It’s been a little while since I ventured into making a pattern by a new-to-me pattern designer but after stalking the hashtag I knew I needed to jump in and give this Zero Waste Gathered Dress a go. Like a lot of people I’m also trying to be careful about how much fabric waste I produce and the idea of a ‘zero waste’ dress was really appealing. I also like the loose fit and dropped shoulders. As much as I do love a bit of fitting, I was also really craving an ‘easy fit’ make.

You’ve probably already seen the finished garment on my Instagram because it’s already a firm favourite…but there are a few things that are worth knowing before you dive into the pattern yourself.

Pattern Review: Zero Waste Gathered Dress By Birgitta Helmersson

Difficulty: ‘Beginners’- I’m not 100% convinced on this and would say its more a confident beginner (someone with a good understanding of general sewing construction)… but more on that later…

Sizes: One size (fits EU 36-44, AUS/UK 8-16, US 4-12)

Type: PDF cutting instructions (no pattern pieces)

Price: £14 (PDF)

Fabric: I’ve had this dusty salmon linen blend fabric from Rainbow Fabrics for over a year and knew this would be perfect pattern to finally use it for. It’s got a medium weight and holds gathers nicely, but is can weigh down the skirt a bit… The mother of pearl buttons I used are a hand-me-down.

Construction and instructions: If you’re a well versed pattern user, this pattern is a step away from the ‘traditional’ pattern. It doesn’t come with the pattern pieces already drafted for you, instead its a series of written instructions with a layout plan which tells you how to cut your fabric to create your pieces (nearly all of these being rectangles of some sort). This comes in both an imperial and metric version. For me, the lack of pattern pieces isn’t an issue but I can imagine for beginner sewers could be confusing especially as the instructions are quite wordy with some illustrations. Which again, is fine for me as I hardly read instructions (I know, naughty!) but for a beginner I think I would want the instructions to be broken down a bit more. The illustrations are hand drawn rather than diagrams.

The instructions take you through how to make the standard dress before breaking it down into the various hacks. I liked the mix-and-match element- it’s one of the things that drew me to the pattern. I made mine with the full length front split, patch pockets and gathered sleeves. You do need to keep flicking through the different pages to get the instructions/cutting plan you need for each hack. The other thing that I like is that the principles in it can be applied to general dress drafting e.g. adding a cuff to a sleeve. So you’re bound to pick up some extra skills.

Construction was itself quite simple- lots of rectangles sewn together with lots of gathering! There’s a few things I did differently or added in based on experience.

  • Stay stitch the neckline: This wasn’t in the instructions, and although the facing helps to stabilise the back of the neck once it’s in, the main part that needs to be stay stitched is the ‘v’ neck. With this being cut at an angle it’s got lots of potential to stretch out, even more so when you add the weight of the skirt. And with the band being one of the last things you do there’s just too much time for it to go wonky. A simple step, worth doing.
  • Pre-press the cuffs (if you’re making the cuffed gathered sleeve version) and front banding. This will save you so much time and help create a crisp finish.
  • Inserting the sleeves flat. Maybe a little more tricky to do with the gathered sleeves but really, I’m not sure why these aren’t inserted flat. It’s much much easier to do and because of the style of the sleeve won’t effect the sleeve cap.
  • Speaking of cuffs I reduced the length of mine to 28cm to make them closer to the wrist.
  • Stitch the pocket bags- I prefer to bag out the top of the pocket to give it a nice clean finish before top stitching to the skirt. This neatly hides the raw edges at the top of pocket. The pattern only suggests to fold and top stitch the top edge and then simply fold in the sides.

Sizing and fit: So this is where I had a lot of issues-but the type that you would expect with this style of pattern. Its a ‘one size’ type of pattern and is basically created using the entire width of the fabric (the zero-waste element). This means that you can use narrower fabric but you will get a different silhouette than the one you see in the examples- narrower fabric = less voluminous body to the dress. My fabric was actually quite a lot narrower than the recommended fabric so I was expecting it to be less bulky over all (what I was aiming for) but sadly when I made it up the skirt panels were still way too large for me. I get that the aesthetic is ‘oversized’ but for me it was just too much fabric and gathering (I’ve got a bust of 35″ and am a petite 5’2″, plus that with the weight of my fabric weighed the skirt down and pulled on the shoulders making it an uncomfortable wear. So I took it apart and lopped off a good 30-40cm off the front and back skirt pieces.

Once I had sorted the main issue of reducing the width of the skirt it started to feel more ‘me’. And although the shoulders and sleeves are a bit long, it’s not too bad. Next time I’ll shorten these. I’m gonna wear this one a bit more and decide whether to add some gathers to bring the shoulder in a bit.

I also found that the pockets were completely in the wrong place for me and had to be redone. So definitely check that before you carefully top stitch them down!

The other fit ‘issue’ for me, is the neckline. I’m saying ‘issue’ because it’s not so much an issue and more a bug-bear. Because of the nature of the zero waste cutting, you end up using a lot of rectangles to create the garment. The problem is that the body is curved- it curves up and down, side to side. So with the neckline, for you to get a close fitting neckband around the back of the neck it needs to be curved. In this pattern the neckband is made using a long rectangle which means you get gaping/ triangle of excess fabric which stands up on the shoulder seams. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a big deal, but it’s the kinda thing that bugs me!

