Zero waste spiral trousers

I’ve been on a bit of a zero waste journey for a couple of years now and attending Holly McQuillan’s course at Fibres West in 2019 just confirmed what an intriguing process it is. I bought her book and have dabbled with some of the patterns, but I really wanted to try the spiral trousers. We made a little paper model of these in the course and I don’t think I would have been able to make them without this experience. The spiral trousers are in her book and online at, and I had to use both to get these made, and I’ve just noticed that I missed an important element, but more about that shortly.

People have asked if the trousers are strange to wear and look odd. The trousers don’t look odd in my opinion and in fact, I think I look as though I’m wearing a conventional pair of linen trousers.


I thought I’d give a quick rundown of the process if anyone wants to give it a try. I need to be a bit aware of the copyright issues so can’t show you what’s in the book, but you might be able to manage without.


This statement is taken from the website, which is free for everyone under a Creative Commons license:

The width of the cloth helps to determine the length of the trousers. It is possible (like most of these patterns) to rotate them 90 degrees, with the trousers however having flexibility across the body is more pertinent. Unless your fabris is the same on both sides you will need to make two pairs.
The drape or stiffness of the cloth will alter dramatically the final look of the garment. For a fluid drapey look, go for a knit, crepe de chine, or other soft fabric, for something more architectural chose a stiffer fabric such as a denim.
The Spiral trousers shown in the photo is made of digitally printed linen. All the edges are pre-finished using acrylic house paint, all joins are machine stitched with a coverstitch and the form is modified through back knee and waist darting. The trousers in the photo is 1 of 2 pairs made from 155cm of 150cm wide Linen. The model is a NZ size 10″

Reading this it becomes apparent that if your fabric is not the same on both sides, you will need to cut out two pairs, otherwise the each leg will show a different side of the fabric.

I toiled the pattern with an old single bed sheet that we had in the cupboard. I rarely toile, but I’m so glad I did as I got the position of the crotch completely wrong and finished up having to zig zag it back into the fabric in order to complete the trousers. I managed to do this twice! Once I had that sorted, it was pretty plain sailing. I noted in the quote above that the seams are painted with house paint and then coverstitched. I decided to just zig zag them on the toile and see what happened. Worked a treat, but I wouldn’t trust them under pressure!

Some decisions have to be made prior to making these trousers. You will need a crotch curve pattern. I simply pinned the front and back of my trouser block together and traced it out. That’s the only pattern piece needed and if you choose a well fitting pattern, your spiral trousers should fit well too.

Again, the blurb on the website says to use 155cm of 150cm wide fabric to make two pairs. I decided therefore that 77.5cm of fabric would make one pair. I cut the sheet down to 150cms wide and decided that the trousers were too long once they were made. The length comes from the width of the fabric, so I figured that I could use some narrower fabric.

A waistband should be cut from the length of the fabric before beginning to cut the legs  which would probably bring the fabric to around 70.5cms (depending how wide you want your waistband). The book showed an elasticated waist and I decided to do this, but next time I’ll put a zip in the back seam and use darts to make the waist fit properly.

For my first wearable version I used some lovely oatmeal linen left over from my Phoebe Bib and Tucker. I had 85.5cms of 140cm wide fabric and this turned out to be plenty.   Given that my fabric wasn’t as wide, I used the 77.5cms for the trousers themselves and reserved the rest for the waistband, but I probably could have managed to get them from 75cms plus the waistband.

Having made the toile I decided that I could use 1cm seam allowances and still get a good fit. I did not paint the seams and butt them together as I couldn’t get my head round having a striped chevron on my backside, but this might be required to get a good fit for some people.

The first thing to do is to draw and cut a diagonal line from the top left to the bottom right of your fabric (or the other way round!). The two sides become the two legs – so weird!


Then place your crotch curve pattern piece on the fabric. This is the bit I found most difficult for some reason.

Here is the triangle that makes up one of the legs. There is a straight edge and a diagonal edge. I overlocked all the edges before I began assembly as this makes life much, much easier.


The crotch pattern piece is lined up with the top of the triangle and the back edge (the longest edge) is right next to the straight edge of the triangle, a seam allowance distance away.


The diagonal edge is then pinned to the straight edge, but not straight down as normal. It’s a longer edge, so you just keep pinning and a spiral occurs. Here is a time lapse video of me doing it. I still need to concentrate, particularly at the end. Not sure if this helps!

That little triangle at the end just keeps going round even though you feel as though you’ve run out of room. It will finish up right at the ankle.

This is how your leg will look. I did my first seam at .5cm which is why I can see overlocking. I redid the seam at 1cm to get a better fit and this fixed the overlocking issue. You can see that the leg is pretty straight. Once it’s pressed it actually looks pretty good.


Although at this point it’s all looking distinctly odd…

My two legs completed. Now I just join them at the crotch in the usual way.


