clever underpinnings

Nanette Rothhacker
The Undies Book: An Easy Step by Step Guide to Making undies-book-coverBeautiful, Inexpensive Custom-Fit Underwear
New York: Charkes Scribner’s Sons, 1976

I stumbled upon this book by accident, through this review, which pairs it with another title from the 1970s. I just knew I’d like to have it, if for the illustrations alone.

The book is fully illustrated, by Blaine Saunders, a mysterious heir or heiress to Alfons Mucha. I say mysterious, because a simple Google search gives me photos of a person who couldn’t have been grown-up enough in 1976 to illustrate this book. If you are reading this, Blaine Saunders, the illustrator, please let me know where I could find more of your work.

Don’t let all this intriguing aesthetization of undies, ladies, and what I presume could be well-watered house plants lull you into thinking The Undies Book is just eye candy. It’s a very practical book that sets out to guide you through underwear projects from the simplest to the unexpected.

Knitted ski snuggies: if I don’t fix my sewing machine, I will cave and cast these on.

The book opens with information about fabric choice and sewing techniques. That section is certainly somewhat dated, but I wouldn’t dismiss it. It’s worth a read, especially if you like to sew with vintage fabrics and like using older machines.

What really dates the book is — quite obviously for today’s reader — its use of the term”inexpensive.” In the age of fast fashion, this book will help you understand construction and the patterns might help you create more durable clothes rather than save money. I wonder what the authors would say about that?

Besides tips and tricks, there are actual patterns included for every project. I don’t know how usable the pattern format is because I haven’t tried any of them yet, but it seems pretty clever if a bit demanding.

The patterns are mapped out on a grid in which every square represents 1 inch. You need to re-scale them to get a usable pattern. The range of sizes is very limited. Still, you get something to work with here, more than just a general idea.

While I can’t attest to the quality of the patterns and instructions, I am definitely tempted to give some of them a try. Some of them are quite brilliant. What could be more useful with short dresses than a pair of pettipants?


The review I linked to above questions the usefulness of the pant liners, which follow the pettipant in the book. As a long-time owner of woolen pants/trousers, I can tell you I find that kind of a slip-in lining a fantastic idea, and I’d be tempted to sew those if only those woolen pants hadn’t reached the end of their lifespan.

In sum, there’s a lot here to love: The Undies Book sets out to make pretty undies affordable for a ’70s home sewist, and in most cases it keeps things simple. The style isn’t exactly what you’d call timeless in many cases, but apart from those pieces with a distinct ’70s vibe (those knitted ski snuggies!) many of the garments are minimalist enough to appeal to those who don’t sew vintage.

I’d like to find more books like this one. Any recommendations?



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I write about sewing, knitting, and may sometimes be tempted to talk about books.

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