An efficient pattern layout will help you get the most out of your fabric yardage.

I’m forever in search of the best pattern layouts for cutting fabric. Sweating over how to get close to zero fabric waste is good for the environment and your wallet. Plus, it’s a fun personal challenge to Tetris pattern pieces (I know I’m not alone here).


With this mind-set, I figured out a pattern layout to get six pairs of bikini-style Seamwork Geneva panties from one yard of fabric. (I sewed a size small; the finished high hip is 27-28 inches, and the finished low hip is 30-31 inches.)

Here’s how I did it:

My Steps for Efficient Pattern Layout

0.) Wash and dry the fabric.

You can’t talk about cutting fabric — in my case, Robert Kaufman Laguna cotton-spandex knit — until it’s shrunk. (BTW, I’ve been wearing (and washing and drying) these undies for a couple weeks now, and I’m still liking the fabric.)

An almost zero-waste pattern layout for sewing underwear starts with cutting pattern pieces flat.

1.) Cut pattern pieces flat (vs. cutting on the fold).

Cutting pattern pieces flat lets you literally see how they will emerge from the yardage. Plus, you’re able to squeeze more pattern pieces out of a piece of fabric with flat cutting.

2.) Measure the width of the fabric.

Measure from selvage to selvage. My fabric was 60 inches wide. (It was about 38.5 inches tall; I bought a yard and I got a little extra.)

For an efficient pattern layout for cutting, I grouped the underwear pattern pieces in a small "unit."

3.) Bunch all paper pattern pieces together into the smallest unit possible. Measure.

Here, you must take grainline into consideration. I determined that the back, front, and crotch lining pattern pieces could fit together in a rectangle about 17 inches side to side by 19 inches long.

4.) Do the math.

How many times can my pattern unit fit into fabric? How many times can 17 inches go into 60 inches? I don’t have that answer down to the decimal, but I do know that 20 goes into 60 three times. To wrap up the math section, I cut the fabric into three (approximately) 20-inch wide “columns.”

Here is the pattern layout for six pairs of underwear from one yard of 60-inch wide fabric.

5.) Place paper pattern pieces on a column and trace. Cut out fabric pattern pieces.

I traced the paper pattern pieces because the edges of the fabric rolled a lot and I didn’t want to monkey with holding paper pattern pieces AND fabric in place as I worked my rotary cutter.

As I cut out fabric pattern pieces for each pair of underwear, I pinned the pieces together. This ensured I had the correct pattern pieces for each would-be finished pair o’ pants.

A Problem Cutting Out Pattern Pieces

On the third (and final) fabric column, I realized it was shorter than its counterparts. I figured this out as I played with the paper pattern pieces and noticed overlapping.

How did this happen? My guess is one of two things likely occurred:

1.) The person who cut the fabric got a little narrower on that end of the yardage.

2.) The knit fabric twisted out of shape. (This isn’t uncommon with knits; this fabric rolled like crazy on the edges, so it easily could have been misshapen.)

To get both pairs of Seamwork undies to fit on the shorter fabric column, the final pair I traced was a little shorter than its sister. I took 1 centimeter off the rise at the side seam and didn’t touch the rest. I didn’t come this far to not have six new pairs of underwear because of a lousy 1 centimeter!

Using an economical pattern layout, I sewed six pairs of underwear from one yard of cotton-spandex knit.

Is There a Better Pattern Layout?

I don’t know if there’s a way to get more undies out of a yard of fabric. If I were being SUPER anal about it, I could have used Illustrator to draw the pattern pieces at actual size and placed them digitally on a cut of “fabric” that was 60 by 38.5 inches. That way, all the elements would have been to scale and I maybe could have squeezed in another pair of underwear.

As it worked out, though, there was almost nothing left in terms of fabric scraps. Think about how much area each pair of panties took up in each column! Not a lot of space leftover.

Maybe I’d make a scale model if I were working with super-special or spendy yardage, or if I thought I might be cutting it close (PUN HA) with having enough fabric. How far would you go? And what are your best tips for pattern layouts with zero waste?

P.S. Here’s the previous post: Work in Progress: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Leggings.

P.P.S. Here are some vlogs on sewing underpants!

Work in Progress: Sewing Panties, Part 1
Work in Progress: Sewing Underwear, Part 2

P.P.S. Here’s another article about Seamwork stuff: Why I canceled my Seamwork magazine subscription.

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