Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life

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Fashions I rocked in the seventies

This year, I managed to have a rummage around for some seventies photos. Obviously, I was quite young at the time and mostly don’t even recall wearing most of the outfits! But I thought it was fun looking through the old snaps and I got them digitised to put on the blog.

In this photo, I am probably about three or four, rocking this fluffy white jumpsuit. I’m not sure why my Mum thought that white was a good colour for a young child, but I found rather a lot of photos of this outfit so it must have been a reasonably durable outfit. It does look rather cosy! The photo is taken in the garden, but as you can see we have only just moved in and the garden looks more bare earth than green.

Grumpy in a white jumpsuit

The next photo I found I am somewhat older, probably eight or nine. I do remember these red flares; I thought I was the bees-knees when I wore these to the school disco! I also remember my Mum’s oversized trench coat too. I suppose it is no surprise that I remember what my parents wore more than my own outfits as after all as an adult, clothes can still around in your wardrobe for years. Can’t say too much about my brother other than he is sporting fashionable shades of brown, very seventies! I think this photo was on route to my grandmother’s house. In those days before the M25, we used to drive through Central London to get to my grandmother’s house in Surrey.

Late seventies in brown



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Sewing The Seventies: Maltese TV series

Maltese: The Mafia Detective ran during last summer as a Walter Presents on Channel 4 in the UK. And it’s still available here on All4 or on Rai (Italian). The writers, Leonardo Fasoli and Maddalena Ravagli, had already achieved success with Gomorrah.The story centres around a certain Dario Maltese, played by Kim Rossi Stuart, who has left Sicily to work in Rome.  The marriage of his best friend prompts his return to Sicily, but seemingly within hours of his arrival a fatal shooting occurs, which throws him back into police work in his native Sicily. He decides to transfer permanently back to the island to uncover the people and motives behind the killing. The story unfolds gradually, and the web of deceit and corruption appears ever larger and more unsurmountable.

This is a stylish series and it’s easy to get lost in the beauty; the haunting theme music and the stunning locations. Incidentally, it took me a couple of episodes to realise that the stills that appear during the title credits show vital events from the story, their significance gets revealed with each new episode. This all added to the intrigue, as I tried to guess how each of the stills fitted in the puzzle. All in all, it’s a satisfying and memorable series.

The clothing felt very authentic to me. There were a huge variety of fashions worn by the characters. Maltese himself wears his signature brown suit teamed with blue shirts. His team sport a mix of casual leather jackets and suits with kipper ties.

A lighted cigarette is never absent from any scene!

We meet the unhappy Giulia, trapped in her wealthy influential family, but longing to free herself from the suffocating family dynamics. Giulia wears a stunning halter-neck dress perfect for gracing a society party.

Giulia – trapped, but not by her beautiful dress!

I tried to find photographs of the prosecutor, Gabriella Montano, but found that a little difficult. Below is the only one I could find, but I wanted to include her to show how they had dressed an older, working woman. She generally wore smart separates, skirts or trousers, with big-collared shirts.

The journalists generally wore far more casual attire, and Elisa often wore jeans to work on location.


I was almost expecting to see the Italy of my childhood depicted here. Thank goodness it was like this! The Sicily of the 1970s seemed seeped in violence. That said the scenes with the little old ladies all dressed in black at the airport, brought back a memory or two….

Ladies in black entering the airport

I also thought I’d make special mention of the cars – all those boxy Alfa Romeos and Lancias, where did they find them all?

This series is very much an homage to the men and women who risked and lost their lives in the war against the Sicilian mafia. Maltese is a fictional character, but the series is based on real events that occurred in Trapani in 1976. Maltese, motivated by his deeply-rooted sense of justice has been likened Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two judges who stood against the Mafia tide and lost their lives.

The characters of the journalists are based loosely on two real-life Sicilians. Mauro Rostagno was a sociologist, journalist and activist, who was killed by the mafia, at just 46 years old. Elisa is modelled on the Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia, who worked on “L’ora di Palermo” local paper in the 1970s.

Without revealing too much of the plot or its ending, I have no doubt It is a fitting tribute to them.

[1] TV Review (in Italian)

[2] Guardian Review


Sewing The Seventies: Trust TV series

As promised, here is the first of my reviews ofTV series set in the seventies. Trust was screened in the US on FX in the spring and aired on BBC 2 in the UK late last year so I suppose this is a very late review of it. But the series is available as a boxset here.

The drama centres on John Paul Getty III, known in the film as Paul, who’s kidnapping in 1973 made headlines around the world. Paul is a happy-go-lucky teenager, but also an heir to the large Getty fortune. His grandfather, the first John Paul Getty is often quoted as being the richest man in the world at that time.

