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Vintage Indian Block Print Couture * Upcycling the 70s

Hello, family of retro sewers! Long time reader; first time post. I’m Linda and I’m so happy to be here!

I’ve been sewing since I was 11 years old. (I’m from the era of Home Ec classes.) I sew as an outlet for my creativity, but sewing originally started as a way to make clothes for my tall and slender frame. As a child of the 60s and a teen of the 70s in Southern California, I was influenced by hippie styles and also Victoriana. One of my favorite things to sew back in high school was clothing made from colorful, block printed bedspreads from India.

My stash

After selling off  much of my previous, vintage fabric stash, I collected several vintage Indian cotton pieces as well as vintage patterns over the past year or two to start getting my sewing mojo back. That mojo had been lost by the demise of my beloved 1978 Kenmore sewing machine that finally gave up the ghost after 30 years of sewing together. To replace the machine, I bought an expensive new machine (hated it), sold it, bought and sewed on several vintage Singers (201 & 221 Featherweight… awesome!), then found a near mint, vintage 1972 Kenmore in case for $17.50 at the Salvation Army ….. and the angels sang! After a good oiling, it was game on! Guess I’ll always be a Kenny girl!

This top is a simple tunic made from Simplicity 5828. As I am 5’10”, I lengthened it about 3 inches. The nature of the block print pattern of the fabric itself necessitates a bit of pre-planning as far as the laying out of the patten pieces. I turned the sleeve pattern diagonally on the corners of the bedspread to get the “handkerchief” sleeves. You’ll note that the pointed part of the sleeve is not under my arm but on top of it; just a different little twist. I made French seams for stability and allowed the finished edges of the fabric to serve as my hems.

The piece came together quickly and beautifully the second time. Say what? Yes, this veteran seamstress had to re-cut the top out all over again as the fabric started to disintegrate before my eyes under the machine’s feed! Why? There was some fading to part of the the fabric but I decided to just go with it to create a funky, aged look to my garment. BUT, fading had created rot and I got the funk alright. It appears that sunlight combined with Indian dye has a particularly devastating effect on cotton. Lesson learned when using fabric of this type was to avoid fabric with any sun fading. Luckly, there is none of that left in my stash.

I’m looking forward to making more tops from this pattern as well as sharing with you some of the pieces that I’ve made from the other patterns shown. Of course, I’m also looking forward to seeing what the rest of you Seventies Sewers are up to!

To read more about my inspiration for this piece, feel free to take a peek at my vintage blog at: http://mseccentricartsvintage.blogspot.com/

{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Erika April 25, 2013, 12:27 pm

    That is really, really cute. And here I thought I was the only one that was collecting 70s patterns! I think I might even have that dress pattern in my stash. 🙂 Why can they only be found in size 12, though, is what I want to know!

    • Linda April 25, 2013, 2:00 pm

      Hi, Ericka! Thanks for your comment.

      Funny thing is I actually repurchased several 70s patterns that I had back in high school in addition to some others. (I know, “buying back my youth” as some would say.) I think you see a lot of vintage size 12 patterns because 12 (about a modern 6) has a 34″ bust measurement which was the most common.

      I did make up the dress pattern twice with modern fabrics and I love them! Will post those sometime as well. 🙂

      • Erika April 25, 2013, 2:28 pm

        So is that your size or ar you sizing up? I’ve been purchasing almost every vintage pattern that I can find at thrift stores and such, and they are nearly all size 12, but I’m a 14-16. I have several books on resizing patterns, but I haven’t had the time or nerve to try to resize.

        • Linda April 25, 2013, 3:06 pm


          I’m that size. I just need to take the waist in a little and lengthen the pattern.

          I have some patterns of this vintage in the size you’re looking for. e-mail me at my blog and I would be happy to send you some pics. If you could use then, they need a good home. 🙂

          • Erika April 26, 2013, 8:49 am

            Hi Linda,
            Is there a trick to emailing you on your blog? I looked all over, but maybe I’m just not seeing correctly, which is entirely possible today. 🙂 Or is it a google email only thing?

          • Linda April 26, 2013, 10:03 am

            Will look into it. In the meantime,


            Took a pic for you yesterday. 🙂

  • paloverde April 25, 2013, 12:48 pm

    Love it. I can’t get away from the 70s either. I’m a sucker for 40s and 50s, but I was imprinted by the late 60s through 1976 or so and can’t help but collect tons of patterns from that period. Keep posting, please.

    • Linda April 25, 2013, 2:04 pm

      Thanks for your comment, paloverde.

      The late 60s through the early to mid 70s rocked! Those patterns bring back many strong and delightful memories of cruising through pattern catalogs as a young person. Many of those designs are timeless.

      • Erika April 25, 2013, 2:32 pm

        I agree! People that I talk to hate the 70s, but the more I look at the old patterns, I wonder how much was the actual pattern, and how much the fabric (polyester double-knit, for instance)? I can absolutely see several of the designs working amazingly well in modern fabrics.

        • Linda April 25, 2013, 3:08 pm

          I agree! I was the same way. My husband calls the 70s “the era of bad taste”. 😉

        • paloverde April 25, 2013, 4:04 pm

          I think some of the horrible fabric has a lot to do with those sentiments. When you start examining patterns, however, the details are just fabulous. OTOH, the late 70s become really, really flowy and loose–a huge change in silhouette and style. To me, that’s the bad part of the 70s. It was the beginning of a black hole in fashion that didn’t end until the mid-90s. (Just my opinion, of course. YMMV.)

