Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life


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A tour of Vogue sewing pattern envelopes from the 70s

I have quite a collection of 1970s patterns and I must admit a certain fascination with how the fashions and styles of the time are represented on the envelopes. Sadly, I don’t own all the patterns below, so just thank Ebay for the pics.

There are some pattern envelopes that represent the garments in a way that has hardly changed between the 70s and today. Take a look at these two envelopes: disregarding the fashions themselves, the style of the pattern envelope has scarcely changed and even the artwork is similar. I often think of this as evidence that the world of home sewing hasn’t changed too much in forty years.

Modern vs Vintage: The pattern envelope doesn’t seem to have changed much in 40 years.

Then there are the “aspiration” pattern envelopes that feature predominantly in the seventies. We see our fashion hero / heroine in opulent surroundings, descending from an aeroplane (definitely aspirational in the 70s) or standing by a shiny new car. I can think up whole stories around each of these so perhaps the photography is actually doing its job! Take a look at these offerings:

70s Vogue pattern: Galitzine

Here we have our heroine relaxing at her Scottish retreat, dressed up warm just before grabbing her coat for a long, but stylish ramble in the highlands. (That hat won’t stay on long, I fear!)

Here, our heroine sports matching shoes and a chic beret (because she is in Paris). She is just about to hail a taxi to get to a very important meeting. (She has a folder, a key indicator of importance!)

70s Vogue pattern: Balmain

Our heroine is in Rome. There is one of those three-wheel Piaggio vehicles in the background, so it must be Rome. Her expression is somewhat startled; I’m thinking post clandestine lunchtime meeting with lover and wondering whether her skirt hem isn’t tucked into her knickers at the back! Sorry the stories are getting worse!

70s Vogue pattern: Valentino

Of course, I can’t resist also mentioning “Lurking Man”. He appears on pattern envelopes skulking in the background. I haven’t quite worked out what his purpose is. Is he there is give an approving nod to our heroine’s sartorial choices? Or is he another “aspiration” indicator – our heroine is so great she has shock horror …..a man who follows her around attentively, looking brooding and staring into the middle distance!

70s Vogue pattern: Galitzine

Our heroine has just got married at a beautiful medieval castle in Umbria, Italy. Tragically, just after the ceremony her husband dramatically fell is his death from the ramparts, leaving her sad and forlorn and forever without Lurking Man.

70s Vogue Pattern: Fabiani

Just for balance I actually found Lurking Woman: “Ah signore, your beautiful jacket, let me stroke your sleeve, while I stare into the middle distance”

70s Vogue pattern: Valentino

My apologies for the above post, sometimes we just need to entertain ourselves!


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Vintage Seventies Simplicity 8924: blouse with a mahoosive collar

Every now and then I see a pattern envelope from the seventies that looks completely awful. It looks dated (and not in a cool retro way) and best relegated to the bottom of the drawer. This is Simplicity 8924, a wardrobe pattern printed in 1970. The wardrobe includes a skirt, trousers, a blouse and a sleeveless jacket. I found this pattern lurking in a box at Like Sew Amazing. It was in fact being given away free, so let’s just say that it was a profoundly unloved pattern.

Simplicity 8924: an ugly duckling of a pattern from 1970.

Let’s look at the artwork on the envelope:

From the left, model 1 and 4 wearing the blouse, matching vest and skirt – I think these are probably the only two ensembles that I would consider wearing, so almost cool? Model 2 wearing the trousers and Model 5 with the big scarf somehow seem a little too office-ready for my taste. Model 3 with the stripy blouse and corduroy vest and trousers just oozes the 70s, but the look seems a bit costume-like to me and dressed-like-a-crayon model 6 just doesn’t appeal, although I do like the idea of adding a belt.

However, despite my less than favourable opinion on the styling, somehow the pattern still spoke to me. I looked at that big-collared blouse and an idea was born! The blouse has a real statement collar – very on trend at the moment, I suppose. And, even though I can see that the collar is huge, in real life, as I discovered, it seems to take on an extra dimension!

The fabric

I chose a geometric print which has a very retro feel to it for this project. The fabric was from Minerva and comes in a variety of colourways. Just thought I’d share a tip here. I seem to find it difficult to find fabrics again on the Minerva website, but I have discovered that each fabric has a unique code, which is printed on the swatch label, which is very handy for finding out the details again (and providing a link for the blog, you’re welcome!). I chose the blue-brown combination, which I’m sure will fit well with other items in my wardrobe, but there is also brown, red and mint. The fabric is a stretch woven viscose. Strangely, I haven’t sewn much with stretch wovens this light-weight, but it was a very easy fabric to sew and I do like the feel and texture of it.

