Zero-waste (and nearly zero-waist) dress


Photo by Kayla Piccolo (

You might have seen this photo last week if you follow me on Instagram, but I thought I’d share it here because it makes a nice change from my usual selfies in front of a grey brick wall and well, I’m not going to lie, I think I look pretty damn good in this shot! I made this dress to wear to one of the shows at VAMFF and the photo even made it on to VoxFrock which is pretty cool considering that the dress was (yet another) one of my experiments.

My aunt (my dad’s younger sister, ie on the Malaysian Chinese side of the family) recently invited me to go through her fabric stash and take whatever I wanted, the result being that I came home with this batik fabric that hadn’t even been taken out of its package, probably since my aunt received it as a gift in the ’70s. Soooo much orange… so much pattern… so much for me (and probably hardly anyone else) to love!

As it was an intact rectangle of fabric, it was an ideal piece for trialling a zero-waste idea. I looked to this other batik skirt for inspiration and tasked my brain with playing Textile Tetris ie working out how to make a dress where the entire piece of fabric was used and there were no little scraps left over due to cutting curves and so on. And this is what I came up with:


“But that’s not a dress! It’s a skirt!” I hear you say*. And you are entirely correct. But also entirely wrong. Because look at this (warning: a bit of skin on show below! And the usual grey brick wall. Sorry!):batiksidebatikback

See? It is a dress. And also a skirt. I kind of had two experiments on the go at once in this project.

  1. As already mentioned, make a zero-waste dress and
  2. Make the dress so it easily converts into a skirt

The original rectangle of fabric measured about 110cm wide x 230cm long. I took off about a 5cm strip all the way along the length to use as straps, ties and the waistband. I then cut off 25cm from the main piece of fabric which became the two square pockets, bodice and side sections. So the skirt was made from a big rectangle about 105cm wide (ie the length from waist to the floor) and 205cm long (which I gathered to fit my waist).** I used a strip left over from the other batik skirt to line the waistband as you can see in this shot which shows the inside of the bodice:


I had thought I’d get away with no shaping because my torso is pretty much a cylinder, but it turns out even I need a bit of shaping in my garments, so added tiny darts at the bust of the bodice and tucks along the side back sections.batikinside5

I sewed the bodice to just below the skirt waistband so that when I want to wear just a skirt, I can simply fold the bodice inside the skirt (this works because the fabric is quite light). Here is a shot of the inside of the bodice section.


Due to tapering the ends of the ties and having to trim off a little bit of material here and there just to even edges up, the dress wasn’t completely zero-waste, but it was pretty close! I estimate that in total I had about 5 x 25cm of scraps after I finished, so that’s not too bad (and I always use fabric scraps instead of cotton wool for removing makeup and nail polish, so they weren’t really wasted).

Although a friend joked that I appeared to be missing part of my dress, the bodice is like a modesty panel, so it’s not really zero-waist… I wouldn’t wear it to work though. I spent the day at the office dressed like this:


… before ditching the T-shirt in favour of the dress’s built-in bodice to go to the fashion show (I was so glad I did, because it was 42 degrees outside and the venue for the show was not airconditioned!):

All in all, a fairly successful – and easy – experiment, I’d say!



* (along with “is that also a batik T-shirt? How much batik do you even have?!” I know, I know. The answer is “a lot!”)

**If anyone wants a diagram of how I cut the pieces for this project, let me know and I’ll try to draw something for you.