Subtraction Cutting Workshop with Julian Roberts

Today I was very privileged to go to a Julian Roberts Subtraction Cutting workshop at Doncaster College. I’d previously read Julian’s ‘Free cutting’ book and worked on some half-scale experiments using his tunnel, plug and displacement techniques, but they weren’t all successful!

It was amazing to see Julian in action today, to have him talk through his techniques and share his ideas so openly. It also made his techniques easier to understand, with his clear explanations, and through the workshop that followed on after his presentation.

Subtraction cut dress (tunnel technique)

This dress was made using 6 metres of stretch fabric (3 metres in each colour). The main cutaway shape to create the top of the dress was quite big, as the sewn tunnel was very heavy, so this was necessary to remove some of the weight out of the dress. The first two circles I subtracted from the fabric were different sizes (one was an easy hip measurement of 112cm and the other a larger circle of 156cm) again to reduce the weight of the garment. The larger circle was part pleated in to the smaller circle. The additional circles that were subtracted also had the easy hip measurement.


Julian’s tunnel technique is very visually striking, fun, creative and fast as a creative cutting technique. The whole dress took 2.5 hours in total. This included the time to prepare the tunnel, mark out the bodice pattern pieces and additional circles and to sew the garment. A very fast and effective way of creating an interesting silhouette, emphasised by a bold choice of contrasting colour.

I would like to experiment with Julian’s plug technique with some of my recycled clothes. It would be interesting to see what a whole garment (for example, a shirt) would look like plugged into a shape of the same circumference on another garment(s). This could be a very useful way of creating the hidden internal structures that I’m keen to incorporate in to my final collection.

Recycled collection theme and title: Metamorphosis


I chose the word ‘METAMORPHOSIS’ for my experimental recycled collection because it perfectly sums up and captures what I want to create – transforming a garment(s) from one form in to a new form.

Meta = “change”         morph = “form”

“A change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one.”
– Oxford English Dictionary definition

Metamorphosis makes me think of:

  • Casting off an outer shell.
  • Something developing inside (tied in with hidden features, hidden treasures).
  • Transforming into something new, to take on a new form.
  • Evolving or mutating into something else.

Ideas and themes for my collection

  • Utilise zero/minimal waste cut using recycled garments – the only new materials will be linings, fastenings, etc.
  • Giving something a second life to a garment – regenerating and transforming old garments in to something new and unique.
  • Hidden treasures – incorporate hidden details in the garments, such as internal pleating or panels to give a supporting structure to the frame, whereby it’s only for the owner that knows it exists. There could also be hidden panels or features.
  • Experimentation – Explore what is possible through creative cut and see what ideas I come up with to reflect my theme and title.

Pleated denim with minimal cut

For this stand draped design I used the same pair of Levis from an earlier set of experiments. The jeans had been cut up the inside leg, on both sides, cut up the centre back and cut off around the top of the thighs.

I didn’t use all of the jeans in this one, there was one leg fully intact (which could be worked in to a different garment). None of the fabric was cut away, so if the remaining leg was used elsewhere, this would satisfy my zero waste experiments that I have been trying to adhere to.

For this design I started by chalk marking the jean legs ag 2cm intervals, then ironed the pleats in following the chalk lines. I pinned the seat of the jeans (upside down) on to the stand, having the centre back at the front (this would need a sturdy button and buttonhole to fasten this together). I shaped the jeans at the back by pleating at the waist. The original fly fastening (at the back) could either be zipped closed, for a more fitted look, or left unzipped.

For the pleated back feature I first attached the pleated to the front, then secured the pleats in place down the back. These would be stitched down to a certain point (as seen by the pins in the photograph) but the stitching would stop near the armholes, allowing the pleats to naturally span outwards. The bottom of the pleating would be top stitched onto the bodice.


The overall shape of this top had a science fiction feel to it (another accidental H R Giger!) However, the main bodice would need a lot more consideration as it looked quite shapeless and bulky on the stand.

It wasn’t a design of great beauty, to say the least, but I thought it had an interesting shape. It was also good to move forward from the earlier pleated paper experiments to try draping a pleated panel of a much sturdier denim fabric on the stand, to see what it would do in contrast to much flimsier paper.

Experiments with Ciment pleated paper – Design 2

This second experiment involved pleating the bodice in place first, suppressing the pleats at the waist and under the bust, but allowing the pleats to naturally expand outwards at the top of the dress. This bodice would need a built-in corset or panel to cover the bust, where the pleats expand out. The full underskirt was pleated off the stand to the waist measurement, then attached over the bodice. The final peplum layer was pleated directly on to the waist, allowing the pleats to fall naturally.

I think this design had an elegant 1950s look to it, and I like the way that the suppressed pleating really pulled the shape in. However, this wasn’t a particularly interesting or innovative design. This was a good experiment, none-the-less, because it was a fast approach to stand draping. It was also an interesting way of using evenly cut, pleated panels but manipulating and controlling the pleating to mould a design to the body.

