Causes Environment

Subtraction Cutting With Julian Roberts: Artisan Series I

Subtraction Cutting
Written by Julia Eden

We are disconnected. Living in a consumer-society has reduced our exposure to how we make products. In a continuing series, SoCo will bring you exposure: the art, the technique, the history that binds us. The small details that can make a thing more than it is. Reconnect to your past, the past of all of us, through the visual beauty of ancient art.

“Subtraction cutting is designing with patterns, rather than creating patterns for designs.”
-Julian Roberts

But What The #$%! Is Subtraction Cutting?

Before I can launch into the finer points of the art of Subtraction Cutting, I must first explain basic pattern making for those who are unfamiliar with sewing and construction methods. There are a couple of methods for creating garment patterns. One is referred to as patterning from the block, and the other way is to pattern from the drape.

Working from a block involves using a very basic pattern piece (aka the block or sloper) as a starting point for the design. A typical short-sleeved women’s top can have anywhere from three to forty pattern pieces, though most range from three to fifteen. By tracing the outline of each block onto drafting paper, you can then apply style lines and change measurements, manipulating the piece until it matches the illustration of the design.

However, when we work from the drape, we are approaching the patterning (and design) process from the point of view of the textile. By wrapping fabric around a dress model/tailor’s dummy, the designer interacts with the fabric directly to create the shape, style, and form of the finished garment.

The Art Of It

Subtraction Cutting takes ideas from both block and draping techniques. The concept for the process has roots in Japanese design. The approach creates entire garments from a single pattern piece. Rather than using rulers, french curves, and measurements, Subtraction Cutting aims to remove the excess from a piece of fabric. Manipulating what’s left leaves behind a finished item of clothing. This organic approach allows for fuller volumes, unique and original shapes, and silhouettes not previously attempted. Subtraction Cutting may not reduce textile waste (unlike the aim of single-piece and no-waste patterning), but it is a new approach to an ancient human craft.

Julian Roberts developed, and now teaches, the art of Subtraction Cutting and the finer aspects of the process. Through master classes, a Tumblr blog, many Youtube videos, and a free e-book, Julian’s passion for the idea, the thought echoing through line and shape, is evident in all of his work.


Addition from subtraction: a fashion show of quiet volume.

The beauty of deconstruction; a love story told backward.

A Newfound Interest

You can check out Julian’s Facebook Page, his chain of thought on Tumblr, or search a multitude of channels on Youtube for the demonstration videos if you’d like to learn more.

Or, if you welcome more manipulation, The Cutting Class is a fabulous blog with a fantastic section on modern patterning methods, and even features a piece on Julian’s Subtraction Cutting system.

We at SoCo believe that sustainability is not just a lifestyle – it is life. Working with the Earth, for the benefit of all, is tantamount to becoming the best society we can be. Perhaps modern technology has made things easier, but it certainly does not always make them better. In this continuing series, we aim to highlight those artists and techniques that should not be forgotten. By remembering how we started, perhaps we can find a better way to move forward. Please let us know in the comments if there’s a particular artist or technique you would like to see highlighted. This post is the first article on our “Artisan Series,” you may check out posts you missed in this series using this link.

About the author

Julia Eden

With a passion born in rivers, Julia Eden has spent the last decade crusading for the environment. Educated in fashion design and English Literature, and skilled in dance, she is dedicated to finding the information needed to live a new and better life. While not quite a Luddite, she would very much like to live in a cave with a wolf and an internet connection.

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