The construction

I didn’t make many alterations to the fit from the standard size 12 pattern that I had. I made the sleeves a little shorter and although I cut the body length as directly I make the zip aperture a little shorter to fit in with my higher waist and then lopped off a bit of extra length once I had tried the blouse on.

I could tell that this is a pattern of some vintage just because of the the construction techniques used. First of all, there is a long zip that runs down the back of the garment; to be honest it makes the blouse seem reminiscent of a dress. I’m not sure if I made this again I would bother with such a long zip, it isn’t even necessary for putting the blouse on. I could probably get away with the centre-back seam sewn up until a few inches from the top, leave that open and add a little button and thread loop at the neckline. In fact, I find the contortions needed to do up the zip irritating, but I suppose I haven’t worn a back-zipped dress in years so it isn’t surprising that I would be annoyed by this.

The other “vintage” construction features include the use of an elbow dart. I mean, when was the last time you saw one of those? I have seen them on bridal wear and on leather motorcycle suits, when the sleeves are worn tight against the arm and the darts enable movement, but on a casual-ish blouse?

Being a pattern of some age, of course there was a great deal of hand-sewing involved too. I skipped some of this, for example I just machine-hemmed the blouse. I also left off the hook-and-eyes from the collar. I really have a problem with these small metal hook-and-eyes. Just a warning here, as I’m about to relate a rather revolting story! When I was a teenager I used to sew and craft on my bed at home. One day I was scratching at my ear when a large lump of wax and dried blood fell out onto my lap. After picking at it (sorry, I said this was a revolting story!) I found that at the centre of this lump that had resided in my ear-hole, goodness knows how long, a small metal hook (one half of a hook-and-eye). It may be that the hook had been from a bra, or a skirt or something, but I suspect sewing on the bed was the most likely culprit. I suppose the moral of the story is not to do craft activities on the bed! And as you can imagine I have entertained an aversion to these hook-and-eye things ever since.

The construction itself was relatively easy although it did expect me to have some knowledge. There were no instructions on how to insert the invisible zip, just “follow the manufacturer’s instructions”, but there was precision in the pattern. There were a great many useful notches and markings so everything, the collar, the neck facings, the sleeves all lined up beautiful when I inserted them. There were lots of reminders to trim seams and under-stitch too. In fact, the pattern and its instructions were superb for getting absolute precision.

Not quite the weather for this outfit yet, but look at that huuuuge collar!

The Outcome

Do I like this blouse? It is a hard question to answer. I’m not so happy with the long zip down the back, but I suppose I could get used to the fight with the zip that’s necessary when I put it on. I am pleased though with the sewing and I do like the statement collar; somehow it looks even bolder in real life than on the pattern envelope. Have I turned this ugly duckling of a pattern into a swan-like garment? What do you think?

About to trail my cardigan in a puddle?

I’m now thinking about how this will work with my wardrobe, and will probably need to pull out a few items to see how they look in combination.


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#makenine2021 Pine green seventies sweater: the finished look

The makenine challenge each year always feels like an almighty hill to climb. Perhaps I am too ambitious for myself, but including a knitting project in the nine, when I am such a novice, always makes the challenge hard.

The project I chose was a sweater using a vintage pattern. I hadn’t knitted a full sweater before, nor followed a vintage pattern: this really was a learning curve. Not to mention that this is only the second project where I had picked up stitches on a neckline, or used mattress stitch to seam. I laugh in the face of my ambitions! This said, it was no surprise that the process was slow, and I needed to consult youtube frequently to check on the techniques that I either didn’t know, or needed reminding about.

Sirdar knitting pattern from the seventies

Yarn choice

The only familiar aspect of the project was that I chose to use Lett Lopi yarn. I used the same yarn here and was so pleased with the result I wanted to used the same wool again. The yarn is extremely warm, perhaps because it comes from Icelandic sheep.

I had a conversation with my next-door neighbour recently where we talked about working from home and he shared with me his delight in a quilted gilet and fingerless gloves. This sweater is my equivalent and will help ward off the creeping cold that seems to penetrate your bones when you need to sit still for hours in a cold Victorian house.

