Steely Seamstress

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Sewing The Seventies: The Little Drummer Girl TV series


The Little Drummer Girl is an adaptation of the John le Carré thriller of the same name. The book was published in 1983, but the setting is the late seventies. This six-part adaptation was shown on the BBC from the end of October last year.

The series starts with a bomb exploding in a house in West Germany. The bomb was planted by a young woman working as part of a network of cells operated by an elusive Palestinian terrorist named Khalil. The story follows the machinations of Martin Kurtz, an Israeli spymaster as he attempts to track down and kill Khalil. Working for him is “Joseph” (Alexander Skarsgård) who approaches and befriends Charlie (Florence Pugh), an English actress. Charlie is needed to lure Khalil’s unsuspecting brother, Salim, into a trap. Joseph impersonates Salim and travels through Europe with Charlie, who in turn plays Salim’s new girlfriend. As Kurtz intended in his plan, Khalil contacts Charlie, and the Israelis are able to track him down.

The series is produced by the same team that brought the successful The Night Manager series to the screen. It is directed by Park Chan-Wook and is shot with extraordinary care. The settings are vivid and there are tiny clues scattered everywhere. The plot wasn’t the easiest to get my head around and I found the Guardian recaps helped with the plot complexity, making sure that I hadn’t missed anything!

One of the things I found fascinating about this series was how important the fashions were to understanding Charlie in her clandestine roles. The show’s costume design was by Sheena Napier and Stephen Noble.

When Charlie is first recruited by the Israelis, Joseph, selects the clothes she will wear. He chooses clothes for her to wear according to Salim’s preference – “He likes it when you wear bold colours”. In this first episode, Charlie ends up in a dress which makes her feel like “a giant chick”. Clearly Charlie is uncomfortable in this bright maxi dress, but is this trying to show that she is also uncomfortable in her new role? Joseph himself wears bright primary block colours too – is this an attempt to harmonise with Charlie, and cement them together in their roles?

Giant Chick Dress

Charlie dressed as a “Giant Chick”

Episode 2 sees Charlie wearing an amazing electric blue hooded jumpsuit. Yes, after seeing this voluminous blue number in a few different photos I realised it wasn’t a dress. It certainly is a very striking outfit though.

Bright blue jumpsuit

The startling bright-blue hooded jumpsuit

Episode 3 and Charlie, now in Germany, is wearing a more restrained, though still in a primary colour, dress.

Charlie in a Red Dress

As restrained as it gets?

One thing that is noticeable about the outfits in these early episodes, where Charlie, is playing the “girlfriend” role, is that they seem jarringly out of date. As far as I can tell, the setting is supposed to be 1979, yet, the block colour outfits seem reminiscent of the early seventies. Was this deliberate on the part of the costume designers? Are these eye-popping fashions part of the character Charlie has assumed, making her presence particularly conspicuous?

Back in London in episode 4, Charlie’s normal life resumes when she is on tour with her old theatre. But it isn’t long before the revolutionary network make contact and Charlie is thrust back into the action. Charlie adopts a very understated wardrobe in this episode, perhaps signifying her return to her old dull life. She wears jeans and her long suede coat.

The long brown coat

It’s brown all the way back in an overcast UK

She also wears this brown shirt dress with knee-high boots.

Brown shirt dress

In episode 5 Charlie is back undercover, this time in Lebanon. Much of the episode is spent wearing khaki and army fatigues. However, she does get given a blue kaftan to wear and she drapes a red scarf around herself. Is this a reference to the bold colours in the first three episodes? Is Charlie still holding true to the role she was given by the Israelis or is she becoming more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Afghan Dress

In episode 6, after Charlie arrives back in London her mission involves her disgusing herself as a South African student. She’s now wearing an outfit in classic seventies browns, beiges and oranges.

Student outfit

Charlie’s student outfit

I enjoyed very much the costume design in this series. I felt that the clothes were frequently at the centre of the story. They showed Charlie’s shifting allegiances and provided a window into her state of mind as she navigated the “theatre of the real” as Marty often called her role.

I dd a trawl through Etsy and Ebay I found some sewing patterns which are similar to the fashions depicted in each episode. It’s interesting to note the dates of the patterns for these styles

Episode 1 – The “Giant Chick” Dress



Clockwise from top-left: “Giant Chick” Dress on set, Simplicity 6344 sleeveless maxi dress 1974, Style 4313 v-neck sleeved maxi dress 1973 and Simplicity maxi dress 1973.

Epiosde 2 – The Incredible Blue Jumpsuit

I found a full-length photo of the jumpsuit (admittedly it looks like it is from the set rather than the series itself). Here you can see that it it is a jumpsuit rather than a dress, as I first thought).


Clockwise from top-left: Blue jumpsuit on set, Vogue 9195 hooded jumpsuit 1970s, Butterick 4513 hooded dress 1970s and Simplicity 5323 jumpsuit 1973.

Episode 3 – The Red Dress

Red Dress Inspiration

Clockwise from top-left: Red dress on set, Style dress with bishop sleeves 1970s, Simplicity 7191 dress with collar and bishop sleeves 1975 and Simplicity 5968 dress wit collar and bishop sleeves 1973.

Episode 4 – The Shirt Dress

Shirt dress inspiration

Clockwise from top-left: Brown shirt dress on set, McCalls 3481 shirt dress 1973, Vogue shirt dress 1972 and Simplicity 7048 shirt dress 1975).


Episode 5 – The Kaftan

It was a bit more difficult to find sewing patterns for this kaftan as it is very much an ethnic clothing item, and wasn’t represented in the usual commercial fashion patterns. The Folkwear Afghani dress probably is the nearest to this.

Afghani Dress Inspiration

Clockwise from top-left: Kaftan on set, Folkwear Afghani dress 1970s, McCalls 4773 dress 1975 and Vintage Afghani dress (Photo Credit: Etsy).


Episode 6 – The Duffle Coat

Duffle coat Inspiration

Clockwise from top-left: The Student Duffle Coat, Butterick 5635 duffle coat 1970s, McCalls 5260 duffle coat 1976 and Simplicity 5191 duffle coat 1972.

Author: steelyseamstress

Sewing a new wardrobe

5 thoughts on “Sewing The Seventies: The Little Drummer Girl TV series

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post, thank you, especially matching the outfits to patterns that were available at the time.

    • Glad you liked the matching patterns. I wish I’d done similar with my other TV series posts, but the fashions in The Little Drummer Girl were so much more prominent and part of the story that the series really inspired me.

  2. Excellent post. I really loved this series and liked it’s whole recreation of the 70s atmosphere from the fashion both men’s and women’s to the fabulous architecture. Like you I had thought it was early to mid seventies. I guess I associate late seventies with punk fashions. As an aside I thought Florence Pugh was excellent and wore all the fashions really well 😊

  3. Pingback: Seventies Fashion: The Mafia Only Kills in Summer TV series Episodes 1 &2 | Steely Seamstress

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