Zero waste t-shirts

The zero waste odyssey continues and before I did the course with Holly McQuillan I had looked at the t-shirt patterns on the Make Use website and tried to make sense of them, so I have made a few of these now that I understand the process.

The Make Use site has a cropped t-shirt and a long t-shirt and I thought I might make the long one and see if I could walk you through the process. It is worth noting that on the website the long t-shirt has a different width from the short t-shirt, but I went with what I had and it worked perfectly.


I began with a thrifted gauze wrap which had tassels on the corners. I was going to cut the tassels off but then thought I’d leave them and see where they fell. I folded the wrap in half and laid my pattern on the top. I took the pattern from the grid on the Make Use site. My wrap was 120cms square, so the right width for the cropped t-shirt but longer, so my t-shirt is longer. 


If you look at the photo above you can see the curved neckline at the top on the fold. I could change this neck to make it higher or lower (and, in fact, I will change it for the next t-shirt). The whole point of these “patterns” is that they are user modifiable. For example, to vary the length of the sleeves – just use wider fabric; the length of the garment – use longer fabric. I could also add more seam lines, rotating the fabric to create more interest, and so on.

I thought I’d label the pattern so that you can see the various components. I should have taken a photo without the scissors and pins, but you can just about make out what’s going on. You can also see that not a scrap of this fabric will be wasted. It is lovely to make something and not have anything leftover to stash or throw away.

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The t-shirt has been cut out.

The pieces at the top of the photo below are the sleeves and the bottom band waiting to be reattached. The neckline has been finished. I cut the curved section off the neck for this top (in other tops I’ve sewn it down as a facing), and will use it as a pocket.


Here the top is refolded across the shoulders. I have joined the centre back seam and that seam that is not yet sewn is the seam that forms across the back, which I’ve called the back yoke.


The sleeves are sewn together and are rotated 180° so what would normally be the underarm seam is now an extension of the shoulder line. I used the decorative edging of the wrap and lapped the seam. The tassels are still attached to the end of each sleeve, and I wonder how long before they annoy me and I cut them off!


The bottom band is treated the same way. Normally the whole band is rotated by 180° so that the centre seam is at the front and not the back. This gives the longer line at the back and a shorter front. However with this make the way the pattern fell at the seam looked silly at the front (with attendant tassel) so I simply rotated the band by ~90° and lined up one of the stripes so the seam is now at the side.  The band seam then forms the mid-line seam and goes right round the body. I used all the fancy edges of the wrap so no hemming was required.

All that was left was to sew on the little pocket which I’d cut off the neck. I eyeballed it on an angle and it’s not too bad – except that I’m a bit annoyed at being able to see the pattern through it. It’s almost impossible to unpick this fabric so it’s staying for now, but I wonder how long it will be before I try to unpick it!


This is going to be a perfect beach cover up and perhaps even a useful dress/tunic for casual wear in the summer, although it might be a tad short to wear on its own. I’m wearing a long, very fine, cotton tank under this, as it’s quite see-through.


The pattern on the back shows how the pieces fit together. I really, really like how this has worked out.


A very poor photo, but it does show how I rotated the bottom band so that the vertical stripe matches and it also shows that the hemline is slightly asymmetrical. It’s surprisingly difficult to pattern match with gauze as it distorts dreadfully, so it took a few goes to get it right.


I’m so pleased that I didn’t cut off the tassels, as I rather like the way they finished up. xuanr.jpeg

Next up is this beautiful silk remnant that I bought in Stockholm which became another t-shirt, somewhere between the cropped and the long. The neck facing is fairly obvious as are the various seam lines. I’ve got an extra seam because my fabric was a bit wider than required so I simply added the cut off strip to the bottom, keeping the zero waste credentials of the top.



I added a piece of elastic into the hem of the sleeves so that they would sit above my elbows. I’m not sure I like this though, so I may change things. However, it’s not just a question of making them shorter if I’m going to be a zero waste purist!

I painted the seam edge round the neck of this one with acrylic house paint so I didn’t have to finish it off.  This is a technique that works so well, I wish I’d known about it years ago!DSC02642

What would be the centre back seam is now at the front.  DSC02643 (1)

This is a fairly crisp silk so it sticks out at the front more than I would perhaps like, so I’m going to have a fiddle with it. I may take the band off and treat it like the gauze t-shirt – rotate the seam to the side.

I made a cropped version from a silk scarf and I don’t like the look of the back neck facing on this one at all, so I’m girding myself to unpick it and cut it off. Apart from that, I think the floaty top will be quite handy in the summer.IMG_7949

This will become my go-to pattern when I’m short of fabric or when I have interesting patterns on the fabric, as with the gauze wrap. I am contemplating a long one from some silk that’s been in my stash for far too long. My experiments with this pattern are not over!


9 thoughts on “Zero waste t-shirts

    1. Thanks Katherine, we might have to have a zero waste session as it is a really cool concept! I am not wanting to use a normal pattern now!

  1. It’s excellent to end up with no (or very little) waste. I understand why that’s now a go to pattern.
    Question – does the paint on the neckline feel scratchy at all?

    1. Thanks Kim! It is so good to have no waste! The paint isn’t scratchy, but it’s good to paint it on fairly thinly. It gets absorbed into the fabric and then cut, a really cool technique.

  2. The one with the tassels is my favourite. I can see why you want to unpick the pocket but on the photo where you’re wearing the top I can’t see the fabric underneath the pocket.

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