How to adjust a zero waste pattern

It’s not always easy to do an adjustment on a zero waste sewing pattern. This is because the whole cutting layout IS the pattern, and the shared cutting lines mean that if you change one piece, the pieces around it will be affected.

There can be a hesitancy to make alterations because “it won’t be zero waste anymore”. However, I really want to squash that thought! It’s always better to make a garment that fits properly and looks good, otherwise you’re just creating a different type of waste.

An alteration to the pattern might mean that it’s now low waste instead of zero, but you’ll still be streets ahead of a conventional pattern, scrap-wise.

For some patterns, the designer might have suggestions for you if you need to alter it. More and more, I’m making my own patterns with wider side seams, deeper hems, layouts that are flexible for making changes, etc.

Case Study: Optimatium dress

The Optimatium dress is a pattern I made for Tauko magazine last year (issue 9). Some parts of it can be altered successfully and still be zero waste.

Here’s the cutting layout. You can see that it’s easy to change the length without affecting zero waste – you just add in or fold out through the middle.

If you wanted to lengthen the sleeves, the pocket bags would become smaller, but as these are in-seam pockets it’s not a big deal – the pockets could cut in a different fabric if they became too small.

What if you were really tall (or had a long torso) and needed to lower the waistline? You can see this would make the collar longer and the cuffs more frilly. This may look fine or the collar and cuffs might need to be trimmed. If the latter, the waste is still very minimal.

In summary, don’t be afraid to change the pattern to get the best fit for your body, even if it makes a difference to zero waste or the style of the garment. The garment might now be minimal waste instead, but it will almost certainly still consume less fabric and make less waste than a conventional pattern.



  1. Adele on February 13, 2024 at 12:35 pm

    I love the look of this pattern and the way it can be seen as a development of the tesselated dress in your zero waste sewing book. I made the dress from the book ages ago and happily have just found the single pattern piece I drafted to help me cut it out accurately.

    • lizhaywood on February 13, 2024 at 4:51 pm

      Yes, it IS a further development of the tessellated dress from the book, well spotted 🙂 Thanks for making the book’s version.

  2. Linda Lester on February 14, 2024 at 4:22 am

    Wow great suggestions. I bought the issue of Tauko with a view to making the opttimatium dress but on tops i always have to make big belly alteration as I have a modest bust but a huge belly and I don’t want it to be tight and obvious there. My figure is basically a tall barrel with legs. Should i put fewer pleats in the top?

    • lizhaywood on February 14, 2024 at 12:01 pm

      Hi Linda, the dress splays out from the underarms in sort of an A-line shape, so it could be a good shape for you. The pattern has the finished waistline measurements listed (page 82) so check that against your size. You can make the waist a bit bigger if you leave out the front waist darts (= fewer pleats), and there are 2cm side seams to fine-tune the fit. You can also “try on” the paper pattern with the waist seam pinned together to get an idea. If you’re stuck, I’m here to help!

  3. Belinda Stafford on February 14, 2024 at 8:46 pm

    Thank You! so adjusting for length is one thing, and I’m short, (163cm or 5’3″) but increasing the bust room? how do I do an FBA? please!!!

    • lizhaywood on February 15, 2024 at 11:11 am

      That is a good question. You can add a bust dart at the side of this dress. I did this on a G-cup test fit model when I was making the pattern. You choose a size to fit your bust measurement + ease, so that the garment will fit around you. The sewing order is designed so that the side seams are sewn almost at the end, so you can try the dress on and add darts for a perfect fit. The side seams are wide (2cm) to accommodate the angle of the dart in the side seam. The front hemline will be higher, resulting in a high-low hemline, which you can leave or trim.

      • Belinda Stafford on February 19, 2024 at 2:12 pm

        Thank you!

  4. Alison Marshall on March 1, 2024 at 5:54 am

    That is really fantastic and truly reassuring that you can make pattern adjustments. The layout of the dress in Tauko is fascinating and gorgeous to behold. Thank you. A xx

    • lizhaywood on March 1, 2024 at 2:53 pm

      Cheers Alison – the ease of making adjustments on zero waste patterns varies with each pattern, but definitely something zero waste patternmakers are aware of 🙂

  5. Alison Marshall on March 1, 2024 at 6:39 pm

    Hi Liz

    What if your fabric has a nap or a pattern tat needs to be the same way up for the back and the front?

    A x

    • lizhaywood on March 2, 2024 at 11:48 am

      Yep, this pattern doesn’t work for napped or directional prints, because the front will run in a different direction to the back. It might be that no-one will notice or it might be too obvious.
      You have pointed out one of the biggest issues I encounter with zero waste patterns (not all zw patterns, but a fair few). I know this happens to some conventional patterns too, but much less. With zero waste patterns, the cutting layout IS the pattern, and being able to top-and-tail pieces with each other often helps them fit together better.

  6. Nancy Winningham on April 7, 2024 at 10:03 am

    I love working with zero waste patterns and this one looks very interesting. My problem is that I need a forward neck adjustment. Otherwise, I am tugging my front down all day long. I haven’t yet found a way to do this without affecting adjacent pieces. Since many ZW patterns have grown on sleeves, this makes it even tougher. I’d love to hear if anyone has suggestions.

    • lizhaywood on April 7, 2024 at 2:56 pm

      Hmm…it’s definitely a case-by-case situation for whether particular zw patterns can be adjusted.
      I think this one could have a forward neck adjustment done to it although as you say, grown-on sleeves make it trickier, and it might end up minimal waste (but still very minimal).
      Open to anyone else’s thoughts in the comments.

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