Zero Waste Fashion is something that I am very passionate about. In this fashion world where exploitation and mass consumption is rife, zero waste fashion is one more way for me to be more sustainable.
Create Your Own Zero Waste Dress
I recently participated in a zero waste fashion event – Create Your Own Zerowaste Dress Workshop – which was organised by Offset Warehouse and hosted at Building BloQs in North London.
Held on May 6th, it was an event I had been eagerly – and anxiously – looking forward to. As well as being one of the sewing and patten making instructors on hand for the day to assist attendees who were sewing the dress (second instructor was the lovely Frankie Campbell), I was also there as one of three zero waste experts to give a lecture on zero waste fashion. Hence the reason for the nerves! 😉
(Disclaimer: Although there was a cost to attend this workshop, both my sewing help and the lecture I gave were provided for free. I was however sent two fabrics of my choice – see below – to test the pattern prior to the workshop.)
The Zero Waste Fashion Dress Design
The zero waste fashion dress pattern used on the day was designed by Charlie, the founder of Offset Warehouse, and was featured in the recent book by Safia Minney – ‘Slave To Fashion’.
The dress design is very simple, essentially four rectangles of fabric for the main body sections, with the remaining fabric cut being used to create pockets, a belt and the lovely shoulder detailing. I had great fun making up two versions before the workshop and dancing around in them on the day. Yes, I did dance. There was music and I had FUN! 🙂
The real work is in deciding how much fabric you need and how you’ll cut your fabric so that it really is zero waste fashion. It is super important to take measurements, and properly measure out the different pattern sections. You can see just how much measuring me did in the photos at the very end of this epic post! 😉
The pattern comes with a guide on how to work this out, and considerations include:
- The measurement for the widest part of your body – See this post on Body Shapes.
- The width of the fabric being used
- How long you’d like the dress to be
I created two versions of the dress, using both woven and knit fabric which was provided by Offset Warehouse, and the reasons for this were varied. As well as testing how the pattern worked on both knit and woven fabrics, I also wanted to test out two versions of laying out the pattern, which was possible with the different fabric widths.
Woven Zero Waste Fashion Dress
This dress was created using a blue cross weave, a fair-wage fabric which was gorgeous to sew on my Bernina. I had 2 metres of it to create my zero waste dress. Considerations for me were:
- At 95cm wide, was it wide enough to get all that I needed out of it?
- Would 2m be enough to cover my tush, bearing in mind I have a longer than average upper body as discovered in this post on proportions
- If I couldn’t get everything out of the amount of fabric, would this affect the overall style when worn?
Jersey Zero Waste Fashion Dress
The second version was made using a modal silk jersey, which my knackered old overlocker loved! I had 2.2m of this and it was much wider than the cross-weave at 150cm wide. Considerations for this fabric were:
- At 150cm wide, how would I use up all the fabric to ensure the finished dress would count as zero waste fashion?
You can see that both fabrics had different elements to bear in mind while cutting and creating.
The Woven Zero Waste Fashion Dress
Using pattern lay plan C for the woven was essential, as the fabric was that much narrower, and with only 2m of fabric, I knew the entire length would be required to make sure the front and back sections were long enough to not be considered indecent when worn!
Planning The Woven Dress Pattern Pieces
- I started by laying out the fabric on the floor and measuring the length and the width
- I had already measured my body and knew that I needed the width of the sections to be 43cm wide.
- Using this measurement I chalked almost the entire length of the fabric 43cm in from the selvedge edge. This would be the right hand side of the dress.
- I then did the same again, measuring 43cm out from the newly chalked line. This would be the left side of the dress.
- I now had 86cm of the fabric used, leaving me just 9cm to work with. This would have to be the belt. Which meant I would have to account for the shoulder channels and the shoulder ties in the dress / fabric length. There was no way I would get pockets out of it too, yet this was ok as I felt that the weight of the cross-weave fabric would look better without them.
