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Zero Waste Pattern: How To Create One Using Adobe Illustrator

How To Create a Zero Waste Pattern using Adobe Illustrator - The Creative Curator

Zero Waste Fashion (PT4): How To Create A Zero Waste Pattern

Today we are running through how I create a zero waste pattern, using Adobe Illustrator. Last week we looked at the reasons why zero waste fashion is so important to me, which was part 3 of the zero waste fashion series.

The week prior we looked at the zero-waste dress workshop I assisted with, alongside pattern cutter Franki Campbell and Charlie Ross of Offset Warehouse. (Part 1)

There is also a podcast episode talking through 9 ways we can be more sustainable when it come to fashion creation (Part 2).

Techniques For Creating A Zero Waste Pattern

There are several ways I know of to create a zero waste pattern, and I’ll give an overview here:

  1. You can use a CAD (computer aided design) program such as Adobe Illustrator to create a digital version of your pattern.
  2. You could take your piece of fabric and drape it on the body or model. Using pins and scissors, you need to ensure that anything cut off is used within the garment to be a truly zero waste pattern.
  3. You could lay the fabric out flat, and use a ruler, measuring tape and scissors to develop a ‘flat’ zero waste pattern directly in fabric form.

This week we’ll look at the first method – using a computer design programme to create a digital version of your pattern.

CAD Programmes For Creating Zero Waste Patterns

If you were a fully fledged design person, you will most likely have access to digital products such as Gerber and Lectra. These systems cost hundreds of £/$ and are out of budget for anyone starting out developing their own digital products.

One programme that is used often, is Adobe Illustrator. Although Illustrator is the computer programme I use, there are others out there that don’t require such a monthly financial commitment.

Getting Started Creating A Zero Waste Pattern

There are some basic notes you need to have made before you start creating a zero waste pattern:

• The length of the piece of fabric you intend to use, if it is already in your stash

• The width of the piece of fabric to be used

• The type of fabric: knit or woven? (This will affect the seam allowances)

• Fabric Attributes

• Relevant body measurements

Length of Fabric

  1. Check the cut edges of your piece of fabric – are the cut edges square with the selvedge edges?
  2. Start by measuring how long your piece of fabric is, now that everything is squared off.
  3. Note down this length.

Width of Fabric

  1. Measure the width of the fabric, including the selvedge edges. To be truly zero waste fashion, these edges will be used in some way!
  2. Note down the width.

Type of Fabric

This is really important. Zero waste patterns have the seam allowance factored into the design, to ensure that there is no waste. The type of fabric you choose to use will affect the pattern layout.

• Knit fabrics are usually sewn with an overlocker / serger which would typically sew with a 7mm / ¼ inch seam allowance.

• Woven fabrics have a much more flexible seam allowance – the dress I made during the zero waste dress workshop had 1cm seam allowance on the side seams, and between 3 and 5cm on the centre front and centre back seams, which when turned became neck facings.

Fabric Attributes

This is another important consideration as the fabric attributes will affect how the fabric reacts to the pattern.

  1. Is the fabric light weight which some drape?
  2. Is the fabric heavier and offers some structure?
  3. If it is a knit, is it stable or super stretchy?
  4. Is it a fabric that frays easily and requires enclosed seams?
  5. Is it a fabric with no grain that can have unfinished seams and hems?

Relevant Body Measurements

If creating a pattern for yourself or someone you know, there are certain measurements you will need to know in order for the pattern to be successful.

• Widest girth measurement – this could be bust, hips or tummy

• Centre front length – if it is not a top, you will want a minimum length to not be indecent!

• Head measurement – If there is no placket with buttons or other fastening, the head will need to fit through an opening.

Setting Up The Illustrator File For Your Zero Waste Pattern

Start by creating a document that is the same size as your piece of fabric.

Setting Up Adobe Illustrator file - Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

For my example, the fabric was 110cm wide and 206cm length, so I created the artboard with these dimensions.

I also wanted the pattern to be printable so I made is in CMYK, even though it would eventually be printed grayscale.

Once the fabric dimensions were in, I enlarged the dartboard slightly so you can see the fabric dimensions outlined in pink.

Fabric Size Outline - Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

Marking In Your Initial Lines

Dividing the length of the fabric in half gave me a measurement of 103cm and this worked well as an overall length for my body.

