Reducing waste by design

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eternal magpie: smock cutting layout without fabric waste

I've been wearing my ancient cheesecloth blouse since the heatwave started. As I pulled it from the washing line yesterday I realised that it's made entirely from rectangles, which means that no fabric waste was left over from its production. This has been bothering me lately. I've been making lavender bags and summer hats from my fabric scraps, and I donated a bag of bits to a friend who's organising a charity quilt project, but I still have more leftovers than I'd like. So... why not try and design the leftovers out?

This rang a bell with a cutting diagram that I'd seen in one of my textile history books... and here it is! How to cut a top or dress, using the maximum width of the fabric, without wasting a single piece. 

eternal magpie: smock worn by Thomas Pitkin in around 1894

The garment in question is one of these - a nineteenth century smock - but the construction is identical to the summer blouse I'm wearing today. 

The first volunteering I did for the Museum of English Rural Life, about nine years ago, was documenting their collection of smocks, so I've been lucky enough to get my hands on about sixty examples of the real thing. Another volunteer and I took detailed measurements, studied whether they'd been stitched by hand or machine, and described the patterns of smocking and embroidery stitches on each garment. One particularly interesting thing we noticed was that the vast majority of the adult smocks were made from the same width of fabric, regardless of the size of the wearer. The side seams were almost always made from the selvedges, so we could see straight away that the entire width of fabric had been used. 

I'm starting to feel an experiment coming on... not to replicate a 19th century smock, because I know how much time that would take! And probably not a 1970s or 80s smock like the ones in my pattern books. But maybe a pintucked blouse or a coat dress, made entirely from rectangles, with no scraps left over. I like that idea very much. 

eternal magpie: liberty smocked aesthetic dress

Mind you, there is one thing I'd like to replicate at some point... and that's a smocked aesthetic dress. Obviously this one has a much more complex construction, including a very heavily structured inner layer. Not quite the no-waste experiment I'm looking at right now, but isn't it gorgeous? 

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