What is Zero-Waste Pattern Making? Its History and Pattern Cutting Process

What is zero waste pattern making?

Zero waste pattern making is defined as a technique or method for creating patterns without any wasted textile fabric. We can say the process of altering a pattern so that no fabric is left unused. This special method brings sustainability into the initial stage of apparel product development by integrating pattern cutting into the design process.


The Japanese kimono and Indian sari are two well-known historical examples of zero-waste clothes. Thus, the idea is not necessarily new. A single bolt of cloth called the tan is traditionally used to create one kimono. Two wide body panels, two additional narrow sleeve panels, two thin collar strips, and two more narrow sleeve panels are all made from the same bolt.

A single bolt of fabric is also what makes up a sari, which is worn by women around their shoulders and waist.


One of the creative sectors that have grown throughout the world is the fashion sector. In the world of fashion, there are more and more emerging designers and creative industry actors. It has also grown the textile sector, which provides the fashion sector with raw materials. Both chemical and fabric waste is produced during high-production procedures. To avoid contaminating the environment, this fabric waste must be handled properly. Every season, clothing companies introduce their latest designs.

By not disposing of textiles or clothing, you can reduce environmental pollution. One method is to create garment patterns that produce “zero waste”, or no leftover fabric. The number of outfits purchased and the amount of fabric waste from the sewing process may both be decreased by using this clothing template, which is undoubtedly simple to make and construct even for regular people.

The planner, manufacturer, and, to some extent, the pattern maker is responsible for determining how well fabric yardage is used. It is quite improbable that a fashion designer would be concerned with the use of fabrics in the existing method of garment manufacture. The best use of cloth is not typically considered while designing a garment; instead, designers typically follow trends, fashions, etc.

Yet, even if the designer does consider fabric usage at the conceptualization stage, it is not one of the key considerations. A design change can be suggested to reduce the amount of cloth used during the pattern-making process. But a pattern maker can only make so much, as the placement of all the pattern pieces with their grain lines on the length and width of the fabric is quite difficult to visualize. As a result, once the pattern reaches the marker-maker, it is both directly and indirectly confined by the designer's original conception and the parameters provided by the pattern-maker.

Related read: Zero Waste Garment Designing for Your Projects

Zero-waste pattern-cutting process:

The ZWPC process often begins with certain fundamental guiding concepts, like the type of garment and the fabric's width. In this procedure, fashion designers work within the confines of the fabric's width to make clothing using the pattern-cutting technique. Consequently, rather than the traditional sketch, the pattern-cutting process itself now influences clothing design. Pattern cutting is thus the main factor in design. The width of the fabric is a crucial factor in the ZWPC approach to garment design and fabrication. Without knowing the width of the fabric beforehand, a zero-waste garment cannot be designed or produced. The designer uses the fabric's width as a blank canvas to create a zero-waste garment.

Zero waste duffle coat
Fig: Zero-waste duffle coat by David Telfer (Slash technique)

According to Japanese fashion designer Tomoko Nakamichi, a square zero-waste pattern need not be a poncho, for instance: “I began making patterns for garments, starting with the circle, then the triangle and the square…When you wrap these shapes around you, the excess fabric flares or drapes elegantly…Geometric figures can produce beautiful shapes.”

Two popular methods are directly draping geometric designs on the drape forms or creating clothing patterns with pockets, cuffs, collars, gussets, and trims that join like a jigsaw puzzle. Yet, there are other ways to manufacture zero-waste clothing. Similar to traditional pattern-cutting processes, there are no set rules or guidelines, with the exception of one: after the pattern is cut, there should not be a single scrap left on the cutting room floor. This strategy aids in removing millions of tons of waste annually in the form of fabric off-cuts. ZWPC has restored a connection between fashion designers and producers and two centuries-old ideals. Due to the fact that fabric is a finished good in and of itself, as well as the fact that the pattern cutter occupies a more important position in the traditional hierarchy of clothing design and production.

Related Article: Traditional cutting room workflow in a garment factory.

Zero waste pattern cutting (ZWPC)'s limitations:

1. It's challenging to create zero-waste clothing by sketching. The vast majority of fashion designers are unable or unwilling to specify how a piece of clothing they have created will be constructed. This is a significant setback because the ZWPC procedure relies on in-depth expertise in pattern cutting and garment fabrication.

2. In addition to the prior statement, the majority of designers (not just fashion designers) picture materials within a straightforward two-dimensional structure. The simplest form of fabric might be suspended like a curtain, or it can be molded into a three-dimensional form as a chair cover or possibly a dress. They prefer to perceive materials along a single visual plane. In contrast to the relatively simple fashion design practice, where the 3-dimensional shape almost usually entirely controls the 2-dimensional pattern, the practice of ZWPC does call for a more nuanced mediation between a 2-dimensional pattern and a 3-dimensional form.

3. The ZWPC method frequently receives criticism for the lack of aesthetic control a fashion designer has over a zero-waste garment. The development of a creative, marketable, and desirable garment style is a significant difficulty noted in ZWPC. The clothing should also be stylish and modern without being overly theatrical. This is a problem that needs to be solved because the cutting technique largely determines the design of the garment. Customers favor clothing that is conventionally styled. Here, "typical" refers to items that are considered classics or in fashion right now.

Advantages of ZWPC and potential workarounds for its drawbacks:

1. While each cutting line divides at least two pattern pieces, the ZWPC technique has the economic benefit of making pattern cutting relatively quicker. Although it is seen as desirable, traditionally designed clothing rarely has many shared cutting lines, or what is known as a "shared cut line." Cutting a garment with 20 pattern pieces typically takes longer than cutting a garment with 10 pattern parts. Yet, because the cut lines are shared, cutting a zero-waste garment with 20 pattern pieces is quicker than cutting a conventional garment with the same number of pattern pieces.

2. Also, the expense of managing fabric waste and disposing of it afterward is either diminished or eliminated.


ZWPC has the ability to fundamentally alter the fashion design industry and its impact on the environment, but the limited understanding of the relationship between textiles and form restricts how the issue is tackled.

Traditional fashion design education is not offered worldwide with the ZWPC idea. Intuitive and imaginative thinking about both the design process and the final appearance of the garment is required for zero-waste garment design. In order to train a new generation of designers who are proficient in ZWPC, active teaching methodologies should be devised and put into practice. Last but not least, ZWPC, which is directly related to sustainability, may serve as a catalyst for highly creative collaboration between the design and cutting teams, finally leading to a manufacturing model for the fashion industry that is both financially and commercially successful.


Harjani, C., n.d. Fashion Creativity in Zero-Waste. Advances in Social Science, Education, and Humanities Research, Volume 423.

Bhati, M. (2011), Basics of Pattern Making, Fashion article on fibre2fashion.com

Kumari, P. (2017), Zero–waste fashion, International Journal of All Research Education and Scientific Methods (IJARESM), Vol.5, Issue.6.


Analysis of Zero Waste Patternmaking Approaches for Application to Apparel (link.springer.com)

About the Author: Susmita Sarkar is pursuing a master's degree in Fashion Technology at National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi, India. She has completed her B. Tech in Apparel Production and Management from GCETT, Serampore.

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