Groovy Sewing

Walking around Manhattan I have been seeing lots of the simple sorts of summer dresses that I (and the rest of the world) wore in the 1970’s.

The 1970’s was a great decade for DIY. Aside from the The Whole Earth Catalog,

and Simple Living  which were generalist books that taught skills from simple plumbing to how Simple Living: An Illustrated Workbook for the New Farm and Home to build a mulch pile along with  diagrams and patterns for simple clothing, there were also more specialized books with lots of directions for garment making.

Some of the books came from  mainstream sources, like Time Life Sewing.  ( This is actually an excellent series both from a fashion history perspective as well as being really good at teaching skills. The material books are organized in a slightly daffy way though. It isn’t always easy to find exactly what you are looking for. It’s usually easy to find single volumes   on ebay or Amazon. Sometimes you can find the complete set or most of a complete set for not too much money) I have most of the set.
There were also lots of small press books put out by what my in-laws used to call, hippy-types.  One of my favorites is  Hassle-free Sewing and it’s sequel Son of Hassle-Free Sewing
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Both books are an incredible cultural artifact. The language is laughable in their self conscious groovyness, but as sewing books they are pretty terrific. Clearly not every garment in the book has stood the test of time, but the general concepts of how one constructs clothing without a pattern are well presented. Pricing on both books varies from costing less than five dollars to costing about fifty bucks per volume.  there was a new edition of the first volume put out in 2008. I haven’t looked at it so I can’t offer any words of wisdom.
Ann Wiseman was education director at the Boston Children’s Museum.  She wrote  The Best of Making Things which  was a standard in every day care I taught in. She also wrote Cuts of Cloth Product Details
Most of those cool transforming  garments have their progenitors in the slim book. Her drawings are simple , clear and charming. Both books give you the sense of a really smart interesting woman with really good ideas.
All of which brings me to this dress.
draw string dress

Inspired by the simple diagrams of the hippy clothing books.
dress sketch 001
Cut two.

cut two
Cut a slit in the center front.
Sew  side seams together
cut two
Clean finish neckline and bodice sides.
Create a casing for both the front and back.
cut two
Make a drawstring and thread through the casings.

There you have it, a classic 1970’s summer dress, or if it made with a wider skirt, and belted it, a 1950’s version of the same dress. I used a cotton from my stash. 


  1. Oh yes, the 70's. Remember macrame?

  2. Of course!!! I could make a macrame belt for the dress ...with a big wooden buckle. I also need to wear a leather and wood pony-tail holder and a ring or bracelet made out of a spoon handle and a necklace made out of strung dried seeds.


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