As it happens: designing a zero waste top (part 1)

zero waste top toile cut out

Many pattern designers and authors, including moi, like to keep their projects under wraps until it’s ready to show.

Often it’s to stop someone pinching their idea before they bring it to fruition, but sometimes it’s because they aren’t sure of the outcome or how long it’s going to take.

Over the next several weeks I’m planning to design and make a zero waste top and share the process with you.

I guess there’s a possibility someone could take the idea, and I’m certainly not sure of the outcome, but I can say it usually takes me about a month to produce a pattern (although I’ve done it in less time). Blogging about it weekly is sure going to add a bit of pressure but I like a challenge, especially a patternmaking one 🙂

The starting point is an idea, which takes the form of a potential cutting layout rather than a sketch of the finished garment. I had an idea for a simple sort of top with a hood – here it is in my trusty sketchbook:

zero waste top idea

It’s accompanied by other little notes like this one:

zero waste top idea with notes

This idea may or may not work, but I thought it over for a few days and decided to give it a try.

Zero waste clothes are designed a bit differently from how we usually design fashion. Instead of starting with a fashion sketch, the design emerges as the pattern is made. [You may enjoy reading Making a zero waste pattern and 7 challenges of zero waste patterns for more about this.]

The next step is to try out the idea in fabric. Usually I work out some measurements and draw it straight onto the fabric, however, this time I drew it on paper first. I used a basic block (that fits me) as a guide to getting the size right. I’ve been surprised at how often I refer to a block to get “minimum” measurement for necklines, armholes etc.

The pattern needs to have the seam allowances in it.

zero waste top planning on paper

Then, after more note-taking, I drew it onto fabric and cut it out.

zero waste top toile cut out with text

You can see the original idea has been tweaked already: the hood is squared off at the head instead of curved, the body is longer than the hood, and there is spare fabric for a pocket. The hood is actually too narrow for a person’s head and needs changing.

I’m using woven fabric, rather than a knit, for this top. This is curtain fabric from the op shop; it’s about quilting cotton-weight.

I pinned the top together to (carefully!) try it on. Here’s a quick photo. I should mention that beige is a terrible colour on me!

zero waste top toile pinned

It needs some work but I think it has potential. It might look like this when it’s finished:

zero waste top sketch

Over the next week I’ll sew this top properly and work on resolving some of the pattern issues. Please come back next week!


Read Part 2 here.


  1. Phyllis Bremner on July 21, 2020 at 10:23 am

    This top looks like it will be comfortable & easy to wear .Looking forward to seeing your posts .

    • lizhaywood on July 21, 2020 at 10:37 am

      Thanks Phyllis!

  2. Adele Fletcher on July 21, 2020 at 2:59 pm

    I thik the colour looks great on you – on my screen it’s showing up as having a mustard tint rather than a neutral beige.

    Incidentally, I have just cut out a version of the tesselated dress pattern in your book. I’m looking forward to finishing it but I’m still playing with some tucking/gathering on the sleeeves (in my head at least).

    • lizhaywood on July 21, 2020 at 7:42 pm

      You have a very flattering screen – mustard is an improvement.
      Many thanks for trying the dress. Please send a report when it’s finished!

  3. Kim on July 21, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    Thank you for showing your process. I would love to see if I can convert any of my favourites into zero (Or at very least minimum) waste patterns. This will definitely help

    • lizhaywood on July 21, 2020 at 9:33 pm

      Give it a go! I find it difficult to make a zero waste pattern if I have expectations of the outcome, but if you’re prepared for something new you can use your favourites as a starting point – decide which parts are “non-negotiable” and which parts you’re prepared to change in the quest for zero/minimum waste 🙂

  4. Donna on July 21, 2020 at 6:20 pm

    Hi Liz! Thanks so much for sharing your process, especially as it’s normally a closely guarded secret. It’s fascinating to me to see how the mind has to work to create zero waste garments – something to aim for, but it might take more than a lifetime! I pretty much sew exclusively knit/jersey now, so would love to try this out for a casual hoody!

    • lizhaywood on July 21, 2020 at 7:47 pm

      The brain seems to get used to zero waste pattern exercises and I’ve found the more I do the easier it gets.
      I think this top would be good in knits; might try it out. The body is fairly wide (so that woven fabrics will pull on easily) but I think that’s okay. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  5. Belinda on July 22, 2020 at 7:34 am

    Very interested to follow the design process and watch how you make little adjustments to get the finished product. Looks like it’s got great potential

    • lizhaywood on July 22, 2020 at 9:36 am

      Cheers, Belinda. Think there’s going to be a lot of little adjustments but I’ve already started 🙂

Leave a Comment