Modern low-waste pattern cutting

Zero or low waste pattern cutting refers to the technique of cutting a sheet of textile material in a way that the least amount of fabric is lost. The benefits of this way of creating sewing patterns – both for commercial publishing or family sewing are easy to imagine: you send less matter to the landfill. You save money by using the most of your fabric. And so on. 

Yet for those of us who like to sew and also dabble into pattern-making, we know that what you take off from your piece of fabric is exactly what gives shape, movement and personality to a final garment. 

Many older garments that were traditionally made at home, such as peasant shirts and blouses, kimonos, fishing pants and so on, are based on squares that are shirred, gathered or tied at the waist. Not much was lost. Pieces of the garment such as pocket linings were used to patch the garment as it deteriorated with use. These garments have many advantages, but, unless made from thin gauze, they are also boxy and heavy. It’s not a look everyone loves. 

Monk in Chiang Mai, Thailand by

Making a sewing pattern requires an understanding of body measurements and movement. It also requires knowledge of sewing. 

Flat pattern cutting involves creating and manipulating a block to create various volumes. Draping on a stand, form or real body is another way to create sewing patterns. 

Fashion designer Julian Roberts uses a process he invented called subtraction cutting which allows him to create organic-looking, voluminous shapes with less fabric waste.

“I design in patterns, rather than in vague illustrative drawings, which would usually become reinterpreted by other skilled cutters. My process involves designing not the exterior, not the front, back or side; indeed, there are usually no side seams to my garments (after all, do humans have side seams?). Instead, I design the interior space of the garment that the body travels through. This approach results in forms that are difficult to predict, requiring an intimate relationship between designer, hand, cloth and body. (1)” You can see more of Roberts’ and his students’ work on his Tumblr website:

Timo Rissanen is another professor, writer and fashion designer dedicated to exploring low waste pattern cutting techniques:

Interested in trying some zero-waste pattern-making and sewing yourself? Here is a zero-waste robe pattern you can make, complete with step by step instructions:

Is waste an issue when you sew, choose or design sewing patterns?

Have you made anything low or zero waste lately? I’d love to hear about it


(1) McQuillan, H., Rissanen, T., & Roberts, J. (2013). The cutting circle: how making challenges design. Research Journal of Textile and Apparel17(1), 39-49.

Can this post be improved? How? Let me know so we can create better inspiring, sewing-related content for everyone. 

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