One thing to note for those that have never used Lett lopi before; it has the very unusual property of being made of only one strand. Plyed yarns are stronger than a single strand of the same thickness so you do need to be careful when pulling on the yarn. I am quite a loose knitter so never have problems with this, but trying to seam my sweater together I did pull the yarn apart a few times.

Construction

My experience with my first vintage knitting pattern was better than I expected. I was nervous about diving into this project simply because I couldn’t tell what quantity of wool was needed, but after those initial doubts, following the instructions was simple enough and I used youtube to fill my knowledge gaps when I came across techniques or stitches I didn’t know. I learned a lot about different types of decrease and picking up stitches with this project. I was extremely pleased that I incorporate a beautiful alternating cable cast-on too.

Pine-green sweater styled: stood out in the wind and the rain just long enough for this photo!

Summary

My sweater is very warm; I would go as far as saying that I will probably only wear it inside at home or when it is very cold outside. My only regret is that it is quite tight-fitting and before you ask my gauge was spot on and I picked the correct size. According to the pattern, it is to be worn with no ease. I really should have read that, but somehow I didn’t. I think it fits with the seventies aesthetic, but I’m not convinced it looks marvellous on me with my lack of waist definition. I have been going through my wardrobe and experimenting with different looks. Here are my thoughts:

Three looks with the pine-green sweater

Look 1: Brushed cotton checked shirt (Lekala) with RTW low-rise jeans

The low-rise of these jeans meant that there was a definite gap between the bottom of the sweater and the trousers, so I wondered whether the untucked shirt would work. I’m not sure. I like the brushed cotton under the sweater though.

Look 2: Brushed cotton shirt with flared high-rise jeans

The colour of the shirt is probably not a great choice, but I wanted to see if this style fitted well under the sweater and it did. The high-rise jeans cover the gap between the sweater finishing and the jeans waistband.

Look 3: Floral liberty shirt with RTW Black velvet skirt

This was a surprise combination: I have never worn this shirt and skirt together and the sweater brings the whole look together. I like this! I have often seen dresses worn with cropped jumpers and this emulates that look as the skirt sits quite high on the waist.


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#makenine2021 Pine green seventies sweater progress 1

I took the plunge last month and bought yarn for a new knitting project. I chose a very simple, plain knitting pattern for the project. However, the pattern is vintage and I had been worried that this would cause all sorts of complications.

Last month my problem was how much yarn to order, but using other patterns on Ravelry as a guide, I guessed the total amount I would need and ordered the wool. This month I’ve actually been making progress on the knitting. Have there been any more challenges?

Surprisingly, so far it has been a reasonably smooth process. The pattern is reasonably straight-forward, although just like a seventies sewing pattern it does assume a reasonable amount of knowledge. For example, when it suggests a decrease, it doesn’t tell you what sort of decrease to make. However, because there was no hand-holding, I have been forced to take to Youtube and learn. Actually, I always prefer this way of learning, the type of learning that relies on discovery. I’ve always found that the most rewarding type of learning. It means that you will always end up reading/watching more than you really need. However, I think this means that you acquire more understanding as a result, compared to a situation where you are just “told” what to do. I can certainly see with this make that my arm-hole edges are much more elegant and all my decreases are slanting correctly. Plus, because this is such a plain sweater, if I like the shape I could easily make another with stripes or other colour-work. (Clearly my dreams of being a proficient knitter well exceed reality)

The other thing I have noticed is the pattern is full of details that add finesse to the overall finished knit. For example, s1 stitches are used at particular points as the first stitch in a row. Essentially s1 is where you just slip the stitch, without knitting or purling to the working needle. The reason this is great is that it can tighten up the edges and give a better finish.

The Toasty Sweater I created last year was a very off-putting experience and mostly because the maths wasn’t correct. An example, the pattern would say decrease 5 stitches for 2 rows (so 10 stitches in total would lost overall), but then the total number of stitches left at the end of the decrease would be incorrect. It was very frustrating and I ended up re-writing sections of the pattern. This jumper, so far, has been prefect. Every decrease I have done has resulted in the right number of stitches for the row. For a beginner it is so important that these things are correct, otherwise you begin to doubt your own (limited) skills.

The back piece took quite a while to knit and it wasn’t the most interesting thing to do once the colour changes on the ribbing were completed. I only used 2.5 balls of wool, so I will have plenty to finish the project, which is reassuring. The front piece is very similar to the back piece so I know that the maths will be correct for that too. Reassuring again! I finally feel I am well on the way to a warm jumper!


