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Pattern review: Birgitta Helmersson - Zero Waste Pant Block

I have always loved the almost jigsaw puzzle like challenge that pattern making and cutting brings with it. But zero waste pattern cutting takes that to a whole other level!

While studying pattern making at university I always loved the almost jigsaw puzzle like challenge that pattern making and cutting bought with it. But zero waste pattern cutting takes that to a whole other level. It essentially involves laying out your pattern pieces in such a way as to ensure that no fabric goes to waste. A bit like a game of Tetris. You can even draw your pieces straight onto the fabric using a cutting plan and template, and eliminate paper waste while you are at it.

While I didn’t know a great deal about this approach to pattern making, nor had I had a lot of experience, I certainly loved the challenge it presented. Also it's a more sustainable approach.

It therefore didn’t take much convincing to try the patterns of Birgitta Helmersson, a zero waste designer and pattern maker. I started with the ZW Block Pant, a very relaxed, somewhat tailored style of pant. When you order the PDF pattern you receive detailed sewing instructions and cutting plan, which will guide you through transferring the pattern pieces straight onto the fabric.

I have to say, I love this method of pattern making! This is definitely something I would love to incorporate into my own pattern making practice. So here I share my experience with the ZW Block Pant pattern.


A wrap-up of this review


Birgitta Helmersson, who was previously based in Melbourne, Australia, now resides in Sweden, where she designs and develops zero waste patterns and clothing. Her zero waste cutting plan approach not only reduces fabric and paper waste, but is flexible in that it allows you to tweak the design, patch different fabrics together, and build your skills or refresh old ones.

Birgitta Helmersson's PDF sewing patterns and completed garments are available via her online store, and a number of online stockists across Europe. She also has a studio located in Sweden.

For more on Birgitta Helmersson and her approach to pattern making and design, scroll down to the Additional Resources.


What is included in the pattern?

Once you have purchased your pattern you will be emailed a link that requires you to download a Zip file containing;

  • Cutting plans: This file will include individual cutting plan booklets for sizes XS-6XL. Within these booklets there are detailed measurements of your pattern pieces and notch positioning, cutting steps, and optional pattern piece templates.

  • Sewing instructions: This booklet will begin by detailing all the typical things you would find on a sewing pattern envelope and in a typical pattern instruction booklet, for example:

    • description of the zero waste pattern making method,

    • what is included in your kit,

    • required equipment,

    • seam allowance,

    • preparing your fabric,

    • size chart,

    • finished garment measurements,

    • yardage requirements,

    • notions,

    • sewing instructions.

    • Skirt and colour blocking hack.

The sewing instructions are written in easy to understand language, and accompanied by clear (hand drawn) diagrams. I would recommend giving yourself a bit of time than normal to read through the cutting plan and instructions. While both are easy to understand and follow, there is quite a bit of information to digest, and it can seem a bit overwhelming to begin with. Being new to this style of pattern, I know I read and re-read the documents. But I found once you get started, it becomes fairly straightforward.

In keeping with the zero waste approach, I also chose not to print the booklets. While having a physical copy would of course have been more convenient, I simply set up my laptop next to my cutting space, and found that to work just fine (maybe just extend your screensaver time).


What is involved in cutting and sewing these pants?

The ZW Block Pant sits somewhere in between the beginner and intermediate level. While the sewing of the pants is steered towards more of a beginner level, I would position the cutting process towards more of an intermediate level as there is a little more involved than your average sewing pattern.

When it comes to cutting, here is what to expect:

  • No physical pattern pieces: Except for an optional patch pocket and leg taper template, you are required to create your own pattern pieces. You need to transfer the stipulated pattern measurements onto the fabric using a cutting plan. In a nutshell, you are essentially working with a rectangle and dividing this up into the different pattern pieces. I recommend having access to a long, and right angle ruler that will make the measuring and drawing of your pattern pieces not only easier but more accurate.