          • Linda April 25, 2013, 4:49 pm

            Agree. I actually have some beautifully made, cotton fabrics from the 70s, but not all of it was so. And you’re so right about the silhouette change. Early to mid-seventies styles could be quite fitted and detailed. It was the era of Betsey Johnson, Mary Quant and Biba; beautiful, feminine designs that were inspired by the 30s and 40s, but had their own, special magic.

            When I look back on the prairie style of the late 70s/early 80s, I remember how I thought it was so sweet, but no longer see it as so. It really flattered no one but children in my opinion. Then there’s disco… Qiana, palazzo jumpsuit anyone?

            Seems that every era has things you love to remember and things you’d like to forget, right? 😉

  • Lizzy April 25, 2013, 5:37 pm

    Hi Linda! Very nice top! I like your fabrics! even if I’m not a super fan of the 70’s (I was born in the 70’s) I like your top a lot, the fabric looks like it’s very fresh. Greetings from Mexico 🙂

    • Linda April 25, 2013, 7:20 pm

      Greetings from Southern California, neighbor! Thanks for you comment. 🙂

  • Kathryn Barnhill April 25, 2013, 9:46 pm

    I bought a great Kenmore, bought something totally forgettable, gave the Kenmore to my daughter. Regretted it. She refused to give it back so i spent as much or more than the original to re-buy the same model on ebay. I went to college in the 70s. your ootfit is pretty much exactly what I wore. I’d forgotten his great this Indian prints were/are

    • Linda April 26, 2013, 10:07 am

      Thanks Kathryn.

      In my opinion, old Kenmores make the nicest stitch and hold that stitch well.

  • Anthea April 26, 2013, 6:20 am

    Those fabrics you have and used for your top are beautiful!
    The simplicity dress in your picture is gorgeous!

  • Gail April 26, 2013, 12:11 pm

    What a wonderful stash of vintage fabrics and nice top. Funny, I’ ve been looking for some of these old bed spreads in the thrift shops lately and they are hard to come by. What is so nice about them is many are hand printed. Love your post.

    • Linda April 26, 2013, 2:29 pm

      Hi, Gail. Thanks for your comments.
      You know, I have never found one of these spreads at a thrift shop and I go pretty frequently. I’ve had my best luck at flea markets and online.

  • Sandy April 26, 2013, 3:22 pm

    I graduated high school in 1980, so I’m about the same vintage . . . I too still love those Indian cottons, so much so that I’ve gone looking for new ones (and found a nice source for the half-circle wrap skirts, too – mapleclothing.com and aimcraft.com) – because I never had them in high school (Mom hated “hippie” clothes). Love the tunic.

    • Linda April 26, 2013, 7:15 pm

      Hi, Sandy! Great to hear from you!

      Well, I’m a bit older than you as I graduated in 1974. Yup, 60’s not far away…

      Thanks for the sourcing websites. Isn’t it great that, as an adult, you can have all the fashions that your mom disliked? I laughed at you comment because my mom was the same way. I also have several of those Mexican, tooled leather handbags with the painted flowers from the 70s. I tell people when they comment on them that these are the purses that my mom wouldn’t let me have. Mom also disapproved of maxi skirts for some reason. When we’re young, we think we’re the only ones who have the uncool parents, right? 🙂

  • Erin April 26, 2013, 6:58 pm

    Linda! I too was child of 60’s and teen of 70’s….I HAD that “dashiki” pattern in the middle of your photo and made it many times in high school. Thank you for the blast from the past. You are beautiful and you have done a great job!

    • Linda April 26, 2013, 7:03 pm

      Thanks, Erin!
      We had a blast back then, didn’t we? Did you embroider shirts as well?

  • Patrice April 28, 2013, 6:11 pm

    Wow, you are SO seventies from your hair to your shoes. Seeing this was a blast from the past for me…I used to tack India prints to the ceiling, putting tacks around the edges so the center would sag, then a final tack in the middle so it was like a poofy pillow. Anyone else do that?

    • Linda April 29, 2013, 7:20 pm

      I know the look well, my dear! These textiles were much loved at one time, but have been somewhat forgotten by those of us who had them. The newer ones are just not the same.
      Thanks for your comments, Patrice. 🙂

  • Vix April 29, 2013, 1:35 pm

    I’ve a feeling I’ll be buying up all the bedspreads in India next time I go! Glorious use of some fabulous fabric, Linda, you look totally stunning! xxx

    • Linda April 29, 2013, 7:23 pm

      Thanks, Vix. So glad you’re here.
      We’ve both got to make ourselves a caftan like the one on that back of the Doors’ Strange Days album. I’ve been meaning to do that for YEARS.

  • Terimail.com November 17, 2013, 12:49 pm

    Hey there, Im so happy I found your website. Im tirelessly searching for a site that still offers the classic 60’s indian block print bedspreads for sewing “hippie” clothing. I recently purchased on from Full Moon Loom and it was too heavy for the dress I want to make. Also I need a fairly small print with, of course, the typical borders. Can you steer me to a good site? I would so appreciate it. Teri

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