Using the pay-phone (Harris Dickinson as John Paul Getty III)

Trust frames the kidnapping as a plot orchestrated by Paul to extort money from his grandfather to pay back debts to drug dealers. However, the scheme unravels and Paul finds himself passed around a succession of Italian mobsters. The stakes climb higher and higher with every twist and turn of the drama, with the kidnappers becoming ever more desperate to extort a ransom from the Getty family. Paul’s life really does hang in the balance.

There are ten episodes recounting the story, which is plenty of time to become familiar with all the members of the large Getty family and their dysfunctional relationships with each other. The patriarch of the family is played by Donald Sutherland, who in my opinion plays the miserly grandfather, John Paul Getty superbly. Grandfather Getty is a truly miserable individual who conspicuously goes out of his way to belittle and humiliate his children. I can’t think of a greater example of the tenet, “money won’t buy you happiness”. It’s worth taking a look at this BBC documentary about John Paul Getty, where he is interviewed by Alan Whicker, to realise the way he is portrayed in the drama is no exaggeration.


John Paul Getty and grandson

John Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson), and his grandfather (Donald Sutherland)

The story is played out in Italy, America and the UK. In the series Audley End House in Essex stands in for grandfather Getty’s country residence, Sutton Place. Incidentally, as a child in the seventies we used to visit Audley End regularly (it’s owned by English Heritage and is open to the public). We used to play hide and seek around the grounds.

Audley End House

We also get to know the kidnappers too. The kidnappers are ‘ndranghetisti, members of an organized crime group based in Calabria. There’s the psychopathic Primo and the gentle Angelo, who acts as translator. It all feels authentic; the scenes between the Italians are spoken in Italian, or rather an Italian dialect. The unlikely friendship between Paul and Angelo is rather touching.

Primo (Luca Marinelli) and the other mobsters

The first three episodes are directed by Danny Boyle. To be honest, I found these early episodes the least satisfying and even confusing. Episode 2 (“Lone Star”) employed seventies-style split screening to ridiculous effect and in Episode 3 (“La Dolce Vita”) the time frame jumps around alarmingly . The series settles down though after this when a more conventional narrative is used.

I did look out for the fashions of the era, but these aren’t really a highlight in this series. Paul, spends much of the series, naturally, in the same clothes he was kidnapped in. Even John Paul Getty’s many girlfriends don’t tend to sport anything particularly note-worthy.

The unadventurous style of the “Getty girlfriends”

Gail Getty, played by Hilary Swank wins the prize with a succession of fantastic big-collared shirts.

Gail Getty (Hilary Swank) ©2018, FX Networks

This particular shirt is my favourite with its geometric pattern in shades of brown.

Gail Getty (Hilary Swank) ©2018, FX Networks

All in all, this is a fun drama, which doesn’t skimp on examining the motivations of all the main protagonists.


Sewing The Seventies: Make 1 – Faux Fur Jacket

Fur Jacket

I’ve probably been influenced by all the faux fur jackets that have proliferated this year, because when I saw a McCalls pattern from 1971 for a faux fur jacket on Ebay I snapped it up.

The pattern has three variations; View A is virtually knee length and includes a detachable hood, View B is below hip level and View C is about waist level. The closures are hook and eyes placed on the front edges of the jackets.

McCalls 3016 Faux Fur Jacket Pattern

I was determined to find some faux fur fabric that wasn’t made of synthetic fibres. Etsy came up trumps with this bright blue cotton / viscose, but the price was alarming at £35.59 per metre. I justified it because those polyester RTW jackets were retailing for £60 – £80 and I would still be making my jacket for less than this price. I ordered 1.5 metres and was very pleased with how soft it felt. Even Master Steely walks past the half-finished jacket and gives it a stroke every now and then!

The cutting-out process was a little fraught. Faux fur is so fluffy and messy. The fur has got everywhere. I find that all my clothes look like I’m the owner of a very furry cat with bright blue hair! I was very relieved when I got past this stage. I ordered some viscose coat lining from Croft Mill. They have quite a selection of viscose linings. After all, why go to the trouble of faux fur fabric in natural fibres if you’re not going to use viscose lining?  I agonised about my choice, because the fur is quite an unusual colour and there is definitely a greenish tinge to the blue. I selected a mid-grey lining with a jacquard paisley pattern, which somehow seemed appropriate for a seventies make.

Faux fur jacket

Fluff everywhere!

I decided to make View B, which is the middle length. I also have enough fabric to make the hood too and add a couple of inseam pockets to my jacket. There are some interesting instructions for creating the shoulder seam for this coat. Essentially there is a dart at the centre-top of each sleeve. When you sew the sleeves onto the coat, the armscyes are sewn first (step 3 below) and then then shoulder seams which extend into this dart are sewn (step 4). I’ve never seen this approach before – any ideas why this was chosen?

