Every Little Bit ~ Betz White on Zero-Waste in the Sewing Industry

on April 24 | in Sewing Trends | by | with 22 Comments

Betz White is here today for Digital Delivery Sewing Month with some information about the zero-waste trend in the sewing industry. Betz knows all about the green movement as it relates to the sewing industry; she is the author of the popular Sewing Green: 25 Projects Made with Repurposed & Organic Materials and Betz White Make New or Make Do™ Sewing Patterns. Betz also has a line of Betz White Organic Textiles, and she can repurpose a sweater in truly amazing ways!

We’re pleased to offer 20% off all Betz White PDF Sewing Patterns in the shop. Felt a sweater of your own (or use wool blend craft felt) to create a Springtime Sewing Set, some Sweet Shoppe Ornaments, Forest Friends Slippers and more!

From Betz: When I went to college for Fashion Design, one of my professors said, “Fashion is evolutionary, not revolutionary.” That saying often comes to mind when I think about how much the sewing industry has evolved, especially in the digital age we live in. The ease and immediateness in which the internet offers us inspiration, information, entertainment and education is mind boggling. With a credit card and an internet connection, we have ability to not only purchase something, but to receive it instantaneously, as in the case of digitally delivered sewing patterns.

Olive Swing Bag

One of my favorite reasons to buy digitally delivered sewing patterns is an environmental one. Electronic patterns save on resources immensely. Since they are “printed on demand,” they reduce waste; there is no stock potentially piling up somewhere, ultimately getting tossed in the landfill after the style has stopped selling. Patterns delivered digitally not only save on shipping costs (versus a hard copy sent from manufacturer to shop, shop to customer) but also saves the environmental costs of freight, i.e.: petroleum, pollution, etc. Digital patterns also reduce material use because they are not delivered in plastic packaging necessary for shelf presence in stores.

Sewing green napkins, photo by John Gruen.

Many of us in the crafting community are well versed in the ways of creating in an eco-friendly manner. Whether we are using repurposed materials, saving scraps for smaller projects or making reusable items like grocery bags or cloth napkins, we are savvy to the green movement.

Another facet of the green movement emerging in the fashion design industry is that of zero-waste. The term zero-waste describes a technique of designing clothes where there are no scraps left after the garment is cut out. Currently the industry wastes about 15% of fabric used in garment construction. Zero-waste designers must truly innovate by specifically engineering their designs to not only look great but reduce waste and, by doing so, even cut manufacturing costs. Sometimes it means creating pattern pieces that fit together like a puzzle, other times it means no cutting but folding, draping and stitching the fabric into shape.

The concept of zero-waste has existed for centuries (think of the Japanese kimono, comprised of a single bolt of a fabric) but the design practice has been gaining momentum the past few years in the United States. In New York, Parsons the New School for Design (of Project Runway fame) offered its first course in zero-waste fashion last year.

Columbia College in Chicago had an exhibit just this month at the A+D Gallery called Zero Waste. (View the exhibit catalog here.)

And designers like Mark Liu and the company Carga Bags base their design philosophies on zero-waste.

As someone that is mindful of the planet (and my wallet!) the concept of zero-waste fascinates me. And as a pattern designer, I have dabbled a bit in zero-waste design when repurposing. I’ve always loved the challenge of designing within constraints that make me stand on my head and wrack my brain. Repurposing an item or constructing something without cutting or creating waste is like cracking a code.

10-Minute Pillowcase Apron

But it doesn’t have to be complicated! To keep the process simple I begin with a basic item, such as a pillowcase. Take my 10-Minute Pillowcase Apron, for example. Just make a few simple folds, stitch a few seams, and you’ve got a new apron. No cutting = no scraps!

Isabella Tote made from a pillowcase.

My Isabella Tote, a style from my Make New or Make Do™ Sewing Pattern collection, uses a pillowcase in it’s entirety. Interfacing and thread are required, but not a scrap of pillowcase is discarded. (Of course this can be made with one yard of fabric as well with very minimal waste). I’ll be experimenting more and offering more low/no waste sewing patterns in the future.

Isabella Tote and Mini Izzy

Zero-waste is just another way we can add “reduce” to our beloved “reuse and recycle” in our eco-crafting habits. Whether we’re purchasing ePatterns online, using organic fabrics or repurposing vintage linens, every little bit helps the planet and the people that live here.

More on the topic:

We’re glad you’re joining us for Digital Delivery Sewing Month!

Today we’re pleased to offer 20% off all Betz White PDF Sewing Patterns in the shop.

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22 Responses to Every Little Bit ~ Betz White on Zero-Waste in the Sewing Industry

  1. Thanks for the site, I appriciate your effort you have put in creating it.

  2. Margaret says:

    WOW! They look wonderful and very creative. Thanks for the ideas!

  3. Theresa says:

    I have to agree with Amy on the “other times it means no cutting but folding, draping and stitching the fabric into shape.” issue.

    I am really somewhat skeptical of a lot of “green” claims. In “reduce, reuse, recycle” it seems to me that the “reduce” gets either lost or overcast by minor cases of reduction. The big question is, are people willing to buy less, overall? Are people willing to go back to, say, the standards of the 40’s or 50’s, where you had one or two “Good” outfits, a few pieces that could be mixed or dresses for work (or two suits and a few shirts for male office workers) and two or three house dresses/sports outfits? Somehow I doubt this. What we could save by having one less new dress would equal the “Savings” of true zero waste on SIX dresses, and that is just counting the fabric, not the production, distribution, etc.

