Zero Waste Pattern Cutting

2 of my Zero Waste Pattern Cutting looks entering the runway at my uni’s sustainable fashion show

Textile waste is a huge problem in the fashion industry, here’s a few reasons why it’s worth worrying about


  • On average, 15 percent of fabric is wasted at the cutting stage during garment production. (Townsend, K, & Mills, F 2013)
  • An estimated 400 billion square meters of fabric was produced globally for the apparel industry in 2015. This means that approximately 60 billion square meters of fabric is wasted each year. (Mcquillan, H & Rissanen, T, 2016)
  • In America, 14 trillion kilograms of clothing is thrown away every year, that translates to 36 kilograms per person (Wicker, A 2016)
  • The majority of commercial clothing is made of synthetic fabrics like polyester, which take anywhere from 20 to 200 years to decompose in landfill (Claudio, L 2007)

The good news is, there’s lots of things we can do about this problem. As consumers, we can buy high quality clothing that will last a long time, and make sure the clothing we don’t want any more doesn’t end up in landfill by selling it or repurposing it. As a designer, there’s lots of ways to combat textile waste, in addition to upcycling and recycling there is also zero waste pattern cutting (ZWPC)

Zero waste pattern cutting is an alternate technique to conventional pattern cutting that uses every piece of fabric, resulting in, as the name suggests, zero waste. This method of pattern cutting does requires a lot of practice to master and involves a lot of trial and error, emphasis on the error! If you’re wanting to give ZWPC a go a good place to start is by looking at other zero waste patterns. Holly Mcquillan and Timo Rissanen’s book Zero Waste Pattern Design is a good place to start. There’s also a bunch of patterns and blogs online which could be helpful. When looking at other ZWPC it might be useful to try to work out how everything goes together and think about how the designer might have approached the process.

This post features some ramblings about my own approach to ZWPC as well as a couple of my patterns, please feel free to use them however you’d like, they’re not too scale so printing them out directly might produce some weird results but you can use them to draft your own patterns based on them.


Looks.jpgBefore you begin pattern making you’ll need to know how wide your fabric is, so that you’re making your pattern in the right dimensions. ZWPC requires a very different approach to conventional pattern cutting. I find, when starting a zero waste pattern, that it’s vital to be open minded in terms of what you want the end product to be. Obviously you’ll need a vague idea of the garment but most of the designing happens during the pattern making process. A good place to start is with geometric shapes, the simplest zero waste garment I’ve made was simply a rectangle with holes for the arms and head. I made it in a mesh fabric so it draped well and had a modern boxy kind of fit, most people would never guess it was essentially a glorified pillowcase.

Illustrations of my ZWPC looks seen above

I draw a lot of inspiration from traditional Japanese clothing for ZWPC. The Kimono sleeve shape is a fantastic place to start as you don’t have to worry about a sleeve head or armhole. Japanese clothing is traditionally very loose fitting and is often wrapped around the body, this also lends itself well to ZWPC as shapes and dimensions don’t need to be precise in order to fit the body.


Cropped kimono jacket pattern.png
Zero waste pattern for the cropped kimono jacket seen above. Fabric width 140cm

In conventional pattern cutting, usually measurements, angles, shapes etc. need to be quite exact for everything to fit together. When making zero wast patterns you can be a bit more flexible, pattern pieces don’t necessarily need to be the shape they usually are. There isn’t really a right and a wrong when it comes to ZWPC so the best approach is to experiment and find a method that works for you and your project. I find it easiest to start with the largest shapes first, like the body of a jacket or the front and back legs of pants. From there you can look at the remaining space and work out what it could be. It’s important to consider all the pieces you’ll need to complete the garment, like facings, waistbands, pocket bags etc. while you’re working because you can’t just cut them out later if they’re not already in the pattern.


In summary, my main tips for making your own zero waste patterns are

  • Start by examining other ZWPC and understanding how everything goes together.
  • Start with simple geometric shapes.
  • Japanese design is a fantastic starting point
  • The Kimono sleeve is your friend.
  • Think outside the box, sometimes things that look like mistakes can become unique design features.
  • Don’t forget anything you’ve learnt about conventional pattern cutting, but do ignore most of it.
  • Start with the largest shapes, and then look at the remaining space and imagine what could fit there. Often the shape of the remaining space will inspire designs.
  • Start toiling, somewhat ironically, ZWPC often requires lots of toiles.

    Pants pattern.png
    Zero waste pattern for the pants seen above fabric width 150cm

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