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Revitalised or Style Blunder: Wrap and Go Butterick 6720

At the beginning of the month, I thought I would put aside some time to revisit one of those makes that has failed to live up to expectations. These were a pair of “Wrap and Go” wrap trousers using 70s vintage pattern Butterick 6720.

Interesting, I have seen two real people (i.e. whilst walking around in town) wearing wrap trousers just like these. I assume they bought theirs. Nice to see designers flick through 70s styles for inspiration too!

Anyway, back to the changes I made to the trousers. In the past, I have found that these trousers weren’t very comfortable to wear because they dug into my stomach too much. Here are the modifications I made:

  1. Re-cut the elastic so that it wasn’t too tight
  2. Inserted wider elastic
  3. Used a button instead of a skirt hook
  4. Converted the tie so that it also uses elastic for comfort, and is just finished with the fabric.
  5. Created wider ties

I can say that this step has been very successful. They are much more comfortable to wear and unlike before, I don’t have to adjust the waist during the day.

Wrap and Go Trousers (Butterick 6720) with wrap top – too much wrapping?

The other problem was that I didn’t have a suitable top to wear with the trousers. I made this top. Does the new top work with the trousers? Here are some thoughts: colour-wise the top works well, style I’m not so sure. Is there too much “wrap-action” going on, with a wrap top and wrap trousers? The top also doesn’t tuck in at the back because of the tie.

Butterick 6720: Too many ties? And this top doesn’t tuck in properly.

I don’t think I have managed to find the right top yet. Plus, I’m still not sure whether the style of the trousers suits me. I am not used to wearing long and floating styles generally so I hope, dear readers, you may help me out with this. Have I made a style faux-pas?

Butterick 6720: Action shot! Looks good when I’m wafting along (Sorry, not sorry about the bra strap there!)

When I originally posted the make many people suggested I should wear a short/cropped top or a top which was tucked-in with these trousers. However, I just don’t have any short tops in my wardrobe and I’m not into tucking tops in; I have a very short body and this look often just seems to accentuate my somewhat odd proportions.

However, more recently I looked online I saw similar trousers from modern patterns Simplicity 4192 and Vogue 9191 paired and these were modelled with longer line tops. The big difference with the two modern patterns is that instead of gathers around the waist the trousers had darts. Would less bulk around the waist serve me better and could I then wear these with a longer top? Can I be jiggered to take these trousers apart again to add darts and lop off the excess fabric?

You may have noticed that in these photos I am wearing the trousers with the flaps at the front. This is the conventional way, but I have worn them backwards too.

Lastly, I reminded myself today of another reason why I don’t wear these trousers often. A toilet trip in which I don’t drape the trousers all over the floor requires considerable ingenuity and several extra limbs! Ah well, some makes work out brilliantly, others don’t.


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The Serpent Outfit: Top with dramatic sleeves

After watching The Serpent earlier in the year, I was attracted to all the costumes in the show and in particular to this outfit worn by Monique / Marie-Andree (she goes by both names), played by Jenna Coleman.

Cheers! This is one of my favourite outfits from the series so far. Those big sleeves! That colour combination!
Cheers! This is one of my favourite outfits from the series so far. Those big sleeves! That colour combination!

I particularly liked the big dramatic sleeves and found that this Burda pattern in my collection fitted the bill well:

Looking at the line drawing I can see that this top has a v-neck. This is shared with the top in the TV show too. I also noticed that in the photo of Jenna Coleman the sleeves have two pleats that add even more volume. However, I thought I would stick with the Burda version as I wasn’t sure how much I’m going to love the sleeves in everyday life. Would they get in the way too much?

The Burda line drawing also shows the back view which has a yoke and pleat, just like a shirt. I have kept these features in my make, because I really don’t know what the original top looks like from the back.

Fabric Choice

The fabric choice was quite a dilemma for me. There is a certain vibe about the print used in the original top that is largely missing from modern prints. There is a tendency for certain colour combinations in 70s designs that don’t appear on fabrics today. The patterns can also be big and bold. On The Serpent blouse, the colours are complementary, and the pattern itself, although big, is a somewhat indistinct, abstract floral design.

I wanted these elements in my choice; complementary colours and abstract floral design. It actually turned out more difficult to meet these requirements than I’d first thought.

I looked at various floral designs on online fabric stores and came up with these ideas.

