What is zero waste technology?

In today’s world with too many fashion collections being produced to this world, with poor qualities and wasteful resources, drastic changes must be made. While fast fashion brands hold the most responsibility, small brands need to lead the way and bring focus to problem areas. There is no point in creating even more waste and more problems. One way to reduce pollution is to choose the most sustainable technology when making garments. There are two ways to do so – zero waste and cut and sew. I will give you a short overview of both methods and how it works in woven and knitted garments.

1. Cut and sew method – woven garments

If you want nice-fitting trousers like the ones in the picture below – it’s inevitable that you need some shaping and therefore more fabric waste is left over. Fortunately, in this example, the woven fabric is 2-directional which means you can place the patterns both ways along the warp direction (the length). Producing this kind of fabric is more sustainable compared to 1-direction fabrics (e.g. velvet and 1-direction prints) where you cannot flip the patterns to minimize the scraps. Usually the good cut and sew efficiency of woven garments in factories are around 80% (so 20% goes to waste). The bigger the quantity, the better. In smaller factories, the percentage is smaller, around 70%. 

This has been one of my tasks on a job years ago, using a special program to place the garment patterns on fabric layout for maximum optimization and taking into account fabric type, how many layers can the factory cut at once, and how many sizes to place. For example, square details do not need space between like on the picture. Mostly the programs have automatic layout placing but it’s not always reasonable.

Trousers’ patterns on a woven fabric. Cut and sew method.
2. Zero waste method – woven garments

If you think of a Japanese kimono, then this is the most famous product of zero waste method. All details are square-shaped and the whole fabric has been used. Even the long-hanging parts on the sleeves have not been cut out. Or an Indian sari where a big rectangular fabric is wrapped around the body. These products have been here for centuries. Now that the materials have become more affordable and production industrialised, there are endless choices on how to create clothing. And of course, our bodies are not rectangular and more construction needs to be done.

This zero waste pattern of a jacket is next level (see below). A fabric of 140×190 cm has been used to the maximum. Most fabrics come in standard widths (usually 150 cm) which are the focal point for the constructor to start calculating the pattern. There are so many creative designs out there made in zero waste patterns but it is a tough challenge. I am not saying everything in this world has to be produced in zero waste where the body disappears in the fabric but it is super important that a designer knows some basic construction so the product development comes easier – he/she knows the fabric widths, the directions, and fabric repeats. And if possible, makes adjustments so the fabric waste would not be too big. 

Zero waste jacket by Laura from Elbe Textiles.
3. Cut and sew method – knitwear
Ok, back to my beloved knitting. If you are lazy, you can just knit a big rectangular shape of the fabric, place the paper patterns on top of it and start cutting! But thankfully it is not primarily the case. The better version (not good still) is that you knit rectangular fabrics of the garment detail measurements, put paper patterns on it, and cut only some areas into shape.The cutout parts are neck holes and armholes in the picture example. Next, you attach details with a linker, a sewing machine, or by hand stitch. The reason to use the cut-and-sew method – it is faster. The machine knits it from bottom to top at the same speed and later you just need work labor to make it a garment.
Front and back details of a vest. Orange zig-zag parts represent cutouts.
4. Zero waste method – knitwear
Now, this is how I make garments. I shape the detail while knitting – increasing and decreasing needles on the knitting machine. In the dress example, the fitted sleeves need the most shaping and depending on the stitch technique, I need to pause after every 1-4 rows to adjust the needles. It is a lot of pauses. In the neckline area, I first knit one side of the neckline and then the other. At the end of the shoulder lines, I use waste yarn to knit a few rows off the machine. After linking the shoulders together, I take off the waste yarn, wind it back into a ball of yarn and use it again.Using the cut and sew method on sleeves would be really wasteful. When in a 2-directional woven fabric you could flip one sleeve upside down so the side seams run parallel, then knitted fabric is 1-directional. No flipping here.
Pattern details of the Night Garden dress with straight shape body and fitted sleeves.
Night Garden dress in size L weighs 1000 g and waste 0 g (picture below). Obviously, it is not 0 g precisely because you can see the waste with your eyes, but my kitchen scale could not identify more digits on it. I try to leave some ends of the yarn longer to strengthen the tension spots. And in other parts, after weaving in 5-7 cm of the ends, I cut the extra off. Still, this is the best you could achieve in zero waste knitting. Compared to zero waste patterned woven garments, some parts go to the dust bin as well – like selvage (an edge to prevent the fabric from unraveling) and thread ends. 
Product weight vs waste weight on a kitchen scale.

Technology is evolving all the time and seamless knitting is becoming more popular. This can only be done on special industrial machines where the whole garment is produced 3-dimensionally. These garments need no sewing. Seamless technology requires more technical skills from designers and programmers, and right now not that many impressive designs have come out from there. But as I said, it’s evolving. 


There you go! This is one way to tackle the polluting fashion industry. I urge all garment makers to choose the most sustainable production method available for you and start from there.

In the following posts, I will give an overview of other choices one can make in making fashion more environmentally friendly.

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