Adaptations/hacks: The only other hacks I did (apart from making it smaller overall) was to raised the neckline and add waist ties.

Overall: I think you can tell that it was a bit of a process but I love this dress. I always knew I would but the whole experience made me reconsider ‘zero waste’ patterns. Hear me out. The fit thing was annoying for me and I get that ‘zero waste’ aims to use the whole fabric but in the end I had to cut away so much of it to make it work for me. And it was annoying because I ended up with these long skinny remnants which were kind of useless. Whereas if I was just cutting it smaller from the get go I would’ve planned it out a bit more and probably ended up with a much more useable size remnant of fabric. In the end I managed to piece together the scraps to make my daughter a pair of dungarees. But it made me think, “what was the point of that?” I think if you’re the type of sewer who has no use for remnants then it makes sense to use all of the fabric in a zero waste way. But for me, I have use for a decent sized remnant. I’ve made my daughter hats, shorts, tops; used them for reusable cotton pads, pocket linings, bias binding. That, for me, is preferable to using all the fabric in one garment that I won’t wear or that fits awkwardly.

It’s also a slightly pricier pattern considering its a series of cutting layouts- but if you are new to sewing you might appreciate the insight into making simple pattern hacks.

Hope that’s been helpful! Let me know if you have any questions or if you share the same thoughts about ZW patterns?


12 replies on “Pattern Review: Zero Waste Gathered Dress

  1. Thank you for the thorough review and sharing of the hacks! Such good insight and talent to make the changes to fit you. I also agree with you on your take on zero waste, I find that I can use remaining pieces for other projects rather than trying to fit it into one big project. I love the end result and will try my hand at making one for myself! Thank you👍💕


  2. I’ve recently had somewhat similar thoughts about zero waste patterns. Like you, I have a zillion uses for offcuts, which means that very efficient cutting layouts are ideal for me, and it kind of seems like zero waste patterns are designed to be as inefficient as possible.

    So I’ve been engaged in an ongoing debate with myself over whether it’s overall better for as much fabric as possible to be trapped in a single garment, or if it’s better to be split into as many uses as possible. In the end, I guess neither is actually inherently better, so long as as much as possible is kept out of landfills?

    1. Yes I think we’re on the same wavelength! I like the style of some of them but the making process for this dress was definitely a stressful one!

  3. Loved your detailed review! I made this dress last weekend with some wide fabric of 155cm which was a success. I’m considering making another, but the fabic I want to use this time round is only 114cm wide. The pattern suggests 135-155cm wide – since this is a pretty ‘eas-y’ fit, do you see any issues with using such a narrower piece of fabric? Secondly to get around this, I could cut along the cross-grain (or sideways if you see what I mean!) – do you see any issues with that at all? (newbie sewist here!) Thanks, Sarah

    1. Hi Sarah. I don’t think it will be an issue- the only thing will be that it will be a different type of fit? And the looseness will depend on your actual body measurements. You’ll end up with a less billowing dress and less gathering/volume at the skirt. You could cut on the crossgrain if its a fairly stable fabric like a cotton. The flow/drape of the fabric may be slightly different- but try it out by holding it against your body. Also you might want to consider that if your fabric is patterned. I quite like contrasting stripes on different grains!

  4. Hi! This review is very helpful. I am wanting to make this dress the but ream of fabric I have is only 44in rather than 57in. If I make it with less ‘billow’ do I also adjust the LF, RF and Back Bodice pieces in addition to the skirt pieces? I’m not concerned with it being zero waste at this point, Moreso trying to understand how to make the adjustment so that the bodice and skirt pieces fit together properly with a smaller width of fabric. And if I do adjust the bodice pieces, I assume I take the extra fabric off of the outside edges? Appreciate your help!

    1. Hi Caitlin! If I were you I would just follow the cut layout as it is in the pattern. If you search the dress hashtag on Instagram there’s a few people who have made it with narrower fabric. It will mean you have a less billowy dress overall. The skirt will fit into the bodice no problem as you will be gathering it in to fit the width of the bodice. Unless I’ve misunderstood you and what you want is actually a narrower bodice compared to what you would get if you cut it zero waste? Which I also understand because mine was too big for me, even with ‘oversized’ fashion. If thats the case, you just need to narrow the width of your bodice pieces (as you said, RF, LF and back bodice). The skirt would then be up to personal preference- you could leave as is for a *really* gathered skirt, or as you said- take some extra fabric off the side- how much you take off depends on the ratio of gathering you want. You could make the bodice to the size you want, then measure around the waist length and then multiply it by the amount of gathering you want the skirt to have (e.g. x1.5, x1.8, x2)- but thats a rough guide!

  5. I made this dress out of some quite thick cotton which I’d had for ages. Pink, red and white checks. Lovely pattern. I altered it quite a bit. I didn’t bother with buttons etc. Mine is massive!!! I’m nearly 6 ft tall but it properly swamps me. I’m glad I made it, and I love the idea of zero waste, fitting pieces together in a methodical way, but I’m not sure I dare wear it out!

    1. ahhh, I know what you mean. But its a ‘look’! Embrace it! Did you add in waist ties? Because I found that helped it to be more wearable for me.

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