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No-Waste and Zero-Waste Designs

Green efforts and great style meet in these winning garments
Threads magazine – 160 – April/May 2012

No-waste is a movement referring to a collection of endeavors aimed at reducing the environmental impact of clothing manufacture. One design approach strives to create garments from patterns that produce no leftover fabric. Not only does this process eliminate manufacturing waste, but it also redirects the silhouette in a way that is often deliberately minimal without sacrificing style.

Threads’ 2011 design challenge to the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals embraced this concept. As anticipated, the entries included everything from spiraled pants and frisky sundresses to a highly structured, elaborate evening gown. Finalists walked the Portland, Oregon, runway at ASDP’s annual conference in October 2011. Here’s a look at the outstanding award-winning entries, along with their amazing no-waste patterns.

Members were asked to design a complete garment with at least the main piece producing no waste whatsoever. Fifty percent of the challenge was based on the pattern design and the other fifty percent on the finished garment. Participants were asked to emphasize the cut of cloth and the resulting three-dimensional garment as opposed to using surface design to consume excess fabric. They were also to consider the mass production potential in terms of speed, efficiency, and fashion relevancy. Pattern and garment designs were judged on the best solutions for the challenge in appearance, fabric use, assembly, and finish.

The jacket is self-lined silk crepe in a feminine and elegant style. The bog coat, considered to be one of the oldest garment styles, is certainly au courant in this ensemble.

Best Overall No-Waste Design and Construction

Patricia Robison

The versatile dress bodice can be tied in different ways for various styles—an open halter, an asymmetrical one-shoulder, a crossed halter, and more.

Patricia Robison set out to create a bias-cut dress with a fitted bodice and draped skirt, and a soft and stunning coordinating jacket. The dress is assembled from four 45-inch fabric squares; three make the skirt and waist inset pieces, and the fourth square makes the bodice and pocket pieces. The jacket is a single pattern piece, slashed and folded as a basic bog coat, but with unexpected lapels. This traditional jacket design in 16 momme silk crepe is beautifully executed and lined with self-fabric.

The dress can be tied and worn in a variety of ways to change the silhouette.


Best and Most Original No-Waste Design Jacket

Joyce Hittesdorf

Joyce Hittesdorf explains that, “I wanted to create an outfit for a current mother of the bride or groom but without the typical, everyday structure. The jacket is influenced by the Japanese patternmaker Tomoko Nakamichi, and the skirt has a strong tie to (Madeleine ) Vionnet as well as Erté (Romain de Tirtoff).”

The process of designing to eliminate waste also produces new and interesting silhouettes.

Both pieces in this ensemble were designed with one essential pattern piece. The jacket is cut on the fold, and the pattern design makes the hem edges terminate at a point in back and on the sleeves for dramatic effect. The skirt is a long rectangle used with the grain parallel with the floor.

The fitted jacket includes underarm godets with shaping from darts and tucks. The chiffon selvage edges from the skirt fabric form the jacket closures, and the skirt is tucked and draped to fit and resemble a cocoon.

The pattern sketch above shows how the fabric is shaped with darts, gussets, and an undersleeve to make this stunning jacket. Iridescent silk chiffon in one piece is draped to form the perfectly coordinating skirt.

Peplums made a major fashion statement on the spring runways. Here, a peplum expands the hipline and supports the skirt.

Best No-Waste Design Engineering

Sylvie Privat

This dress presented an unexpected silhouette, and the judges debated whether a zero-waste design can make lavish and abundant use of fabric. They concluded that zero-waste couture in an abundant expression should be applauded—zero waste is not about the fabric you use, but the fabric you don’t waste.

Sylvie Privat combined steam molding and the characteristics of bias-cut fabric to shape her fabric. She achieved the skirt volume by using a Balenciaga construction technique on the bodice, sewing six rows of heavy horsehair braid under the peplum to create the impressive puff of the skirt. The dirndl skirt uses 3 yards of purchased ribbon-embellished silk organza. She achieved the bustier fit by gathering and steam-molding wool felt strips over the bodice. Then she cut 1 12 yards of silk organza into 2-inch-wide bias strips to lap and wrap around the bodice for the overlay. The bodice has a back insert and laces with a satin ribbon.


This dress epitomizes simplicity. Two asymmetrical tucks in the top fabric layer, one at the bustline and the other at the hip, add interest and movement to the dress.

Best Column Made from a Tube

Debby Spence

The wedges removed from the top end of the fabric form the straps and ties. The ties are weighted with beads.

The competition featured several dresses based on a column silhouette with a tube construction, but this was the most organic. It seems to form itself. The fabric choice is brilliant for this design, as the subtle ombré coloration in the 3 yards of olive silk georgette accents each detail—from the lighter hem to the twisted and weighted ties over the shoulders. Multicolored beads weight the shoulder straps and echo the bodice design detail.


The triangular pieces cut to form the armholes were then used to make the regal neckline—held up and shaped with a drawstring.

Audience Choice

Ann Vidovic

Ann Vidovic turned 9 yards of cobalt blue silk chiffon into a timeless gown with a face-framing neckline, four-layer blouson bodice, and a three-tiered (six layers) skirt. She folded the 9-yard length of fabric at the hems and necklines rather than seaming or hemming the panels. Consequently, the raw edges are all caught in the waistline, and the fabric endures minimum cutting. Moreover, with only one center-back seam from the waist to midleg, this column is a tour de force of understated chiffon mastery and construction.

Fold the fabric into three tiers, depending on the desired skirt length, using the foldlines as the hems and catching the raw edges at the waistline.

Judith Neukam is Threads senior technical editor. For more information on the no-waste design  movement, see Threads articles “No Waste Allowed” (no. 149) and “Zero Waste” (no. 155).

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