- I measured the required amount for the shoulder channels and the shoulder ties, and had these at the edge of the fabric, running the same width as the body sections.
- The remaining fabric would be used for a long belt.
- Finally, I divided the length of the left and right sides in half, again using the chalk to plot out my pieces. I now had four rectangles which would be connected at the centre front, centre back, side seams and shoulder seams to create a rectangular shaped short dress.
Finishing The Fabric Edges
Charlie has included thorough sewing instructions with the pattern, but me being me, I ended up diving into the sewing and doing it my way, and this mostly co-incided with her instructions.
I usually don’t actually overlock – my old overlocker has been around since 2005 and has barely been used – but in the interests of creating clothes using domestic machines that my readers would be using, and not industrial machines, I have embraced my old Brother 1034D and set to work overlocking all the raw edges.
The overlocker handled the cross weave well, and I felt happy knowing it wouldn’t fray away once washed and worn.
The only edges I didn’t overlock were those that were selvedge edges. As this is a zero waste dress, I had to make sure there was no waste, and the only waste from using the overlocker were the overlocking threads and the fluff you gather from using the overlocker with the blade not disengaged. Oops.
Sewing The Seams
Using my Bernina 1008, I set to work sewing the main seams on the dress
- The front sections were sewn together leaving 24cm unstitched as the front neck opening
- The back sections were sewn together leaving 20cm unstitched as the back neck opening
- Shoulders were laid wrong side fronts to wrong side backs and sewn together with a 2cm seam allowance
- Side seams were sewn leaving 37.5cm for the armholes. Retrospectively, I could have made the armhole smaller, but I was loving the shape created while I pinned the side seams on my dress stand.
- I then took the time to finish the armhole. I used a paler thread to top stitch the seam allowance under which gave a lovely effect.
- I then placed the two channels on top of the shoulder seams – wrong side channels to right side of shoulders – and stitched in place. I should have pressed a central line on the channels, but I am a tad lazy it seems! 😮
- I created the shoulder ties, slightly differently to the pattern instructions, as they would have been too bulky using the suggested method. Mine ended up being folded into three and top stitched instead of pulling through rouleau style.
- I then went off tangent from the instructions – yes yes, AGAIN 😉 – and topstitched the ties in place under the shoulder channel where I wanted them to start. Again, it was out of laziness – I don’t have the patience to sit there and feed strips through channels. Sorry!
- Next I turned and stitched the channels over the ties, being careful not to sew the ties in place. They need to be free to pull on and gather the shoulders.
- Once the shoulder detailing was complete, I also topstitched the front and back necklines in the same way I had stitched the armholes, making the topstitching a subtle design detail.
- Creating the belt was easy enough. I connected all the belt sections together using the overlocker to create the length. I then folded the belt in half lengthways and stitched up one end, and along the entire length.
- I did that thing of pulling it through so the seams were on the inside, and gave it a good press. Actually, I didn’t. I was SUPPOSED to press it -it’s on my list – but I simply top stitched the open end and popped it into the ‘done’ bag. Yes, I know, I’m proper rubbish!
- The last thing to do on this woven version was the hem, and I literally turned and stitched a 1.5cm hem allowance, again using no iron and the lighter colour thread, so it was consistent with the armholes and neckline.
Sewing The Shoulder Channels
I’ve added photos here of how I constructed the shoulder channels – as I didn’t follow Charlie’s instructions for this section, it may be helpful to have these for reference if you decide to go off tangent too! 🙂
Final Woven Zero Waste Fashion Dress
Overall, I was so happy with how this dress came out. Once it was given a good press it was gorgeous. I do feel it is a tad shorter than it should be for me – if I raise my arms above my shoulders, it would be classified as indecent! – but I really love the weight and the shape of this version. I did also create the belt form the remaining fabric, but as I am not a belt person, and so I haven’t yet worn it with the dress.