Deciding Front And Back of Zero Waste Pattern

I applied a line the full width of the fabric to start with, at 103cm from the cut edge, so that my length of fabric was separated into two. This is the dotted grey line.

Initial Lines - Centre of fabric - Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

Deciding Centre Front And Centre Back

I then divided the fabric in half lengthwise, so that I would know where my centre front and centre back would be. This is again represented by a grey dotted line as it will theoretically be a fold line rather than a seam line.

Setting Centre Front and Centre Back - Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator



Creating a neckline was important so that I could get my head in and out of the garment.

I took my head measurement of 56cm and divided it by 2 to get an idea of how big the neck opening needed to be. This wasn’t super accurate, as I knew the neckline would be a shaped cut out and that were would be plenty of space for my head to fit through. The blue line is half the measurement of my head diameter.

Plotting The Neckline Opening - Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

I opted for a slightly tear dropped cut out neckline, thinking I would then use the cut out as sleeves. I also had the back neckline extend lower than the front.

The Teardrop Neckline - Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

Garment Width

As mentioned earlier, it was very important that the main width of the garment allowed for my widest body part. My hips are definitely my biggest girth measurement, varying between 104cm and 110cm depending on the time of the month, and how much bloating I have.

I created a rectangle that was twice as long as my neck to low waist / hip measurement, and half as wide as my total hip width. I also included an amount of seam allowance on what would be the side seams to ensure that it wouldn’t be too snug on my hips.

The Bodice Section - Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

The width for the bodice ended up being 55cm for the front and then 55cm again the back (106cm ÷ 2 + 4cm seam allowance).

Dividing Up the Remaining Fabric

Clearly much was still needed in the way of using up all the fabric! I decided to get experimental and connected the four corners of the bodice rectangle to the four corners of the fabric piece, forming two pairs of trapezoids to play around with.

Dividing Up The Remaining Fabric - Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

To be fair, the pattern now looks like an internal room, with a large tear drop window on the back wall! 😉

The Neckline Waste

When I cut out the neckline shape in Illustrator, I knew I wanted to do something interesting with the excess. With one end longer and more pointed than the other, I decided they could make rather interesting cap style sleeves, if attached correctly.

I divided the teardrop cut out in two length ways, forming two identical longer halves.

Splitting The Neckline Up - Creation The Sleeve - Dividing Up The Remaining Fabric - Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

First thing to do was measure the straight edge of the half teardrop shape and write the length down. I would need this for notching the main bodice section.

Notching For The Sleeves Splitting The Neckline Up - Creation The Sleeve - Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

I then pondered the direction of the sleeves. Would the dress look better with the longer slanted sections towards the back of the dress or the front?

I ended up opting for them pointing towards the front of the body, so they would look a little more subtle. You can see the planned placement of the sleeves by the greyed out area.

Planning the location of he sleeves - Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

The Sleeve Ruffle

The next step was to divvy up the remaining fabric along the sides of the main bodice section. I had pondered on adding ruffles as I had a feeling the dress would feel a little Vivienne Westwood / Alexander McQueen because of the tartan and I was keen to go a little funky for that reason, and make the most of it. Ruffles seemed perfect!

Creating the Sleeve Ruffle - Create a Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

I made sure that the width of the two steps were not too wide nor too narrow. The strips were longer than the perimeter of the curved edge of the sleeves so I knew the kind of proportion I wanted based on excess length.

Skirt Hem Ruffles

Having added strips for sleeve ruffles it seemed only fair that I did the same for the hem of the skirt which would be attached to the bodice to form a dress. I measured the remaining width of the fabric from the selvedge to the edge of the sleeve ruffle, and divided the width in two.

Creating the Skirt Hem Ruffles - Create a Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

This would give me a total of four long and wide strips to ruffle up and add to the hem of the skirt, though the skirt shape was yet to be decided!

Adding Seam Allowances To The Zero Waste Pattern

Something that requires some pre-planning when creating a zero waste pattern is the seam allowance amounts. This is why it was so important to decide upon the fabric type at the start, so that we could factor in a little allowance as we went.

Adding Seam Allowances - Creating A Zero Waste Pattern - The Creative Curator

This image shows all the different seam allowance amounts added in ‘roughly’.

The Skirt Option

By this point, I still hadn’t decided what was happening with the two trapezoid shapes at each end of the pattern / fabric. One edge of the shape matched perfectly with the hem of the bodice, yet it seemed a tad dull to have a perfectly matched seam.

