Sewing With Zero Waste: Topic Overview

Sewing With Zero Waste

Hi Everyone! Welcome to the topic, Sewing With Zero Waste. You might be thinking, "How do you sew without scraps? Is it possible?" Yes, you can! Not every time, but there are ways to do just that is the pattern is designed with "no scraps" in mind. Over the course of this topic, we will show you a few examples of zero waste designs; then we will wrap things up with a fun look at using those little scraps and turning them into cute design features!

The topic will be divided into 4 parts:

  • Part 1: Topic Overview and an in-depth look at what Zero-Waste Sewing is all about.
  • Part 2: Sewing The  Envelope Shrug
  • Part 3: Sewing The Hooded Bog Coat
  • Part 4: Got Scraps? Turn your scraps into unique and interesting fabric!


What is Zero-Waste Sewing?

Zero-waste fashion is when a garment (or accessory) is made without producing excess waste, with the purpose of making the most of the piece of fabric and reducing the amount of fabric that ends up in landfills. 

The history of zero-waste fashion has risen in popularity in western culture in the last five years, but its extent is much further back historically. We can see examples of zero-waste ingrained in ancient cultures through garments like the Japanese Kimono and the Indian Sari. Both of these cultural garments are essentially cut as rectangles and then draped and manipulated to become their more recognizable forms.

For most of history fabric has been expensive and difficult to come by, which made people want to maximize it’s use to get the most out of their money. This is essentially the mindset of zero-waste fashion. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution when this mindset changed. People began to mentally devalue textiles when they could be produced more quickly and economically. It became more acceptable to waste things and not use every last inch of it when it didn’t cost an arm and a leg to procure it.

This mindset was amplified with the rise of fast fashion in the 1980s. Fast fashion refers to the apparel industry’s ability to quickly produce garments that are cheap and on-trend but shoddily made, horrible for the environment, and, more often than not, made by an underpaid and underprivileged labor force. Fast fashion is made to be worn today and thrown away as soon as the trends turn over.

Sustainability (and with it zero-waste fashion) has become a valued attribute in the industry because our landfills are quickly overflowing with fast fashion.

The Shocking Stats: It was estimated that in 2015 over 15% of fabric used in the commercial fashion industry ended up in landfills. Seeing as the commercial fashion industry uses approximately 400 billion square yards of fabric, that’s about 60 billion square yards of fabric deemed unusable in one year. This doesn’t even account for the amount of fabric that is thrown away by the consumer after they deem a garment unusable or unwanted. It’s estimated that Americans throw away on average 14 million and 17 million tons of clothes and textiles. Fabric in landfills can/will take up to 200 years to fully disintegrate and in the meantime let off greenhouse gasses and can leak chemicals and toxic dyes into our ground water systems. EEK!

The Industry Response: In the last five years, the prominence and importance of sustainability has risen in the fashion industry. Zero-waste fashion has been a major development within the sustainable fashion movement in the last several years. Because the goal of zero-waste sewing is to use less fabric to create less waste, it is both environmentally friendly and economical to the consumer.

How Zero-Waste is Achieved: There are two techniques for utilizing zero-waste strategies: zero-waste design and zero-waste production.

  • Zero-waste design is used in the design and cutting process of garment construction. The type of pattern pieces that are required and how they are cut can be crucial to creating a zero-waste (or at least less-waste) project (see optimization of cutting section).
  • Zero-waste production is implemented when a zero-waste strategy was not used in the design and/or cutting process and there are leftover scraps (see upcycling section). The ways to create zero-waste or reduce existing waste are infinite with just a little creativity and ingenuity!


Achieve Zero-Waste Through Upcycling

Upcycling is the foundation of the second zero-waste sewing strategy, production. The concept of upcycling comes from the ability of taking something old and breathing new life into it. This can be done by adding patches, reusing fabrics, and turning scraps into new projects. In order to make upcycling zero-waste, use already existing materials instead of searching out new ones. For example, using the fabric from old bedsheets to create unique garments is a great way to upcycle. If you have a shirt that you no longer wear but you can’t donate it because of a stain or hole, use the remaining good parts of it to create new garments for your doll. If you made a project and still have leftover scraps, turn them into headbands, purses, or even underwear!

You could even use those leftover scraps and piece them together patchwork-style (kind of like a quilt) to create a one-of-a-kind textile to use on a pattern. Watch for our demo of this concept in Part 4.