Faux Fur Jacket Instructions

Interesting instructions for the sleeves?

Included with the pattern is a little booklet entitled “Fake Fur Fun”. It has some good advise in there including:

  • Paying attention to the nap of the fabric
  • Cutting single thickness
  • Using long stitches
  • Using a darning needle to free trapped fur
  • Shearing the pile on the inside on finished seams to make the seams less bulky

Fake Fun Fun (?) Tips

I’m not quite finished yet, but I tried the jacket on unlined yesterday and found it to be rather warm – much appreciated in this cold weather.


Sewing The Seventies 2019 – Launch

It’s January and the seventies are back again! I’ve already been dipping into my hoard of seventies patterns to make and my head in buzzing with seventies inspiration to share.

Since last year I’ve looked at the blog posts that were most popular, and I’m hoping to build on those. The one-year-per-day history posts were incredibly popular. Sure, they were a load of work, but I got so much enjoyment out of the comments, I thought it would be well worth running something similar again. But, how can I make them different? And how can I escape the feeling that I spent my ten days in the decade typing blog posts, a very un-1970s activity? We’ll see.

My inspiration for this year’s theme came from two TV series that I watched this year, both, of course set in the seventies. The first was Trust, which is a US series, following the kidnapping of John Paul Getty Junior in Italy. The second was Maltese which is an Italian crime series following a detective in Sicily, investigating mafia crimes, against incredible odds. I will review both of these, particular looking at the clothing and fashion, in due course. Anyway, I was inspired to make this year’s Sewing The Seventies theme Italian.

As usual, I will be running the Sewing The Seventies contest which invites you all to create beautiful seventies-inspired fashions. There will be more to follow on this soon, but I have written all the rules and what-not on this page. Best of luck!

Trust – Gail Getty (Hilary Swank) ©2018, FX Networks, photo by Philipe Antonello



#makenine 2019 challenge

In the past I have been quite resistant to taking part in challenges that revolve around making long-term sewing and knitting plans. It’s probably based on a fear that I won’t in any way manage to stick to the plan or accomplish the goals that I set out with. I suppose that is justifiable, life is full of trying to measure up to expectations and why add any more to that list? But, when you get stuck into this making your own wardrobe game, you realise that it’s an ever-evolving thing. Previously, where I’ve seen making plans as something rigid to be avoided, I’m now seeing the potential for harnessing my creativity and making a cohesive wardrobe.

The #makenine challenge is something I followed a lot last year and I loved seeing all the plans that were drawn up, just as much as the emerging makes. My one reservation with the challenge was that I scarcely make more than nine items in the year and I wanted to allow myself the flexibility to duck out and make a few spontaneous garments too during the year. Then, I found that I made a total of 16 items last year, probably because I made more items with knit fabric, which are always quick wins. Plus, in Rochelle’s words “this is a gentle challenge…’s meant to be flexible”. And so, my last objection to participating was swept away!

Some of my ideas for the #makenine are fairly concrete and I already have the fabric ready and waiting. Others are vaguer and probably need some more definition as the year progresses. I’ve also divided my nine into three distinct groups. First are some absolute needs – a swimsuit, a white shirt and a pair of shorter-length summer trousers. The second group consists of my vintage 70s makes, which I’ve yet to fully define and the third group is a selection of items that are there to stretch my skills.

1. Swimsuit

A swimsuit is a much needed item. I absolutely hate my current tankini. It is a RTW one that is distinctly unflattering, and has some pockets that contain padding for the bust. This padding invariably comes out or swizzles around in its pockets and can make me look very odd shape-wise. The swimsuit is also too small, so I really need something that fits better.

I bought a copy of La Mia Boutique last summer in Italy and there are a good selection of bikinis and swim suits in the issue. I have picked one of these to make. I have already purchased some fabric from Fabricland and just need to locate some swimsuit lining and swimsuit elastic.

La Mia Boutique June 18 Costume15

2. White Shirt

I’ve needed a top that will pair up with anything for some while. A white shirt will therefore very flexible addition to my wardrobe. I’ve only resisted making one in the past since I’m quite a messy person and white doesn’t tend to stay white for long. We’ll see how this goes. I can always dye the fabric if I turn out too accident-prone. I found some absolutely beautiful linen crepe fabric from Fabric Godmother a while back for this make. I’m leaning towards this shirt, again from La Mia Boutique, but I’m unsure about the arms; I think I’d like them to be longer.

La Mia Boutique June18 ShirtandTrousers 1819

3. Summer Trousers

I haven’t entirely decided what my sewing plan for this is. I have purchased the Lander Trousers, which seem to be an Indie Pattern favourite. I think I will make the 3/4 length version, although I am tempted to make the shorts. Perhaps I could even make both! I’m also not entirely sure what colour to make these in. I favoured khaki when I was doing my drawings, but now I’m leaning towards either forest green (swayed by the photo below, no doubt) or a steel grey. We’ll see what happens when I get round to these, I suspect my decision may be based on what I can find in the shops.

