Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane

Back to the Future


Kate – wait ’til you see what I found!

Like many of you I learned to sew at my mother’s feet. In those days the choice of fabric and patterns was very limited. I don’t even know if Vogue had made it as 4b0b84485c8d81fc7ad906927far as Northern Ireland in the 1960s – Simplicity was about the height of it. All, or at least a large part, of my childhood wardrobe was ‘home-made’ on a Singer treadle machine and my father often remarked that my mother was married to her sewing machine and not him!

Growing into my teenage years I realised the benefits of having a mother who could sew: while I loved to go shopping with my friends and my wardrobe became increasingly RTW, I also had the advantage of owning unique items. I clearly remember a green striped jumpsuit, a brown pinafore maxi dress , peasant skirts by the bucket load – it was the 70s and I thought I was IT!

What I failed to acknowledge at the time was that my mother was also making clothes for herself. I vaguely remember that these were ‘party clothes’ and I was mightily impressed by a certain ombre pink polyester halter neck maxi dress with really long ties, similar to the pattern below.


Nowadays, my mother doesn’t sew so much but has passed the beacon to me. Now, it is me that she comes to for alterations and fixing instead of the other way around. Recently I have narrowed two pair of trousers legs for her.

At the weekend I entered (voluntarily) the blackhole of my parents’ attic. A treasure trove of memories, useless items, old school books and projects, suitcases and pictures, and racks and racks of clothes. There, the whole history of the late 20th century hanging in garment form resides. I headed straight to an old battered brown leather suitcase and unearthed exactly what I was looking for……..this is the only garment that my mother has kept all those years that she made for herself.


Made in silk dupion, of the richest peacock blue, a tunic and trousers, it completely encapsulates the late 60s/early 70s style. There’s not one sequin missing from the trim and the creases and wrinkles are 50 years old.

Nehru collar, bell-shaped sleeves, hip length tunic with little side splits and trimmed with sequinned braid. The tunic has a long centre back zip, metal of course. Princess seams with additional bust darts for extra shaping. The main body is lined but the sleeves are not and all seams are pinked.

What makes this even more special is the story in the seams – the tunic had to be taken in at the sides for a better fit and the first row of stitches is still visible.


The trousers are narrow legged with a side zip opening. Unlined and with a grosgrain waist. Four darts both front and back.

I’d love to model this outfit for you but the waist measures a tiny 26″ and mine doesn’t.


We looked for the original pattern in the attic but regrettably it remained elusive – we did however uncover hoards of McCalls and Simplicity children’s patterns from 1960-1970: and then the Vogues from 1980 through my teenage years. I can even remember the fabrics that were used for most of them. A quick look through Google images produced the following, which are close to the tunic outfit but not the same.

My father suggested that if we looked through 50 years of photographs we might be able to uncover the original photo of my mother wearing this – I’d love to see the shoes. But time is not what it used to be and 21st century pressures demanded my efforts to be spent elsewhere.


If you know the pattern, please let me know – perhaps a 21st century version (in a larger size) is just what my wardrobe needs.



21 thoughts on “Back to the Future

  1. Lovely! 26 inches- I think I’ve been considerably larger than that since about the age of 12.

  2. I have all my old sewing patterns from the 70’s and my mothers old sewing patterns too – I actually have the Butterick 5075 lol…..only problem is, I doubt I would fit into many of them, but have made a couple of blouses from my old early 80’s patterns

  3. My mother tossed most of her older patterns and the clothes years ago. In the early 1970s, she made a floor length purple velvet evening dress for going out. I tried it on about 10-15 years ago. I think it’s gone now.
    When I was making my winter coat last year, I was looking at an old coat she made about 20 years ago – was gasping at the beautiful and even hand stitched buttonholes.

  4. Brilliant, beautiful! Thank you so much for this fascinating post. I love it on so many different levels. Even if not a picture of her in this, can you easily find one of her from around this time? I will search for the pattern too.

  5. Sadly, I can’t help with the pattern, but what a treasure. This is a piece that I would …just because. What a lovely memory of your mother.

  6. What a wonderful post. My mum has moved home several times since I left and I know there are unlikely to be any treasures like this remaining. Your mum obviously sewed well and taught you well too. I’m sure she is very proud of you.

  7. Here’s one and it even ships from the UK!

  8. That is so precious!

  9. My mom did not sew, but my parents acquired the same machine for me to learn on. There is something to be said for controlling your speed via the treadle. I made an outfit very similar to your mom’s in the early 70s, trimmed nearly the same way.

  10. That is so special… Finding an original of your mother’s. Very special!

  11. How lovely and I’m sure an outfit just like this would be quite fashionable today too. I hope you get to make one for yourself.

  12. It’s a beautiful fabric (though I can’t help with the pattern) and very redolent of the era. You could easily recreate it to your measurements from your basic block (W Aldrich for example) if you have one.

    As for that green parachute suit (is that what those garments are called?) on top right pattern: one of my earliest fashion-related memories is seeing women wearing things like that, being totally in awe and thinking being a woman must be just fabulous!

  13. What a brilliant post, and so much vintage goodness! The sleeves on the top left pattern alone… Your Mum’s outfit is fantastic. The fabric is gorgeous.

  14. Oh, the nostalgia! Lovely to see your mother’s outfit. I don’t shop often but have been into all the big stores recently and that colour. the peacock blue, is having a resurgence. It’s a very flattering colour for many people. And extra specially beautiful in dupioni.
    The white blouse and skirt in upper left is the exact pattern I made for a girlfriend – it was her wedding dress in 1977! White silk for the blouse, white viyella for the skirt and a multi-coloured belt made of cords and flowers She looked divine.

  15. All the lovely 70s patterns! Swoon! I remember wearing clothes similar to these in my teens. The floaty skirts were particular favourite, and the Indian fabric bell bottoms. I wish I had just one of the dresses my Mum made me from those times. Your blue silk suit is so precious. Memories of past sewing are so very special to the people involved.

  16. That outfit is stunning! Such history stored in your parents attic. I only wish that I’d kept half of my sewing stuff from the 70s. I owned several of the original DVF wrap dresses. You definitely should reproduce this outfit. It will be awesome on you.

  17. I love seeing old patterns and old home-sewn clothing from the past. Your mother’s blue ensemble is chic.
    And, I had that Simplicity pattern! My mom sewed me a full length halter dress to wear to Junior Prom using that pattern!
    At that age, I was definitely sewing my own clothes, but for that dress I asked my mom to do it since the fabric was special and I didn’t want to mess it up!

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