  • Measure twice, cut once: I was working with linen that wouldn't necessarily mark easily, so I pinned my pattern pieces in place so I could double check and move anything that was maybe a little out. And yes, a couple of my cutting lines were a little out on the first attempt. Therefore, be sure to check your measurements before cutting your pattern pieces out. You could also draw using tailors chalk or a washable pen straight onto your fabric.

  • Less cutting: As pattern pieces share borders, you are probably going to be cutting less than standard patterns.

What to expect when it comes time to sew?

  • The actual sewing of the ZW Block Pant is fairly straightforward. The pattern will have you:

    • sewing panel lines and top-stitching.

    • attaching patch pockets and a wide waistband before inserting elastic.

    • inserting side seam pockets and long, deep front pleats.

    • tapering the leg.

If you find yourself looking for more of a challenge be sure to check out the colour blocking, pleat or front fly hacks.


The fit

The ZW Block Pant is a super relaxed style of pant, so is definitely more forgiving when it comes to fit than other styles. The slouchy fit is further added to by a dropped crotch, deep pleats and tapered leg.

The inclusion of a rather wide elastic at the waistband is not only a nice addition aesthetically but it is super comfortable, sitting really nicely at the high waist. The use of elastic also gives you the freedom to easily adjust the waist according to your measurements and preferences.


Fabric and notions

The pattern recommends woven fabrics of medium to heavy weight, for example cotton, linen or wool. For me it was a no brainer, I went with a 100% linen fabric that my mum actually gifted to me, that has a nice lived in feel and a subtle texture, providing a nice relaxed look.

It is also recommended to opt for 140-155cm wide fabric. I suggest sticking to this in order to make following the cutting plan that little bit easier and ensure you don’t waste any fabric.

To complete the pants you will also need 5cm wide elastic for the waistband, and (optional) store brought or self made bias binding to finish the edge of the waistband. I personally didn’t bind the waistband edge in order to avoid some bulk. Instead I chose to create a small turn under, which I then edge-stitched, and I found this to also be a neat finish.


Additional resources

Want to know about Birgitta Helmersson or zero waste pattern making in particular? Check out these additional resources.

I just happened to stumble across this two part conversation with Birgitta Helmersson and Zoe Edwards (creator of popular wardrobe challenge ‘Me-Made-May’) of Check Your Thread podcast, and what a treat it was!

Part one, which is episode #54: A Journey to Zero Waste with Birgitta Helmersson, delves into the story of zero waste pattern designer Birgitta Helmersson, and her diverse career, telling of what sparked her interest in ZW design and how she got into producing patterns for her designs

Part two of the conversation, which is episode #55: the Challenges of Zero Waste Design with Birgitta Helmersson, looks at the process involved and some of the challenges faced.

The article Zero-waste design: The Creation of Waste-Free Garments, by Jessica Yen, delves into zero waste fashion design.

The article opens with the reality that “Roughly 15% of the total fabric used by the fashion industry is wasted”. However, zero waste design has the potential to counteract this wasteful approach, through the creation of pattern pieces that fit together like a jigsaw and generate little to no waste, using up leftovers for things like lining, pocket bags etc.

Zero waste pattern making is nothing new, being around for centuries (think the kimono, and its rectangle shaping). As the article highlights, the work of Madeleine Vionnet in some ways laid the groundwork for zero waste fashion design. It has certainly seen a bit of renaissance over the years in order to counteract the wasteful fast fashion movement, and is a great way of addressing the disconnect that so often exists between designer and pattern maker.

The article is well worth a read, as it also concludes with how we as home sewers can employ the principles of zero waste design, even if it is just 1 or 2 ways.

Timo Rissanen, who teaches zero-waste design at Parsons the New School for Design and who is a leading innovator in zero-waste design, features throughout the article, and his book, Zero Waste Fashion Design, written with fellow zero waste designer, Holly McQuillan, is certainly on my wish-list.

Please get in touch or leave me a comment. I would love to know if you found this article helpful. Maybe I have inspired you to give zero waste patterns a go?!

Thanks for reading.

Emma xx

This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions contained on this site are my own. I am not affiliated with any brands, products, or organisations mentioned, and do not receive any sponsorship, payment, or other compensation for any of the content on this site.

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