Front view of Geri wearing zero waste gather dress by Birgitta Helmersson
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Pattern Review: Shibori (Almost) Zero Waste Gather Dress

I know that last week I promised to blog about my self-drafted mandarin collar crop top, but there are still some finishing details left to do, and I got distracted by this Zero Waste Gather Dress designed by Birgitta Helmersson.

Front view of Geri wearing zero waste gather dress by Birgitta Helmersson

My interest in zero waste patterns was piqued because I’ve been participating in the #sewyourselfsustainable month-long challenge on Instagram hosted by @newcrafthouse. I started researching the different ways to be more sustainable while pursuing sewing as a craft, and stumbled upon all these zero waste patterns. Birgitta has 3 such patterns available for purchase on her website: a gather dress (in 2 sizes), a crop shirt and a workwear jacket.

Back view of Geri wearing zero waste gather dress by Birgitta Helmersson

The way it works is that you buy the PDF file for the pattern which comes with instructions on how to draft the garment directly onto your fabric; and how to piece the garment together. There are no paper patterns or PDF patterns to print on your home computer or the printshop. This means that there is zero paper and ink wastage in addition to zero fabric wastage. A lot of fabric waste is created by off-cuts and scraps, and zero waste patterns help reduce the amount that will end up in the landfill.

Front view of Geri wearing zero waste gather dress by Birgitta Helmersson

There are 2 sizes to choose from for the gather dress. Size One is EU36-44 (bust size 86cm-103.5cm); and Size Two EU 46-54 (bust size 108.5cm -135cm). I bought the Size One version which has recommendations for working with a piece of fabric that is 145cm wide and 260cm long. To use up every square centimetre of this fabric, the pattern is basically a series of rectangles that are sewn up together to make a dress. The resulting shape of it is boxy. The sleeves are attached to the bodice at right angles, kimono-style. The bodice ends near the empire line, where the generous gathers begin. And the whole front of the dress has a long button band. The only shaping occurs at the neckline where the back bodice rectangle has a crescent sliver cutout at centre back, and the front bodice rectangles has triangular cutouts. These cutouts are sewn back into the dress – the crescent sliver is used as a facing for the back neckline and the triangular cutouts as a design detail near the sides of the back skirt.

Front view of Geri wearing zero waste gather dress by Birgitta Helmersson

Included in the pattern are several hacks – a button band that ends at the front bodice, wide gathered sleeves with hem band (no pockets) and wide sleeves with patch pockets. I made hack number 1 because that pattern fit better with the 135cmX260cm fabric piece that I had. I also felt a little lazy to make numerous buttonholes. Come to think of it, the dress can be constructed with a faux button band since the neck opening is roomy enough for the head to fit through.

The pattern is also easy to adjust accordingly if your fabric piece is not the size that is recommended. There is so much ease in the pattern that the sizes of the rectangles of the sleeves, the bodice and skirt can be changed based on fabric available to you. For example, the sleeves are drafted rather long. I shaved off 7cm from the length, and they are still too long for me. I wear them folded for a better fit.

Front view of Geri wearing zero waste gather dress by Birgitta Helmersson

I understand that this shape (or shapelessness) in a dress may not suit everyone. But it was really gratifying to use every bit of the fabric in the making of it. I really like how voluminous it is, and its romantic billowy feel. It’s great for lounging around at home, and makes for an easy transition for stylish running of errands during pandemic days.

News update: we are going into yet another lockdown here in Israel. Part of me is URGHH!!!! and part of me is YAY!!! – more time to sew!

Confession: I skipped attaching the triangles to the back skirt because it would interfere with the shibori print. Don’t judge me, but technically speaking, this experience wasn’t completely zero waste for me. It is Almost-Zero-Waste. I now have 2 shibori triangles in the scrap pile that can be worked into a mask or something.

zero waste gather dress fabric hung up on clothes line

I chose this pattern partly because I wanted to show off the shibori print – every inch of it. And I didn’t want to waste any of the fabric (prints). One of the beautiful things about shibori tie-dye is that the pattern on the fabric is never consistent throughout. I feel like I’m always in a dilemma when using shibori fabrics because I can’t decide which section of the pattern-kaleidoscope to use in a sewing pattern. This Zero Waste Gather Dress removes that painful decision-making process because all of it is being used. So admittedly, this pattern served my aesthetic intentions first before fulfilling my environmental contributions. Should I be ashamed of my wonky priorities? Nevertheless, I learned a lot while making the garment, and my mind is playing around with all the different possibilities of zero-waste patterns to draft for myself. It is quite an interesting draping experiment to try out different ways of attaching rectangles (or triangles) that can create new shapes in garments.

Front view of Geri wearing zero waste gather dress by Birgitta Helmersson

A word of warning: if you are a stickler for pattern matching in your garments, then this might not be the pattern for you if you want to use a print fabric. Because the whole piece of fabric is used in zero waste patterns, the chance for pattern matching is also zero. So if you are using a print fabric for this pattern, you have to keep this in mind. Either let go of the obsession for the patterning to match, or find a print that will not matter when it is mismatched. Or use a solid.

Front view of two people wearing zero waste gather clothes by Birgitta Helmersson

Now is a good time to segue into the shibori-ing part of this garment. It was exciting for me because I was using a different colour besides indigo for the first time – a brick red. The original fabric is a peachy Belgian linen that looked really good in the florescent-lit store but was meh-looking when I brought it home. The shade of peach against my skin tone made me look like a jaundiced zombie. So it sat in my stash languishing for its potential to be realised. When I saw this shade of brick red in the dye aisle, I thought maybe this would be a neat way to rekindle the short-lived love I had for this meh-peachy but mucho-pricey fabric.

To double the excitement, I tried out 2 new itajime (or folding) techniques! The first fold creates the pattern of equilateral triangles.

zero waste gather dress fabric hung up on clothes line

The second fold creates the asanoha or hemp leaf pattern – which is my fave sashiko stitching pattern.

zero waste gather dress fabric held by Geri

I love how the hemp leaf pattern morphs across the fabric and is reminiscent of the sashiko tessellation pattern that I designed for a friend.

The magic of shibori never ceases to amaze me. The juxtaposition with the brick red print elevated the meh-peachy shade to a luminous pink. You can’t really see the shine of the fabric brought on by the contrast in the pictures, so you have to take my word for it.

Front view of two people wearing patterned clothes

So this turned out to be another happy make. I also learned a new way of inserting in-seam pockets from Birgitta. It took a while for my mind to register her method, but in the actual doing of it (and with help from a tutorial on her website), it all comes together.

The best part of zero waste patterns is that there is little or nothing to add to my burgeoning scrap pile. I will definitely be looking into more of these patterns, or use the same principles to draft more garments.

Back view of Geri wearing zero waste gather dress by Birgitta Helmersson

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