Fashion designers try out “Zero Waste Design”; welcome to our world


Zero Waste Design. Sounds impressive. According to an article in the Sunday New York Times, fashion designers are trying to avoid wasting fabric. Doing that requires designing patterns that fit in a sort of jigsaw design, thus using the least amount of fabric necessary. This fall, Parsons, the New School for Design, will offer its first course in zero waste design.

Oh my. What will they think of next? ‘Scuse the sarcasm, folks, but we old-style seamstresses in small town America, have been zero-wasting our fabric since our mothers and grandmothers (and maybe even some granddads) learned to place and replace our pattern pieces until they fit just right so as not to waste an inch of fabric. We even learned to use odd pieces of fabric for those facings that wouldn’t be seen from the outside.

Sorry, Sandra Erickson (founder and director of the Center for Pattern Design), contrary to what you think, this is not an “idea whose time has come.” This is an idea that has been around for years — you’ve just discovered it might work for high fashion. Not that we aren’t glad you’ve decided to join the rest of us who have been creating clothing with what we have and recreating new designs from old clothing (i.e., vintage wool coats discovered in attics and thrift shops). We’re happy you’re thinking more carefully; just don’t suggest this is a “new idea” from high end designers.

Lest I sound too snarky, I should point out the fact that the article did admit that history does suggest that we little folk have been using zero waste design since way back when. But that admission is hidden farther down in the article than most readers will read….little journalistic trick.

A few weeks ago, while leafing through some old photo albums, I found a photo of my mom standing somewhat self-consciously in a long white dress (well, it was a black and white photo, so I assumed the dress was white). It was, she said, her senior piano recital dress. She’d fallen in love with the fabric, which had tiny flowers on it, the minute she saw it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite enough fabric left on the bolt. Somehow, though, she managed to work her magic on the fabric; the dress looked perfect to me.

Reading the Times article prompted me to dig through my cedar trunk for two tiny coats. The smaller of the two is made of  tan wool with brown velvet collar and brown velvet-covered buttons. When I was little, my mother made this winter coat from an old one that she could no longer wear. Rather than throwing it out, she recycled it into something new for me.

About 20 years ago, while taking a tailoring course, I was left with a nice piece of fine red wool. It was just enough for a coat for my youngest daughter so I took a clue from my mom and finished it with black velvet-covered buttons and black velvet collar.

According to the Times article, Parsons’ students will learn to use scraps of fabric to design patches, curlicues, and other enhancements to clothing items. Indeed, they may learn to use the larger scraps to create a whole new item of clothing. Imagine that.

Zero Waste Design. Truly, not an idea “whose time has come” but an old idea made new. We’ll just let them think it was their idea.

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5 responses to “Fashion designers try out “Zero Waste Design”; welcome to our world

  1. One of my favorite photos from childhood is of a coat that had been made from my father’s great coat – and my mother’s velvet jacket…..
    Good memories – and some giggles too! Thanks!

  2. Pannabecker Steiner Mary

    Always glad to provide some giggles…

  3. not to mention that ironclad quilt made from old band uniforms…

    • Pannabecker Steiner Mary

      Ah well….more to come…the sequel that involves you getting dressed up in something this weekend. 🙂

  4. this whole article reminds me of Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors”.

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