Achieving Zero-Waste Through Optimization of Cutting/Placement

The first major part of zero-waste sewing is zero-waste design. For those of you who are fans of jigsaw puzzles this is a challenge you will love! An easy way to create zero waste (or at least less waste) is to optimize your fabric through pattern piece placement when using a standard pattern. Patterns nearly always provide cutting guides at the beginning, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to follow them. If you can find ways to tweak the placement of pieces to save space, then you can produce less fabric waste. You can even try cutting in a single layer rather than on the fold, thereby fitting more pieces in while still following the grainline. Try selecting a non-directional or a two-way directional print as these would allow you to place pattern pieces in different directions (upside down for example) so that you can better interlock your pattern pieces together.

If you’re not using a standard pattern and are using a specifically zero-waste pattern, then placement and fabric choice become all the more important. A zero-waste pattern is typically made so that you only use a certain-sized rectangle of fabric. Some patterns have you cut out pieces with no scraps leftover, whereas other patterns might just have you cut seam lines into the rectangle. Either way, fabric print will be important! In order to make the garment not look off-kilter, choose a non-directional or a two-way directional fabric (although a non-directional print would be best for the latter type).

Watch for us to demonstrate this concept in Parts 2 and 3 with the Envelope Shrug and Hooded Bog Coat pattern designs.


Looking for a project to sew this week?

Here's a simple project to get you started! With one long rectangle cut into a few smaller sections, you can create a cute little bolero style cardigan for your doll! Follow along to see how.


Show your doll some love by making her this fun little sweater. It goes together super fast, and all it takes is just five rectangles...

The tiny heart patch is an added embellishment, feel free to leave it off if desired.


Suggested Fabric: You can use a stretch lace or a lightweight knit -- but in any case, your fabric needs to stretch a little to be sure it'll fit right.


Cut ONE long 4-3/4" tall x  24" long rectangle.

Cut it into these five rectangles:

One for the back, 4-3/4" x 8"

Two for the front, 4-3/4" x 3-1/4"

Two for the sleeves, 4-3/4" square

And, optionally, some little hearts, circles, or other shape out of coordinating fabric if desired for the elbows.

To hem the Center Front edges, press under one long edge of each front piece 1/4" twice, to form a double-turn hem. Topstitch in place.

Pin the fronts to the backs along the top edge. Make sure you have right sides together, and that the hemmed edges are facing each other.  Stitch, and then zig-zag along the entire edge (including the un-stitched section of the back).


Press both seams to the back, and then also press under 1/4" along the un-stitched back edge in between the two fronts. This will become the back neckline. Topstitch everything down nicely.

Next, hem one edge of each sleeve. If you're using a stripe like me, go ahead and hem one of the edges where the stripes meet it vertically -- that way the stripes will be oriented in a nice direction on the finished sweater. 

You can also stitch your little heart applique down at this point too, place it centered on the sleeve.

Opposite the hemmed edge, mark the middle of each sleeve with a pin. 

With right sides together, matching the pin to the shoulder seam, pin and sew the sleeves to the sweater body. Zig zag or serge over this seam when you're done. 

With right sides together, fold the sweater in half at the shoulders, and pin and stitch the underarm/side seams. 

Finally, hem the lower edge. Give the sweater a good press, and then style it into your doll's wardrobe! Share your projects with us, we'd love to see them!



Next week, in Part 2 we'll take a look at sewing the Envelope Shrug. 



August 13, 2021

Love this topic. My mother was upcycling way before it was fashionable. I’m so glad I paid attention. I only purchase new material if I absolutely have to.


August 11, 2021

Yay! This is exactly my sort of topic. I’ve used scraps to make doll clothes since I was a little girl, and always save the scraps from that for quilts. Lately I’ve really gotten into using unwanted clothes to make doll clothes. You really can find the best deals on fabric that way, and little girls’ clothes provides the perfect scale print! Around here the thrift shops throw everything that isn’t sold into the landfill so I don’t feel guilty about upcycling thrifted clothing. My only problem is storage—the clothes are taking over!