Fabric Inspiration: clockwise from top left – 1. from Minerva fabrics 2. from Minerva fabrics 3. from Storrs 4. from Storrs 5. from Storrs 6. from Like Sew Amazing

Before I went ahead I looked on Instagram to see if anyone else had made the Burda top. I spotted this amazing floral version from Merine on Instagram and I couldn’t have imagined a better fabric. I wonder whether this version may have swayed me in my final choice, because I went for the bold coral and mint dahlia print from Like Sew Amazing (shown above in the bottom right hand corner), which is a cotton lawn.

Construction

I used French seams throughout for my make. I was pleased that the pattern included cutting out two back yoke pieces. Yes, I know that is normal for a shirt, but you’ll be surprised that I have seen more than one blouse pattern where only one back yoke piece is mentioned. I was a little concerned that the fabric might be quite transparent, so I cut the inner yoke piece from plain white cotton lawn. I wanted to make sure that the bold pattern didn’t show through where the fabric is white.

I made the v-neck a little higher, this is a normal adjustment for me. I think it may have been too revealing otherwise. I was very careful with the construction of the v-neck opening. I’ve made a couple of neck openings of a similar construction (allowance clipped and then facing turned to inside) recently and felt that the finish on these didn’t quite meet my exacting standards. I think it can be a tricky finish to get right with the possibility of fraying and making a very obvious hole. I think the closely woven fabric helped enormously this time and I didn’t feel that the point of the “V” became unduly weak.

I left the hem on the sleeve till last and then spend several days deliberating on the finished length. In the Burda picture and also in The Serpent, the tops have wrist length sleeves, but the pattern is drafted for someone with slightly longer arms, so I knew I would have to take off some of the length. Then I wondered whether I should go with a shorter, more practical length, but I wanted to be true to the original inspiration. Once I’d decided, I cut off 4 cm so that the sleeve came to my wrist.

Summary

Well, here’s the top in all its glory!

The Serpent blouse

I also really like the yoke and pleat at the back. It makes the top light and airy, in fact perfect for summer. I would even consider making this top with more restrained sleeves, because I like the other features such as the back pleat and the v-neck, so much.

Back view of “The Serpent” top showing the back yoke and pleat.

And finally here is a shot where I’ve semi-tucked the blouse in. I’m not big on wearing summer blouses tucked in (I just like a bit of circulating air), but I thought it would show another way this top could be styled. I noticed that Jenna Coleman wears hers tucked in and I may give that a go when I make the mint-coloured trousers.


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The Serpent Outfit: Planning

I’ve reviewed The Serpent TV series recently here. The costumes really brought the 70s setting to life and I found that I was inadvertently dreaming up a wardrobe based on the fashions. I don’t have time to make the entire wardrobe, but I wanted to make at least one outfit inspired by the series. Here were my top 5 outfits:

No 5: Marie-Andree’s striped flounce top and denim skirt with a white belt.

Fantastic denim skirt with a white belt

Fantastic denim skirt with a white belt

No 4: Stephane’s hippie coat and embroidered top

Stephane introduces her mother to her grandchild

Stephane introduces her mother to her grandchild. The brown coat just screams seventies to me!

No 3: Angela’s green emsemble

Angela in a late 70s / early 80s fashions beside the pool.

Angela in a late 70s / early 80s fashions beside the pool.

No 2: Marie-Andree’s yellow jumpsuit with wide belt

Marie-Andree's yellow jumpsuit - a striking outfit for the drama of the scenes by the swimming pool

Marie-Andree’s yellow jumpsuit – a striking outfit for the drama of the scenes by the swimming pool

No 1: Mint trousers and bell-sleeved top

Cheers! This is one of my favourite outfits from the series so far. Those big sleeves! That colour combination!

Cheers! This is one of my favourite outfits from the series so far. Those big sleeves! That colour combination!

Kate at the foldline came up with some excellent pattern recommendations for some of these outfits. They selected the Dove blouse by Megan Neilson and the Jessa trousers from Tilly and the Buttons for making this outfit. Jane at Sewliloquy pointed out that the Burda pattern in January’s issue was a good match and I couldn’t agree more. However, I thought I should look through my extensive pattern collection to see what I already had. I found this Burda pattern from 2017 would work well too. It has the big sleeves and the v-neck.

I have a several trouser patterns from the seventies, but I’m toying with the idea of going with a modern pattern instead. I’m fallen in love with the flared trousers from a recent La Mia Boutique issue. It isn’t a complete match for the trousers, but then I am going for an outfit inspired by the look, rather than an identical copy.