Experiments with Ciment pleated paper – Design 1

I found rolls of pleated paper from Ciment, waiting to be recycled and didn’t want to see this turned to waste! Instead I cut strips of this off and worked with it directly on a stand to produce two designs. This was a great way to see what I could create by suppressing and releasing pleated panels, without spending hours at the ironing board pleating up metres of fabric!

For this first experiment I started from the back waist and wrapped a 25cm wide strip of paper up and around the body, fanning the pleating out at the neck (crossing the pleating at the front). The pleats were suppressed around the bust, and curving down to the centre back waist, to draw the shape in close to the body. The two pleated skirt layers were pleated straight in place, allowing the pleats to fall naturally.

I really liked the top half of this design. The unusual, high collar and the way that the pleating flowed and twisted around the top of this dress made this an interesting and beautiful silhouette. To work this further, it would have been more interesting to continue this flowing spiral further down in to the skirt of the dress.

Denim experiments with minimal cut and zero waste – Conclusion

The aim of the experiment was to create designs on the stand using zero waste and minimal cut techniques. Each design created incremental tucks, to try and push what I could create with the garment still relatively in its original form.

Denim was a good choice in some ways – to create rigid, interesting structures; but bad in other ways – creating too much bulk in areas of a garment where you wouldn’t want excess bulk (around the armholes).

Overall it was an interesting exercise and a partial success. And although I found faults with the design experiments, there are interesting features that could be repurposed for one of my final designs (either as an external decorative feature or an internal, concealed structure).

Denim experiments with minimal cut and zero waste – Design 4: SKIRT AND BOLERO

This final design used the same pieces as used in design 3 (with no additional cuts). I used the same skirt from design 3). In this design I used the seat of the jeans to create a bolero inspired jacket. The original fly front of the jeans was opened up to create a rolled collar The excess fabric at the front arm hole would need bar tacks to secure the tucks at intervals.

I liked the overall shape of the bolero, but the bulk at the front armhole would make this look ugly and bulky to wear.

Denim experiments with minimal cut and zero waste – Design 3: SKIRT AND BODICE

This final design had 2 additional cuts to the original pair of jeans, cutting the tops of the leg off near the crotch, creating 3 whole pieces to work with. I turned the trouser legs on the side and joined them, then pleated them at the waist and hem, creating an oval shape. The bodice used the seat of the jeans upside down, tucked at intervals around the top to shape it above the bust. The bodice could either be zipped for a more fitted shape, or unzipped for a loser fit. Both the skirt and the bodice would need buttons and buttonholes at the centre front.

This fit my brief of minimal cut and zero waste, but wasn’t an interesting design or silhouette.

Denim experiments with minimal cut and zero waste – Design 2: TOP AND TAIL

For this second design I made a second cut in the jeans (up the centre back seat). This allowed me to drawer the centre back in more, and add front pleats (that would be top stitched down) to shape in the waist. The jean legs were swept round to the back and pleated together then secured to the back to create a bustle.

For this design to be secure this would need straps (which I could make by cutting off the jean hem from both legs). The overall shape is interesting because of everything sweeping round towards the back.

Denim experiments with minimal cut and zero waste – Design 1 TOP

For these experiment, I wanted to create designs on the stand using minimal cut. So the first design has one cut, the second design two cuts and the third design three cuts. These ideas also adhere to zero waste. I worked with one pair of Levis.

This top design was created by making one cut on the original pair of jeans (on the inside leg from the right leg all the way round to the left leg). The jean hem formed the neckline, with the excess had large tucks at the back, and the centre back jean seams was pinned outwards (like a spine). This was an accidental H R Giger style at the back.

This would be a very ill-fitting armhole, and quite bulky in places, so it wouldn’t work as a design. I did really like what was happening at the back of this top though and thought that it created a very interesting structure.

Zero waste, no cut skirt sample

From the previous zero waste, no cut experiments I did in November, I chose to make up this skirt design as a sample garment.

I think the bustle at the back, and gathering around the skirt worked well and gave the skirt a great shape.  This ruching was created by turning the sleeves inside the skirt and anchoring the shirt to the sleeves in various random places. I was, however, disappointed with the centre front. I was so determined not to cut anything off the original shirts, and this meant that the button stand on the centre front doesn’t sit flat.

If I was to make this again I would take more off the shirt (at the skirt waist) to ensure the skirt sits flat down the centre front.

Woven – An exhibition exploring the concept of ‘woven’

In mid-November I went to a Woven exhibition curated for the ‘Year of Making’ by TokyoJo.

The exhibition brief was quite open, giving artists the chance to explore the more traditional aspects of woven and a more conceptual view, therefore exploring the woven theme in a much broader setting.

Exhibited work featured woven, knitted, sewn, embroidered, printed, etched, found objects (such as jewellery) and millinery.

The exhibition fused traditional and modern techniques. It was broad, interesting and inspiring to see a great mixture of Sheffield artists and their interpretation of the theme of woven.