Lander Pants

4 – 6 My 70s makes

I’ve lumped these altogether as I’m only properly decided on one of these makes. I’m going to make a faux fur jacket from a 70s vintage pattern. It looks like a fun item to wear. I’m not sure I’m totally enthusiastic about sewing faux fur, it could be a bit messy.

My other two makes will be using other vintage 70s patterns from my collection. There are so many that I would love to make, and so far I really haven’t decided.

7. Striped jumper

Of all the items in my #makenine, this is certainly the one that is going to stretch me the most. I have knitted socks, a scarf and a hat and I feel it’s now time to take the plunge with a jumper. I found a relatively simple jumper pattern, classic in shape, with just the addition of stripes in other colours on the lower half of the jumper.

8. Pattern Magic

I was given the Pattern Magic 2 book by Tomoko Nakamichi for my last birthday. Although I’ve gazed at it, tried to get my head around the pattern construction and imagined several makes from it, I have yet to use it. One of the reasons that I need that custom bodice (see below) is to use it as a basis for the patterns in this book. The book, although it contains pattern blocks, also suggests using your own blocks too.

Wearing a Square

7. Custom bodice

For a long time I’ve felt that the my sleeveless tops, in particular, don’t fit as well as they could. I know that looking at photos wearing them, they don’t look bad, but as my sewing improves, the more fussy I get! Anyway, what I would like to do is make a custom pattern block that I could use as a basis for a sleeveless top. This way I could use my block and add the styling details from my pattern collection, rather than using the standard pattern pieces. I hope this will produce the ultimate sleeveless top for me! So, although this item in my #makenine isn’t actually a garment, I’m hoping it will be the breakthrough I need to find the confidence to make well-fitted sleeveless tops. I haven’t made any for years because I know that I need to do this.

Will I manage to create all nine? Will I struggle with knitting that jumper? We’ll just have to see!

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The Good, The Mad and The Ugly – Review 2018

This year I made a total of 16 items; 15 sewn items and 1 knitted item. Wow, this is an all-time record for me, being quite a slow stitcher! I don’t believe I’ve improved my sewing speed, so I suspect that this record total is due to sewing quick knit fabric garments, like t-shirts, and sewing with tried and tested patterns.

I spent a few minutes updating the Wardrobe page over the weekend so that it is showing all my new makes from the last year. Whilst I was doing this, I noticed that the photographs for the recent years look so much better and wondered why. I think this may be because my wardrobe has improved generally over the last few years and I can create outfits on a daily basis that work together well. I think it is this overall improvement in my wardrobe that is reflected in the photo record.

Tradition dictates that this time of year is dedicated to a review of my sewing output from the last year. It’s good to sing the praises of the items that became firm favourites and examine those that disappointed. It helps me formulate my ongoing plans.


The Good

In the good category, I have a few contenders, but I’ve decided that the prize this year must go to the over-sized Burda sweatshirt (Burda #128 11/2012), simply because this top is warm and versatile. It was quite hot when I first made it and it didn’t get worn at all until it had been in my wardrobe for several months. Then, all of a sudden, the cold weather kicked in and I was wearing this every day. I am also desperate to make another of these tops in a different colour.

Original Post – Over-sized Burda Sweatshirt


The Mad

The prize for the “mad” item, has to go to the Drape drape 2 dress. I was sceptical how much I would like and wear this dress. The weather this summer in the UK, though was very warm for an extended period this year and the dress was perfect for that hot weather and got worn day after day. Let’s hope it’s hot again this coming year.

Drape Drape 2 No 2

Original Post – The Perfect Hot Weather Outfit


The Bad

Finally, in the bad category, I have the blue Driftless cardigan. I think this suffers from just being in not quite the right fabric. I compromised on the colour, because there just wasn’t quite enough fabric in the darker blue and I actually think the fabric is too light-weight. The cardigan doesn’t really provide much in the way of warmth, and it looks very slouchy and I find it transgresses into the dishevelled territory too much. That said, perhaps it may redeem itself during the summer months, when I don’t need cardigans so much for warmth and I can try it out with some different tops. Could I manage to embrace my inner scruff, the identity I try unsuccessfully to hide all the time! It’s strange how much a different fabric changes your perspective on a pattern. By contrast, I love my striped Driftless cardigan, but that is made from a thicker wool ponte. It’s warm and cosy and I feel that doesn’t look shabby at all.

Driftless Cardigan in blue

Very relaxed!

Original Post – Driftless and Blue