Or maybe you get creative and turn the excess scraps into embellishments – patchwork denim is back in these days!

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