This version will be one to wear in the summer months when pottering around London. Boom!
The Jersey Zero Waste Fashion Dress
For the jersey version, I used pattern lay plan A. The jersey fabric was really wide at 150cm, and as I had 2.2m I knew I could get a longer, drapey version.
Planning The Jersey Dress Pattern Pieces
- I again started by laying out the huge piece of fabric on the floor and measuring both the length and the width
- My body measurements hadn’t changed in the two days since cutting and making the woven version, so I kept to those.
- I started by again using the full length of the fabric so that I could have a longer drapier version of the zero waste fashion dress. I was thinking beach / festival style, mostly because of the weight of the jersey, but also because of the print.
- Just as I did with the woven version, I chalked a line the length of the fabric, ?cm away from the selvedge edge. This would be one side of the dress.
- I did the same again for the other side of the dress.
- Theoretically, the two long sections could be left intact, omitting the need for a shoulder seam – much like the shoulder on the kaftan for my GWEN&SYD collection. I did however continue with the pattern instructions, and cut the long pieces in half width-ways, giving me four equal pieces of fabric.
- This left a VAST amount of fabric remaining. How was I going to keep this as zero waste fashion? 😮
- I edged into the length by cutting the shoulder channel sections side by side. This meant the stretch of the jersey would be going across the width of the channel, rather than the length.
- I did the same with the four ties, working my way down the length of the fabric so that it was as uniform as possible.
- The final piece of fabric was still huge. Thinking about the elements of the lecture I would be giving – incorporating shape and fabric manipulation to work with excess fabric – I opted to cut two large rectangles for pockets, and chose to gather up one long edge of each pocket to have something unique and drapey.
- The remaining fabric was cut lengthways and sewn together to make a very very very long bet / neck scarf. Mission successful! 🙂
Sewing The Seams
With my Bernina not being the biggest fan of knit fabrics, I had to think about the construction. I could overlock all the sections together on the Brother, but then I would have TINY seam allowances and a HUGE BILLOWING dress. Instead, I decided to overlock all the jersey edges and use the Bernina for the seams.
I popped a knit needle onto the Bernina and worked slowly and methodically.
- The front sections of the jersey dress were sewn together leaving 28cm unstitched as the front neck opening – I had this vision that it would be a low cut v-neck, perfect for a bikini or swimsuit underneath.
- Back sections were then sewn together leaving 24cm unstitched for the back neck opening.
- The shoulders were again laid wrong side fronts to wrong side backs and sewn together with a 2cm seam allowance.
- Side seams were sewn leaving 30cm for the armholes so 15cm smaller overall than on the woven dress.
- When it came to finishing the armhole, I chose a different tack. As I had overlocked all the edges of the jersey, I don’t feel that I needed to have a massive seam allowance. I decided to turn under the overlocked edge and zig zag stitched the allowance down, using a matching grey thread on the Bernina. This worked really well.
- Next up it was time to create the two shoulder channels. Initially I planned to have the channels hidden underneath this time, but I realised it would then mean having visible top stitching on the right side of the dress, demoting I wanted to avoid.
- I placed the overlocked jersey channel pieces on top of the shoulder seams – again, wrong side of the channels to the right side of shoulders – and stitched in place.
- I created the shoulder ties exactly the same way that I created the woven versions, except I didn’t overlock the edges this time, which gave a neater finish to the jersey.
- The ties were again topstitched in place under the shoulder channel where I wanted them to start. And as the ties were narrower and less bulky than the woven version, they sat very nicely in place.
- The overlocked edges of the channels were turned under and stitched in place over the ties, again being careful not to sew the ties in place. This was a tad trickier because of the stretchiness of the jersey.
- Once the shoulder sections were done, hand tacked the the folded under facing section in place.
- There was no need to stitch down the neckline with the zigzag stitch as it would have been an untidy finish. Instead I hand stitched in a few places to hold the facing allowance in place.