    This is not to say we should not be trying to use our scraps, or careless about what we consume as sewers. I am a great believer in every little bit helping – a little bit each from a few billion people adds up. However, I won’t believe the larger society gives a REAL feather about this until I see things like people pledging to reduce the number of showers, times they blow dry their hair, etc. Somehow if a woman gets up, takes a shower, blow drys her hair, goes to work, goes to the gym on the way home, showers again, dries her hair again, and then runs home to an air-conditioned home to sew while listening to the TV it does not seem to me that her sports bra being cut with zero waste has made an appreciable impact. Fine if you can do it, but this is not the largest issue in front of us.

  4. Christine says:

    Interesting information. I’ve never heard of zero waste. By the way, I love the Isabella tote. I love most everything that’s purple.

  5. Heather says:

    Oh what a great article for earth week. I can’t wait to see how fashion evolves further with the zero waste philosophy.

  6. Laura says:

    Ideas for the reuse of textiles have been great to see in sewing circles recently – although it’s not a new idea, just a newly cool one. However, digitally delivered patterns don’t reduce waste – all they do is transfer the cost of paper and printing to the consumer. In fact, since most consumers are probably less efficient in their paper and energy usage than a manufacturer doing large runs at a time, any savings of petroleum from not having to warehouse or mail something are probably lost by inefficiencies at the consumer end. It’s important, in my opinion, to remember these hidden costs and resource uses.

  7. Imaan says:

    Great article. Pity the 20% off does not apply to the bag and hat patterns:-(

  8. Brenda says:

    Wow! I love the Isabella tote! It’s such a great idea for a cute vintage pillowcase!

  9. Great article! I hadn’t ever heard of zero-waste in the fashion design industry. That’s an exciting trend! 🙂

  10. Amy says:

    I appreciate the concept of zero waste sewing and get as close as I possibly can in my work. However, I have to wonder if, particularly in the garment industry, zero waste just means using more fabric in a garment (what would have been waste is now folded and stitched into the garment). I’d rather see the 15% of waste fabric donated to some cause rather than having it worked into the finished garment solely for the sake of claiming zero waste.

  11. mb says:

    when i think of zero waste, the fabric scraps are usually the least of my worries. i think of all the plastic thread spools, the plastic notions packaging, the chemical intense processing that goes into making synthetic fabrics and conventional cotton. i love betz for making organic cotton prints more readily available, so that is what i was expecting to read about when i clicked over here, and although i think the zero-waste pattern idea is a cool one, i guess i’m a little in despair that this is not a no-brainer already to people. oh well. if you are looking for any other ideas for how to use scraps, you should check out betz’s blog, she has great ideas, and here are some others: http://earthhuggy.com/news/zero-landfill-business

  12. Chelsea says:

    Thanks so much for the interesting article. I try to be as mindful of my waste as possible in my daily life and have been thinking about it a lot as it applies to my sewing. I only recently discovered the modern quilt movement and have been a bit disappointed by the emphasis on cutting oversized and trimming down that is found in many of the patterns. The ability to obtain near perfect blocks is great, but I hate seeing the wasted fabric. My older books and patterns are more reflective of quilting’s utilitarian past in which not a scrap of fabric was wasted and perfect blocks were the result of years of sewing experience. I know this makes me sound like an old bitty, but I’m not, really! I love the freedom and expressiveness of modern quilting, it’s what brought me back to the craft after years of boredom. It’s just the wastefulness that bugs me.

    So, after a long and rambling paragraph that I’ll be shocked anyone got through, I have a suggestion. I compost all my cotton scraps (fabric and batting). It works perfectly, as long as you’re ok with your compost not being organic. I even throw in thread bits too short too save for hand sewing. I’m going to be starting a machine quilting business and part of my business plan is to offer customers the option of keeping their extra batting and batting or donating them to be sewn into charity quilts or soft toys. And anything really small will head to the compost. Quilting isn’t as low impact on the environment as I wish it were, so with these steps I hope I can make it a little less impactful.

  13. Erin says:

    I’m happy to see zero-waste patterns discussed in the home sewing realm. While cutting out a dress pattern over the weekend, I was debating whether or not ready-made is becoming more sustainable since manufacturers making thousands of one item can be so much more efficient in layout. I would love to see more patterns developed with focus on zero waste layout.

    @KathyH: Some uses in my arsenal: Crazy and cathedral window quilt blocks; Shred and use for stuffing; Use as interfacing/interlining (particularly flannel, canvas, taffeta, and organza); Doll clothing; Pockets, appliqués, rosebuds, and other trimmings. I have a dedicated bin for scraps that I can fish through. It’s amazing how often they come in handy when easily accessed.

  14. Seanna Lea says:

    These are lovely ideas. I’m trying to be better about not producing waste in my crafting, though I admit that I save bits and bobs for orts for the birds during nesting season.

  15. Ammie says:

    Lovely post. Thanks for the fabulous insight as to how digital patterns prevent landfill waste and all of the inspiration to create zero-waste items!

  16. Limor says:

    I hate throwing anything away. This has become the main motivator in my sewing endeavors. I love using every last bit of fabric, most of which I purchase at thrift stores. It’s much more challenging to sew following this type of philosophy, but it forces you to be more creative and is very satisfying.

  17. Alethea says:

    I also hoard fabric scraps and I don’t know what to do with them, especially since they don’t even remotely match and therefore are useless for most scrapbuster projects.

  18. Celeste says:

    Really great ideas, loving this website, sewmamsew is my homepage website. Im just a sewing newbie.

  19. Melany says:

    Great post and a lot to think about. Betz White is so inspiring!

  20. Maya says:

    This is a great post! I really like the zero-waste idea.

  21. April Doyal says:

    awesome article. I guess I’d never thought about digital delivery patterns being a zero waste thing, thank you for the new eye opening perspective.

  22. KathyH says:

    I love these ideas. I wish I had more ideas of what to do with fabric scraps. I have a growing pile of them but not so many ideas as to use them up!

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