August 07, 2021

I’ve been SO stingy with my scraps AND fabrics, my family LAUGH at me! I have been using saved clothing and I go to thrift shops, Goodwill, yard-sales to find unique things that I either couldn’t find in fabric stores (although the internet has just about taken that out-of-the-picture as you can find most anything if you hunt for it!), or could not afford to buy! If I don’t have enough fabric, I’d piece some together and create my OWN. Now, they call that….“Couture”?
Once, I used a little girl’s out-grown clothing to remake her AG dolls HER clothes so Santa could bring them. 😊 I am SO pleased with some of my items I’ve made! )(pat myself on the back, here!)….I have taken apart belts that have beadwork on them, to use as trims on my doll clothes. I started sewing at 8 and when I was 10, my Grandmother taught me to make a jumper on her treadle sewing machine. When I was 12, I asked my Father for a sewing machine for Christmas. He thought it was funny, but he stated years later, it was the BEST investment he’d ever made! THANK YOU Pixie Faire Team for all you do! LOVE IT! Sincerely.

Sharon R Collins
Sharon R Collins

August 06, 2021

I learned to sew in 1971. I wasn’t A fan but learned enough & took classes to sew for my daughter. In 1997 I remarried & got a new machine from my husband. Taking classes showed me a new way of looking at pattern layout. I learned about make it do. I know my mother used scraps to make doll clothes for my dolls. So did my grandmothers. They used scraps for quilts. I did learn about no waste or your piece wasn’t quite enough for the required yardage. The ladies who taught me that are gone now but I do remember what they taught me. I worked for a sewing shop & learned more there. I don’t need my bishop dress for my brands to be to their ankle. That saves on fabric. You can always learn from others who sew. Especially those who own the shops for smocking, embroidery, & other special types of sewing. Of course, they cost lots of money for a smoked bishop with lots of billions! I learned long ago that with the little fabric they have you can still get your dress of choice, usually. I saved clothing from an aunt to make doll clothes & add pieces to a quilt for my kids. I also have saved clothing to cut up for doll clothes & quilt blocks. I dream of making my own patchwork na let & purse!

Marian Peoples
Marian Peoples

August 06, 2021

This is a subject that I have worked to hone over the years. I was raised on the old saying “waste not, want not” You are right; I consider every pattern to be a puzzling challenge to “get the most stuff in the least space” (A bit like putting on spanks). Love this topic!

Marcy Mahle
Marcy Mahle

August 05, 2021

Wow I am shocked at the amount of fabric that goes into landfills. Would be wonderful to recycle it and more important to try and not waste what we use. We truly are a throw a way society. Our ancestors use to never throw things away and would find ways to fix broken items. We must do better.


August 04, 2021

I’m so excited about this topic! I love it when I can use scraps or clothing to create something else.
I remember my mom giving me a stack of clothing she didn’t need and letting me create doll clothes from them when I was 12 in the late 60’s. I had so much fun with that!
I have quilts made by my husband’s grandmother and she used every piece to full advantage-cutting off grain or stitching two tiny pieces of the same fabric together to get a large enough piece to make the block.
My mom recently told me her step mom would use the top side of cotton picking sacks to make towels for the family when the bottom side of the sacks were worn out.
Thanks for this topic! I love the cute sweater!

Lisa A.
Lisa A.

August 03, 2021

I love this topic! I do a lot of upcycling for doll clothes sewing, so new ideas for this will be fun. And can’t wait to see what I can do with all these teenie tiny scraps that seem to multiply overnight!

Kathy W.
Kathy W.

August 03, 2021

This is a great topic! “Cutting to advantage” my mother called it back in the day. We followed the cutting diagrams unless we could do it better. Her fabric stash was full of scraps, but I could only use the smallest pieces for doll clothes.

This topic comes at such a great time for me because I was thinking of giving away some of my scraps. Thanks again for this topic.


August 03, 2021

I love this topic! I have been upcycling fabric from human clothing (think little purses from jeans pockets and headband covers) since I started sewing, and have been applying those lessons to my doll clothes sewing. I’m excited to try some of the zero-waste projects because, well, zero-waste, and because they look cute, fast and easy to sew, as well.

There’s a fun show on Amazon Prime right now called “A Stitch in Time” in which they reconstruct period garments, and this is one of the discussion points – fabric was not wasted unless the wearer was intending to signal wealth (think of folds and folds of fabric on a sleeve, for example). Even then, the way the pattern was cut out of the fabric reflected the fact that fabric was expensive, and tailors economized when possible. Everyone else patched things up and kept using clothing items.

I was fortunate to find that my local thrift shop does recycle fabric scraps as long as they are separated from clothing pieces.

Leave a comment