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 products are actually made. 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

Before I can launch into the finer points of the art of Subtraction Cutting, I must first explain basic pattern making techniques for those who are unfamiliar with sewing and construction methods. Essentially, there are two basic ways to make a pattern for a garment: one is referred to as “patterning from the block,” and the other way is to “pattern off the drape.”

When we speak of the first example, we are simply taking a predetermined basic shape (let’s say, in this case, we are making a woman’s top), adding the style lines, then redrawing it into its individual pattern pieces. A typical short-sleeved women’s top can have anywhere from 3 to 40 (or more) pattern pieces, though most range from 3 to 15 pieces. By tracing a very basic shape (like the sleeve) onto drafting paper, you can then apply style lines like darts and pintucks, change measurements to adjust fit, and generally manipulate the piece until it matches the illustration of the final design as best as possible.

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 patterning techniques, but it is also a completely different approach from either. The idea for the process has roots in Japanese design, namely the approach which creates entire garments from a single pattern piece. Rather than using rulers, french curves, and numerical measurements, Subtraction Cutting aims to remove only what is not needed from a piece of fabric, and manipulate the rest into a finished item of clothing. This organic approach allows for fuller volumes, unique and original shapes, and silhouettes not previously attempted. While 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 backwards.

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 your interest about how your wardrobe was created has been whetted, The Cutting Class is a great 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, and hopefully are never overlooked. 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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