La mia boutique flared trousers

La mia boutique flared trousers

As far as fabric is concerned, I think I will probably choose some corduroy for the trousers, it is probably easiest for me to find the colour in that fabric.

For the top, I’m not sure I’ve found exactly what I want. I liked the colour combination in the original. I mean, orangey-red, and grass green are not obvious choices with the mint-coloured trousers, but they work so well. Now that I’ve spent the last week looking at Wear Happy Color 2021 I guess I can say with confidence that it’s a complementary combination and that’s why it works!

Fabric Inspiration: clockwise from top left – 1. from Minerva fabrics 2. from Minerva fabrics 3. from Storrs 4. from Storrs 5. from Storrs 6. from Like Sew Amazing

I’ve been looking on the internet for inspiration and there are so many fantastic choices. I particularly like the Storrs fabrics, as they seem to have a particularly 70s colour palette and vibe. I’m still totally undecided though. What do you think would work best?


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The Serpent – TV series review Episodes 7 & 8

The net is closing in on Charles and Marie-Andree as they arrive in Paris. They have a meeting set up with potential clients, but first Charles wants to introduce Marie-Andree to his mother. The reception they receive is rather frosty and Marie-Andree is left with many doubts about Charles.

Dressed up to see Charles's mother. Marie-Andree is dressed in striking ensemble - blue suit, teal cape and red polo neck.

Dressed up to see Charles’s mother. Marie-Andree is dressed in a striking ensemble – blue suit, teal cape and red polo neck. Marie-Andree looks bold and confident in red – how long will this confidence last?

Marie-Andree wears a striking red top for the business meeting

Marie-Andree wears red again for the business meeting.

At the same time, Herman, Nadine and Remi are desperately trying to get the French authorities interested in arrested Sobhraj in Paris. They feel that the odds of getting Sobhraj arrested are now very slim. However, with the sudden involvement of the Bangkok post and Interpol perhaps there will be a breakthrough in the case.

Denim all round here with Nadine in jeans and a matching sleeveless jacket and Mrs Knippenberg in a denim jumpsuit

Denim all round here with Nadine in jeans and a matching sleeveless jacket and Mrs Knippenberg in a denim jumpsuit. Herman has a huge kipper tie.

We also step back in time to meet Stephane, who is leaving for Thailand to look for her Turkish fiancee, Vitali. The only clue to his disappearance is a business card from a gem dealer.

Stephane introduces her mother to her grandchild

Stephane introduces her mother to her grandchild. The brown coat just screams seventies to me!

In Episode 8, Charles and Marie-Andree are running out of options. Charles and Marie-Andree’s life on the run isn’t glamorous. After fleeing Paris, they end up back in India bedding down in the same room as a  group of Western tourists. They are up to the usual scams; stealing travellers’ cheques and passports. However, new recruit to their schemes, John, is worried when the couple’s criminal activities are not limited to theft and contacts the police in Delhi.

Meanwhile there is international interest in all the evidence that Herman has collected on the case. Interpol want to take over the case, however he is frustrated by their lack of action. Herman doesn’t seem able to let go of the case, and it is beginning to affect his marriage to Angela.

Angela in a late 70s / early 80s fashions beside the pool.

Angela in a late 70s / early 80s fashions beside the pool.

Sobhraj has come up with a plan to fleece a group of German tourists, but will such an audacious plan work?

Angela trouser suit

Can’t figure out how many years have past here from Angela’s trouser suit which definitely looks like an eighties style, but looking up events on Wikipedia, we are apparently in 2003!

Apparently, the series has been one of the most streamed since the beginning of the year and I’m not surprised by its popularity. I have found the leads, Tahar Rahim as the cold killer and Jenna Coleman as the enigmatic accomplice, utterly convincing. In the end, I got used to the hopping time-line and actually began to enjoy seeing the old-fashioned flight information board captions coming up to announce each change of scene. I’ve enjoyed the seventies sets and costumes too, of course. Most of all, I have been impressedt hat although the drama depicted Sobhraj’s grisly crimes, it didn’t overly glamourise his life and forget the victims.


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The Serpent – TV series review Episodes 5 & 6

This is a follow-on from my previous episode recaps here and here. The whole series is still available in the UK on the BBC.