The cut out crotch pieces become pockets, and I actually forgot to document this part. I measured the piece I had cut off for the waistband and found it a bit long. This enabled me to harvest enough fabric to make welts for the pockets. I then turned the edges of the pockets under and top stitched them on – it was a bit of a guess as to where they should go, but I got it right!

These became my first make of 2020 and I have worn them pretty much all day. They are surprisingly comfortable. The legs finish up on the straight grain of the fabric so you don’t feel as though they are twisting.


I noticed when I was putting this post together that darts should be used at the waist and back knees for better fitting. I don’t know how I missed this, but I think those knees could definitely do with some darts. I have looked at the paper model that Holly gave us and it looks as though the darts are inserted prior to stitching the spiral.

I don’t think the fit is too bad apart from the knees and now I’m wondering if I can retrofit the darts.


The spiral starts in the centre of the back which gives quite an interesting design line. My hands are pulling the trousers out of shape here to highlight the seaming.IMG_7460

And the pockets at the front also produce a nice effect.


I will definitely make another pair of these. I can see that they would be nice in fine wool for winter.

The red t-shirt is made from silk duping Mark bought me on a trip to Sri Lanka in 2014 and which I made for a trip toIndia in 2015, so it’s more than paid for itself. I also tried the trousers with one of my eco-dyed t-shirts, but decided it all looked a bit bland.

I have now made zero waste leggings from this book, but that is going to have to be for another post.

Happy New Year everyone!





27 thoughts on “Zero waste spiral trousers

  1. A fascinating make – and they look great. I’m determined to get back to pattern cutting this year and this looks like a great book to kick start me (although I will try the library before I buy).

    1. Good idea to try the library first as the book is really hard to follow – there are no instructions really so if you can’t work it out, there is no hope!

  2. I understand the “concept” of zero waste, but it still seems wasted to me, if, in the end, the product is less than the quality I want in a garment. Speaking only for me, I wouldn’t want two diagonal lines traveling over my butt and pointing to the “saddlebags” area at the outside of my thigh. True, I’m not as tall as you are. But I’m a petite 5’3″ and well within the idea weight for my height. Sometimes no waste is still a waste.

    1. That is a good point, Bette. While zero waste is a worthy goal, it shouldn’t be at the expense of fit and appearance (otherwise, as you’ve said, what’s the use?). Globally the fashion industry throws out 164 million square metres of fabric per day in cutting scraps, 60% of which is synthetic, so experiments in zero waste cutting like this one are one part of moving towards a more sustainable industry. Interesting, fabulous-looking clothes that fit well and waste nothing is the goal!

      1. I find the whole concept of zero waste and minimal waste quite intriguing and will keep making things. Having them wearable is a complete plus in my book. More on this later! 😉

    2. Hi Bette, I know exactly what you mean – but I consider these trousers as experimentation and if I can make a pair of wearable trousers from less than 80cm of fabric, I’m going to give it a go. In fairness, the seams do not show at all, that photo with the diagonal lines was staged to show them. I am 5’4″ so not much taller than you, and I am really comfortable in these trousers and plan to make more. The zero waste movement will go through some pain but there are some really clever things happening in the space. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, I think these are discussions that need to be had, and I sometimes struggle with the concept too.

  3. This was so interesting! Thanks for sharing, Sue. I’m with you in finding the concept of zero waste fascinating and I think those who draft these kinds of patterns, or work in waste reduction in industry, are clever indeed.

  4. I am quite fascinated by these pants, I think I will have to try them. I’m shaped like Bette and the same height but I think made in a very draped fabric, that the seam and hip area would not be an issue. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. These look great. And I know they are very comfortable being cut on the bias. I have made a similar pair using the technique for making a spiral tube from a rectangle of fabric for each pant leg, as shown in the book Bias Cut Blueprints, and similar instructions from Threads magazine article ” How to Make Bias Pants” April/May 2013. Use the crotch cutout as a pocket and voila, no waste!

  6. Thank you. I bought the book and am so confused as to how to apply the concepts. This has made it so approachable.

  7. Thanks for the detailed walk through, these are really interesting pants. I am below 4’10” tall and want to make these. How did you determine the exact length? I couldn’t resist and research & made a paper model but the legs were a cone shaped and yours is a straight tube, could you help explain why? Is it the width of fabric as well? (I copied the image on paper and taped it together.

    I appreciate your time, thanks in advance.

    1. thank you for reading! If you keep wrapping the fabric you will finish up with a tube rather than a cone. If you need me to I can send a schematic. I think to reduce the length, you reduce the width of the fabric as they are cut on the cross grain. Again, I have a schematic which highlights this. You can email me on Try to catch my attention as I delete 90% of my emails!!

      1. Thanks, I just sent you an email, please don’t throw it in the trash. I look forward to your tips.

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