Normally, I post book reviews on my somewhat neglected personal blog at maryewarner.com (neglected because I spend most of my blogging energy here at The Pragmatic Historian). I’m making an exception in this case because the book I am reviewing, “Zero Waste Sewing” by Elizabeth Haywood, came to me because of this blog.
Those of you who’ve been following along for a while might remember that I was attempting to make a bog coat, which is a coat cut artfully out of one piece of rectangular fabric without any waste. It took me a few tries, but last summer (2019), with the help of Liz Haywood, a pattern maker and sewing teacher based in Australia, I managed to successfully complete a bog coat.
I originally posted about bog coats in November 2018, which is how I met Liz. She left a comment on my blog and I started following her sewing blog, The Craft of Clothes. For a fiber artist, Liz’s blog is a little piece of heaven in that she shares her various projects and explains what worked and what didn’t.
When Liz announced that she was working on a book of zero-waste clothing patterns, I was excited and intrigued. As a historic preservationist, not to mention a fiber artist with far too many bags of fabric scraps, I wanted to know how I can make better use of fabric without creating so much waste.
Since receiving my copy in the mail, I have been continuously flipping through the book, trying to decide which project to make while enjoying the sewing diagrams, which the book is chock full of. If you are a visual learner, as I am when it comes to fiber arts, these diagrams are critical and should save you from some of the hair-pulling caused by other books with instructions that aren’t so clearly illustrated.
At the front of the book, on the two pages following the Contents page, are photos and page numbers for all of the projects in the book. And, surprise! There are actually 18 projects rather than 16 because Liz has added a couple of variations. I’ve never seen this sort of spread of pages that show all the projects so clearly in the front matter of a fiber arts book before and I like it. Makes it easy to locate the project you want.
The bog coat pattern is in this book in the One Seam chapter, with the layout adapted for dresses, jackets, and a robe. Aside from that, Liz presents a variety of tops made from a square of fabric and tessellated patterns, wherein the pattern pieces are cut in interlocking fashion in order to make zero-waste garments. The variety of garments that can be created with these techniques is pretty amazing.
If you’re from the United States, where we are one of the few hold-outs in the world using the imperial system of measurements, you’ll have to translate the metric measurements used in the book. Liz has helpfully included conversion charts in the beginning of the book.
Her instructions are clear, with helpful hints throughout, like the following:
“Please read through all the instructions including the end notes before you begin cutting and sewing, to make sure you understand them. Due to their unusual shapes, some garments are best cut and sewn all in the same day–otherwise when you come back to it later it may not make any sense.” (pg. 10)
Those are the words of experience.
Liz ends the book with urging sewers to make their own zero waste patterns, likening the design of such patterns to creative writing, because in using fabric this way, you can’t be sure of the result.
She says, “Actually, the fabric dictates much of the design, encouraging greater respect for the materials we use.” (pg. 135)
When it comes to preservation, this is what it comes down to … respecting all of our material culture, down to the smallest scrap of fabric.