Zero Waste Sewing – Pattern testing extended size of ZW Cropped Shirt

Pattern: Birgitta Helmersson ZW Cropped Shirt sz 2

Fabric: Black washer finish cotton from The Selvedge Society – 157cm wide

Buttons: Coconut shell buttons – KATM

I have been super intrigued by the idea of zero waste sewing for a while now. With each sewing project there has always inevitably been scraps, even if you try to be diligent when buying fabric for a pattern, most patterns will add that little bit extra to the fabric requirements anyway. I didn’t quite understand the joy that having to clean up zero scraps following a sewing project would bring. When literally every single piece of fabric has a purpose and a place, it feels like pattern magic.

I put my hand up to test the new added sizing (size 2) to the ZW cropped shirt. Cruising through the hashtag, there are mostly straight sized sewists in the top, and it seems difficult to know what the limits of the new sizing are. The pattern doesn’t necessarily recommend a certain amount of fit or ease that should come with the garment, only saying that the sizing will go up and down depending on the width of the fabric. It’s recommended that the size 2 tops out at a bust measurement of 128cm/50 inches, which isn’t extensive, and from the outset will exclude many sewists. Perhaps there is a solution that would include more sewists that uses the length of the fabric instead of the width and cut single layer instead of on the fold…IDK. This was why I also wanted to use the widest fabric I could access to test just how oversized this top could be. I used some black washer finish cotton which has a stiff finish that holds the shape quite nicely, but next time I might try something a bit softer. With the fabric at 157cm wide I think the finished top is a bit too oversized for me, but I’m hesitant to alter as that ruins the whole point of zero waste! Next time I would probably go for 145-150cm wide fabric and I still think it would have enough ease for my 118cm bust.

The marking out of the pattern was quite straight forward, I will say it made it much easier having a set square ruler to get those really accurate lines. I did however have little moments of confusion in the construction. There is a lot of information to process when reading through the instructions and so I gave myself time to read everything thoroughly. This doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes! I had to back track a little when I made the armhole too narrow for the sleeve band, and the triangle side inserts just didn’t make sense until the 5th read.

It’s all trackies and slippers these days at home!

Maybe my brain struggled a bit to think outside of regular pattern and construction methods. Another possibility may be that I am so used to being surrounded by scraps of fabric waste that I couldn’t see the bigger picture for what was a simple assembling of mostly rectangles. I’ve never been in a sewing workroom that doesn’t have scraps strewn across the floor, a clump of threads under chair legs, or a waste bin overflowing. Most patterns will also add that cautious extra 20cm just in case, and sometimes you are left with the oddest and most useless shaped cut out that there would be no use in keeping.

But zero waste patterns make for a very clean and intentionally thoughtful process, where every piece of that 1 metre fabric has a purpose and a place. I call it pattern magic, but it’s also just a really simple and satisfying concept to bring to clothes making.

The statistics on waste in the fashion industry are extreme. In terms of fabric consumption “About 15% of fabric intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor. This waste rate has been tolerated industry-wide for decades.” At home we have the ability to creatively repurpose our scraps, but for fashion companies profiting from mass production it’s impossible to see them making the necessary changes. More statistics on waste in the fashion industry on this page.

It’s worth saying that I was not paid for the pattern testing. This was the first time I’ve done pattern testing. I wanted to try the process before I made any judgement on what it would be worth. There was no request for social media posts, just a number of questions relating to the sewing instructions and the overall final fit. During the process I took detailed notes when I didn’t understand instructions and made suggestions of what might be said instead or added to improve the flow.  Whilst I enjoyed the pattern testing and realised that I am quite good at it, I will not be rushing into it as quickly as I did here. What I did was work, and I don’t work for free. I did find joy in learning the process of making a zero waste garment, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I was providing a service to a business that may well result in profit for them. Again these are my personal thoughts, I understand pattern testing can be undertaken for a number of reason, and under the right circumstances I will give it another go.

I commend Birgitta for dedicating serious brain power to this project and coming out with a super cool, zero waste garment at the end. I can only hope this will extend even further in sizing so that more sewists can experience the joy of a zero waste project. 

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