I decided instead to flip the trapezoid shapes and have the wider edge seamed to the hem of the bodice section, forming a waistline of sorts.

Deciding on the Skirt Effect - How to Create a zero waste pattern - The Creative Curator

I added in gather information along the edges of the fabric at the width ends. Although I had written that those hems were to be gathered to 55cm (in order to seam perfectly with the hem of the bodice section) I did leave it open.  by adding in pleats instead, I could give the skirt a tulip shape effect at the waistline.

Labelling The Pattern Sections

The pattern is only really ready for printing and testing once it is clearly labelled. In the image below you can see that I have labelled the sections which are open to confusion.

I should also have added on the size of the pattern and the date, amongst other things.

Naming Sections - Create your own zero waste pattern - The Creative Curator

Once the pattern is complete, it is a good idea to print a half scale version and make it up in paper before printing out at full scale. The act of doing this helped me see that my neckline was actually too big, and the sleeves would constantly be slipping off my shoulder.

Solutions To Problems

The joys of working on the computer is that it is easier to spot solutions to pattern cutting problems. There are several possible solutions to the sleeve falling of the shoulder scenario:

  1. One remedy is to make the neck opening narrower, which would alter the perimeter of the sleeve edge, which would affect the ruffle.
  2. Add some fabric suppression to the front and back shoulder so that there is less fabric hanging off the shoulder point.
  3. Add a narrow rouleau strip to the back neck to fix how much the sleeves can fall off by. This will however require narrowing the skirt hem ruffles to create enough fabric to create the rouleau strip.

Shall I Make It Up Then?

I created this pattern in the run up to the zerowaste dress workshop back on May 6th, and talked about the pattern too in the lecture I gave, as well as to several people afterwards.

I have the fabric set aside, and the pattern has been modified and printed at full scale. Theoretically it should fit me. Shall I make it up when I return from Denmark? Knock it up as we say?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


Share it out to others!

Terri Kiplinger

Sunday 4th of July 2021

I'm so grateful for the window into your process. I hope you are inspired to offer a little elaboration, eventually, but I like the repurposing concept alot too, so follow your bliss. Just wanted to say thanks.


Tuesday 15th of September 2020

This is difficult for me to envision. Couldn't you at least show a sketch of the finished garment?

Eve Tokens

Wednesday 30th of September 2020

I'm so sorry - I didn't have time to create a sketch at the time and it's actually quite a time intensive process keeping everything up to date here, so I do my best in all regards, but sometimes, I can't manage it all. If I do get time to make a sketch, I'll ping you a message! :)


Saturday 20th of October 2018

Thank you so much. I am thinking to work on zero waste fashion and this was really helpful! I don’t know if you had made it or not, but I hope you did! sounds like an interesting garment. (I have found you on pintrest)

Eve Tokens

Friday 26th of October 2018

Hi Sareh, I'm so glad that you found this helpful! Unfortunately, I haven't yet made up the pattern! Need to sort finding a new printer so that I can. I have recently been focusing more on refashioning - taking old garments, or clothing from charity shops / thrift store and creating them into something new and wearable. It feels like a great way of honouring the work of the person who originally created it, even if it was in a mass production factory. Would be great to see any zero waste fashion you create... do you have a blog? Best, Eve


Friday 9th of June 2017

Thank you for a very interesting walk-through of the process.

I've been considering investing in Illustrator, but Valentina looks very interesting too! I would love a post where you go through all the different CAD options.

Eve Tokens

Wednesday 14th of June 2017

Hi Kara! Thanks for your comment. I plan to focus on a more in-depth walk through for creating sewing patterns in Illustrator, later on in 2017. I will see if I can get access to other CAD programmes ready for then! :)


Wednesday 31st of May 2017

A programm, that is not quiet a CAD program for a pro designer, but enough for me to make my personal patterns is There is some learing to do to actually make a perfect pattern with it, but I prefere it to pen and paper and my inability to draw.

Eve Tokens

Wednesday 31st of May 2017

Oooh, thanks so much for the recommendation Lotta! Being an Illustrator user for many years, I have now got the knack of using it and haven't really tried other viable programmes because of this. I'll be sure to compile a list of other alternatives and will add them into the post. Thank you! :)