Zero-Waste Sewing: Pattern Cutting

Conventional pattern-cutting wisdom would frown at me using the selvedge of fabric, and tilting the grainline. But with some smart cutting, and supporting construction if the garment needs it, I can be economical with my resources and environmentally-conscious, too!

Conventional pattern-cutting wisdom would frown at me using the selvedge of fabric, and tilting the grainline. But with some smart cutting, and supporting construction if the garment needs it, I can be economical with my resources and environmentally-conscious, too!

I often get asked about what happens to the scrap pieces of fabric once I’ve cut a piece for a client. Those fiddly curved bits that remain, which can’t really be turned into anything else.

You may already know that I like to work with minimal waste in my production process, and that applies as much to the way I use fabric as to the responsible sourcing of materials that can be composted.

This means I generally tend to ignore conventional wisdom around laying patterns on a piece and just do it my way. Which is to cut out the largest pieces first, and do a sort of jigsaw with the remaining pattern pieces and what’s left of the fabric.

The good thing is, since I work with my own patterns, I have complete control over its design and construction, so I can work according to my principles! Back to the piece at hand, though.




I’ll give you an example. I always fold my fabric in half lengthways first, by the way. Most conventional patterns, and my own, begin with larger pieces that are cut along the fold - like the bodice pieces. Folding in two also allows you to cut the two sleeves as mirrors of each other, minimising time. Any other pieces that you need two of - collars, pockets, necklines, zip facings, and other facings (pieces inside the garment that give it support and shape) - can also be cut when it’s folded. So much easier.

I’m working on a pattern test for Alice & Co - a fabulous mother-daughter pattern company you absolutely have to follow. They’re soon to be releasing a beautiful 60s inspired piece I know you’ll love!

The pattern advises that we use 3.5metres of fabric that’s 1.5m wide. As an example, that’s about 1m more than I would normally use for any of my dresses, but I went ahead anyway and used a lovely piece of jersey fabric I picked up at a remnant sale in Budapest.

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I laid it out as I would lay out any of my patterns - front and back pieces along the fold first, and using the remaining width of the fabric to cut out the sleeves, cuffs, neck, pockets, and other supporting bits.

You can’t see it because I ran out of pattern weights, but the sleeve just so happened to fit perfectly within the curve of the armhole in the bodice! So that’s some efficient cutting right there.

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I did the same for the back piece, and lined up the neck pieces, pockets, and other supporting structures in the remaining space.

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Once I was done, this is all that was left of the fabric I had folded over!

I also didn’t use the full 3.5m length of fabric - not even close! I still have a little over 1m left, which I can use to make a lovely summery t shirt (like the Ayu!)

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What you see above is the long piece of cotton jersey I’ll use for another garment, and above that in a small pile is the tiny pieces of fabric leftover from my zero-waste cutting!

Well, Sanjukta, I can hear you saying. Tiny pieces still count as pieces. That’s not exactly zero-waste, is it? Low, sure. What will you do with those?

Glad you asked! Check out my pattern weights above!

They’re used to hold patterns down, without using pins to attach them to fabric. This means I can use these same weights with delicate fabrics where pin marks would be visible and potentially damage the fabric, and it also saves me a lot of time.

It’s a lot faster to just plop weights down on fabric rather than fiddle about with placing pins in just the right way, being careful not to twist or move the fabric, etc. Who has time for that? I’d rather be sewing!

You can use anything at all for pattern weights - I’ve used avocados and tins of beans, for example. Anything which is heavier than the fabric itself and will make sure it doesn’t move as you cut around it with scissors or a rotary cutter!

I make them with these random bits of fabric, leftover from pattern cutting. The great thing is that since they’re pyramid shaped, all you really need is a rectangle of fabric, any size at all, which is folded over and stitched together. Smaller weights can be used for smaller pattern pieces like spaghetti straps, and larger rectangles make larger pyramids for bodices and skirt pieces.

(Comment below if you’re interested in a tutorial, I’ll post one!)

So it all gets used up and recycled in my studio in one way or another :) If I have random scraps of fabric, that’s a great time to put a podcast on and play a game of fabric jigsaw to use these small pieces of curved, weird shapes of fabric to make up a rectangle.

As an aside, I’ve just started season 4 of the ‘Great British Sewing Bee’ - yeah, I’m terribly behind! - and I saw that Rumana also has the same kind of pattern weights, which also look like they’re made from scrap fabric! Which is basically just a sign that we need to be friends :)

What do you think? I’d love to hear your tips for zero-waste sewing and pattern cutting, so leave me a comment and let’s share ideas!

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