art · Creativity · Memoir · Sewing

Zero Waste (Awesome) Fashion

It’s been kind of a sluggish week creatively for me. I didn’t really get much done, except for a few sprinkled hours of knitting here and there.

Craving a bit of inspiration, I am looking back and remembering a fascinating talk I attended earlier this year at the de Young Museum. The lecturer was Holly McQuillan, a fashion designer and educator from New Zealand, whose main career focus and research is on sustainable fashion design practices.

Her number one rule: zero waste.


I very rarely purchase my clothing brand new. I try very hard to either make or thrift my clothes, because I know that millions of tons of clothing ends up in a land fill every year in the U.S. What I didn’t realize was that there are millions of tons of excess fabric being thrown away each year in the fashion and textile industry as well.

Holly McQuillan is trying to spread the word and create environmentally friendly alternatives. She uses a zero waste pattern cutting approach, where each garment pattern she designs utilizes the entire piece of chosen fabric material.

For instance, this piece of fabric…


…can become a pair of pants similar to these.


With a big constraint like zero waste, you can imagine that she’s become very creative in how she sews seams. Here you can see a close up shot of one of the pant legs, where she has sewn a special flat seam to join pieces together. This eliminates the need for seam allowances in her design.


And here’s another example piece of fabric that became a jacket.


And a third sample of a blouse design.


It was a real treat to be able to examine her samples up close. Not to mention, it was mind-blowing that each one was sewn from a single piece of fabric. Not a scrap wasted.


In the next few photos, you can see a slightly different flat seam, which was sewn digitally. It’s more decorative and open like a lace but still very functional.


During the lecture, Holly was wearing one of her own prototype dress designs and was nice enough to pose for a few shots. She explained that she used a kind of acrylic paint to finish the sleeve edges of the garment.


I don’t have a lot of experience with garment design, but as a (sometimes) seamstress I still find the whole zero waste process very exciting and motivating.

Holly McQuillan has a book out, Zero Waste Fashion Design, which is very helpful in explaining the overall zero waste design process and even how to create your own garments step-by-step. I highly recommend it.

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