At the beginning of Episode 5, Herman has finally secured enough evidence for the police to arrest Sobhraj. Under the guise of a narcotics raid, the police plan to swoop on Sobhraj’s apartment. Herman phones Nadine, but Sobhraj is in her flat and they think he may have overheard the phone conversation.

More conservative dresses from diplomat's wife, Angela Knippenberg.

More conservative dresses from diplomat’s wife, Angela Knippenberg. I do like the interiors in this series too. They are all in the style of the era, but different to fit in with the characters style and occupations. Here is the Knippenberg house the decor is tasteful and unostentatious.

The police decide to move in straight away. Meanwhile Nadine is invited to have an alcoholic drink with Charles, Marie-Andree and Ajay by the pool.

Marie-Andree's yellow jumpsuit - a striking outfit for the drama of the scenes by the swimming pool

Marie-Andree’s yellow jumpsuit – a striking outfit for the drama of the scenes by the swimming pool. I like the way the belt and the shoes harmonise in this outfit.

Sobhraj then suggests that Marie-Andree goes shopping and Ajay takes her in the car, leaving Nadine and Sobhraj alone at the apartment. Sobhraj airs his suspicions that Nadine must have helped Dominique escape. Nadine’s life is in danger but the police are temporarily stood down, while they await Marie-Andree and Ajay to return so all three can be arrested.

Just before the police arrive Sobhraj, always seeming in control, makes a few last minute preparations. He ensures that he, Marie-Andree and Ajay are wearing as much jewellery as they can and he also hides the key to the safe.

In a step back in time we see another aspect of Sobhraj’s life. It seems that he is also having a relationship behind Marie-Andree’s back. In fact, Sobhraj gets engaged to Suda, but we left guessing which relationship is more important to Sobhraj. Suda is clearly useful for her connections to the gem trade and her father is in the police.

Suda wears quite understated dresses. Like the belt this is paired with.

Suda wears quite understated dresses. Like the belt this is paired with.

On arriving at the police station, Sobhraj ostentatiously takes off his jewellery and empties wadges of cash from his pockets. He obviously hopes that the police can be bribed.

Nadine and Remi celebrate Sobhraj’s arrest at the Knippenbergs, but Herman gets a call from the police which suggests the investigation is not going to plan. It seems Sobhraj has taken a new identity, which is confusing the investigation. On top of that will Sobhraj’s bribery work?

In Episode 6 we step back to late sixties and Sobhraj’s marriage to Juliette.

I struggled to get a good shot of Juliette's wedding dress. This shot shows the detail best - it is rather beautiful - full length, all lace, with a train.

I struggled to get a good shot of Juliette’s wedding dress. This shot shows the detail best – it is rather beautiful – full length, all lace, with a train.

Back with the Knippenbergs, Herman is increasingly agitated and completely loses it when the gardener mistakenly clears all the water-lilies from the pond. He’s in even more trouble at the embassy for pursuing the case and his boss “tells him” to take a holiday for three weeks.

Meanwhile Sobhraj and Marie-Andree are in Pakistan, where Sobhraj needs to make some phonecalls to find a buyer for his gems.

Can Madame be persuaded to buy the gems? Madame Boeder has a rather bohemian style, beautiful large print fabric in jewel tones (perhaps no coincidence there). Another interior - an elegant office in a Paris apartment, I think I would suggest this room is timeless and classic.

Can Madame be persuaded to buy the gems? Madame Boeder has a rather bohemian style, with a beautiful large print fabric in jewel tones (perhaps reflect her love of gems). Another beautiful interior – an elegant office in a Paris apartment, it’s timeless and classic.

Marie-Andree seems more relaxed since they have left Bangkok, but isn’t thrilled when Ajay, who had stayed behind, suddenly makes an appearance. Marie-Andree had requested Ajay bring a notebook from the apartment, but he didn’t have time to fetch it.

Marie-Andree's blouse is really interesting. It has voluminous sleeves and is asymmetric with a big flounce extending from the front on the right side. I like how the pastel shades look together too.

Marie-Andree’s blouse is really interesting. It has voluminous sleeves and is asymmetric with a big flounce extending from the front on the right side. I like how the pastel shades look together too.

We also see the early years of Sobhraj’s marriage to Juliette in India. They have a child, but Sobhraj isn’t the most reliable husband and the lifestyle he leads proves to be too much for his new bride.

Juliette visits Sobhraj in jail. She's wearing a denim blouse with a contrast yoke.

Juliette visits Sobhraj in jail. She’s wearing a denim blouse with a contrast yoke.