- As I hand’t made pockets for the woven version of the dress I ALMOST forgot to sew the jersey version pockets. The boyfriend picking up two gathered rectangles of the floor with a ‘what are these Evie?’ was enough to remind me.
- I topstitched one in place, turning under two edges of the pocket but keeping the overlocked edge of the gathered side visible. I love the drapey-ness of the pocket, but am still not sure about the visible overlocked edge. Pocket number 2 still needs to go on.
- The belt was easy enough to create. At multiple meters long, it seems to take forever to stitch together and then pull through, but it works, and the belt could easily double up as a scarf for those windy days on the beach! 😉
- I still need to hem the dress. I had thought to use the cover stitch machine at Building BloQs on the day, but time ran away and it didn’t happen. I suspect I’ll end up either zigzag stitching as I did on the armholes, or invisible hemming by hand. Decisions.
Final Jersey Zero Waste Fashion Dress
Despite my boyfriend’s insistence that its a ‘granny dress’ on me, I absolutely love it. (To be fair, he thinks anything that doesn’t define my waist is granny on me! 😉 )
As you can see in the crazy photo below, the modal fabric is soft and drapes well. The cut of the zero waste dress pattern compliments the fabric so it can be oversized and slouchy, falling in soft folds, and when cinched in with the belt, it has a different feel to it as well.
Further Zero Waste Fashion Ideas
Creating these two dresses got my creative juices flowing. I have been working on a few draped zero waste fashion ideas for my next GWEN&SYD collection, but I am now inspired to try a different approach. I spent time finding out and measuring fabrics I have stashed away, and inputting the dimensions into a file.
I then set to work creating a zero waste fashion pattern of my own using Adobe Illustrator – another dress of course, though I’m not entirely sure the pattern I created will work well with the fabric I chose to use. We shall see. I’ll get to making it up this coming weekend and will post up next week.
Photos From The Workshop
Charlie at Offset Warehouse kindly shared with me the photos that she took on the day. Which is fab, because I totally didn’t think to take photos until the end of the day. Doh. I suspect I may have been having far too much time helping the attendees and dancing mourned in my own version. 😉
Here some showing you the importance of measuring.. Yep. You read that right. Measuring! Zerowaste is all about fitting pieces together so that there is no waste. Which means, LOTS OF MEASURING!
I’ll be back next week with a zero waste fashion podcast episode talking your through the lecture I gave at the workshop.
Til next time…
Eve Tokens (aka The Creative Curator) is a fashion designer, creative pattern cutter and sewing pattern designer.
Eve graduated with a 2:1 in Fashion Design from the University of The Creative Arts in the UK, has a BTEC diploma in Creative Pattern Cutting, a Foundation Degree in Art & Design from Wimbledon College of Art and gained extensive experience in the fashion industry by interning and freelancing for London based fashion brands – Hardy Amies, Roland Mouret, Peter Pilotto and others.
As well as running her own small sustainable fashion brand, Eve has more than 25 years experience sewing and making clothes for herself and family members.
Saturday 18th of June 2022
The jersey version, a winner! Gotta make me one. Or two, why not?
Saturday 30th of April 2022
Thank you. I'm anxious to try these patterns this summer
Tuesday 19th of September 2017
I would ditch the separate channel on the shoulders and just make that shoulder seam wide enough to accommodate the tie. This would work if your fabric looks the same on both sides or you liked the look of the wrong side of the fabric. And, of course, you need to have enough fabric length to accommodate the wider seam allowance.
Sunday 1st of May 2022
@Cindy, That is an excellent idea, I will try that on my next dress!
Thursday 11th of May 2017
I was looking forward to read about your experience with the zero waste fashion event. Both dresses are looking great and you've picked some beautiful fabrics to work with.
Tuesday 16th of May 2017
Thanks Sonja! I loved creating these and will definitely be making more in the upcoming months! :)