Zero-Waste Sewing: Intro

This is the first post of a series taking you behind the scenes of my pattern design and cutting process. I want to share how all pieces at Syra Brownlock are made.

Sewing is one of the most incredible hobbies and one of my biggest joys, as is running this brand. But I can’t advocate for a zero-waste world and a sustainable supply chain if in the process of making clothing with organic materials, I wind up wasting tons of it in the production.

Fashion, at least in the way it’s been made until quite recently, can be incredibly wasteful. Some of the methods we use in conventional pattern design, cutting, and in clothing construction, are largely unchanged from 100 years ago, if you can imagine that! Considering all the innovations in other industries, and everything we know about the environmental and social impact of our consumption, we really should do more.

Take this example.

These are the random misshapen bits left over from pattern cutting, like the curve under an arm, or the small squares in between pieces. Every pattern you buy has a preferred layout - the way the designer recommends you plan, cut and place your pattern pieces. This is how most patterns for trousers will recommend you lay it out. Just look at all of that waste.

15-20% of fabric used in clothing ends up on the cutting room floor.

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Enter zero-waste sewing.

All my patterns are specifically designed by me to be space efficient, and to fit snugly next to each other on a piece of fabric. As much as possible, I try to make the process a jigsaw, so there are no random bits of leftover fabric like above. (I owe a lot to conventional pattern houses since they’re the ones I learned to read patterns from and everything, and I admire their heritage but come on.)

Sometimes this means using geometric pattern pieces. Sometimes it means using other scraps from other fabrics in the design - like the upcoming Ayu kimono-style top, which features a contrast waist belt made from fabric scraps.

Ayu also features geometric designs that fit into each other. The piece below is for the back for example, and I squeezed the pieces for the front around the back piece.

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This means carefully - and I mean carefully! - considering the design and construction of every piece on this site. There’s also a lot of thinking during the cutting process. Measure twice, cut once, and all that.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of trial and error with the paper patterns and at the design stage, but once I start cutting that’s it - I’m committed!

I have to be completely certain when I cut into a piece of material, because I deliberately buy exactly what I need for that piece and nothing more.

If for nothing else than I’ll be damned if I have to put the coffee down, pause the podcast, and go back out into town. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Sometimes this means only one or two of the largest pieces are cut at a time, then I unfold the material to carefully cut the other pieces out of what’s left.

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That’s how my latest top, Ayu, is designed for example. I cut the back pieces first, then the front, then the longer strips for the sleeves and belt loops out of what remains.

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This is all that was left out of the 1.4m of fabric I bought for the Ayu sample piece. All of these scraps will go into tote bags I’m making for customers who order their own bespoke clothing - the ‘Reserved’ pieces! Or I may just make some more pattern weights like the ones in the first picture!

So you know when you buy something from Syra Brownlock, that your fabric and all the materials that went into the piece are sustainably-sourced, can be traced back to their origin, and that there’s absolutely no textile waste in production as well!

Coming up next: zero-waste sewing (toiles/muslins!)