Herman tries to relax on hoilday, but is disturbed by a phone call from Nadine saying that the Sobhraj apartment is going to be let. The Knippenbergs rush back to Bangkok to search the apartment before any vital evidence is lost. They find a hidden “medicine” cupboard containing all the drugs that Sobhraj used in his poisonings, stolen passports and Marie-Andree’s notebook.

As the episode draws to its menacing conclusion we begin to see where Sobhraj’s loyalties lie or perhaps we see that he only values a relationship that furthers his own aims.


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The Serpent – TV series review Episodes 1 & 2

The Serpent is a new 8-part TV series currently showing on the BBC in the UK. It is set in the 1970s and is based on the real-life case of the French serial killer, Charles Sobhraj. In 1975-76 Sobhraj posed as gem dealer in Thailand, Nepal and India and carried out a number murders, particularly targetting Western tourists. The drama also follows the story of Dutch diplomat, Herman Knippenberg. He stumbled upon the case when the parents of a young Dutch tourist write to the Ambassador asking for help in locating their daughter and her boyfriend, who had seemingly disappeared. He spends many months trying to uncover the truth behind their disappearance, despite the disapproval of his superiors.

Episode 1 opens with scenes from a party in Bangkok. Scenes of revelers are juxtaposed with scenes showing the host and hostess attending a sick party-goer and also rifling though his bags for his passport and money.

Going by the names, Alain and Montique, Sobhraj and his girlfriend, Marie-Andree appear as a supremely glamorous couple. They are chic, they have a beautiful house with a pool and their invitations are seemingly generous and warm.

Seventies sophistication?

Seventies sophistication?

There is a blend of vintage footage interspersed with the story, which helps immerse the viewer in the period setting and location. I particularly love the seventies airport scenes.

The next part of the episode introduces young back-packer, Willem shopping for an engagement ring. He falls hook, line and sinker for the suave “Alain” and sophisticated “Monique”, as they persuade Willem that they can make up a sapphire engagement ring at a fraction of the price of those in the  shop window.

Wowza- this orange shirt and the scarf!

Wowza- this orange shirt and the scarf!

Finally, we also get to see the other main protagonist in this series, Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg, running late for a social event. He has just been sent a letter from anxious parents, worried that their daughter and her boyfriend have not been in contact for over two months.

A cool seventies tennis outfit

A cool seventies tennis outfit

Unfortunately, in this first episode there is a lot of jumping between different time frames which can be a little confusing. We also get a little back-story involving two back-packers, Celia and soon-to-be Buddhist nun Teresa. They too get swept into the Bangkok party scene and find themselves at the Sobhraj house.

A very glamorous green party dress

A very glamorous green party dress

The episode ends with Herman’s investigation taking an unexpected turn when he gets some interesting information from the Australian embassy.

In Episode 2 we go right back to the start. We see Marie-Andree meeting Sobhraj for the first time. Even at this point Sobraj’s modus operandi appears to be well-developed. Taking a liking to Marie-Andree, and wanting her then boyfriend out of the picture, we see the boyfriend becoming “ill” and retching in the bathroom after the couple accept a drink with Sobhraj.

Then, it’s back to Herman’s investigation. The Thai police seem unable to devote any resource to the case so Herman Knippenberg doggedly continues with his investigations alone.

Oh Mrs Knippenberg you're not as glam as Marie-Andree, but when I finally sure the whole length of this dress I was much more impressed with your elegant style

Oh Mrs Knippenberg you’re not as glam as Marie-Andree, but when I finally saw the whole length of this dress I was much more impressed with your elegant style

He receives a bundle of letters previously written by the young Dutch couple and they mention a “French gem dealer”. Herman quickly follows up on this lead and gets to hear about a woman who has reported “wild accusations” about a French gem dealer to various embassies.

We also see the early days of the romance between Sobhraj and Marie-Andree. Clearly, Marie-Andree is infatuated, but he isn’t quite the attentive boyfriend she desires.

At the beach

At the beach

In this episode we are introduced to Dominique, who Sobhraj brings back to the house because he is “ill”. We’ll get to hear more from him in the next episode.

Fantastic denim skirt with a white belt

Fantastic denim skirt with a white belt

Obviously, being a real case we can all google what happened, so I wasn’t sure how the plot could be developed from here in an exciting way. If you’ve been watching this series so far, you’ll note that I am already a little behind and episode 3 has already aired….but just to let you know, it gets much more interesting….