Steely Seamstress

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Sewing the Seventies: 1973 in Italy

In March 1973, The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola was awarded best picture at the Oscars. The film was released the previous year and is based on the American author, Mario Puzo’s best-selling crime novel. The film details the story of a fictional Mafia family based in New York City headed by Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando). The film is set in the forties and fifties, but also provides the story of Vito’s childhood.

The Godfather was filmed on location primarily in New York, but also in Sicily. The town, Corleone, which the family is named after, does exist. It is where the real-life Corleonesi clan originated. However, it was considered too modern in the seventies for filming. Coppola therefore opted to film in other locations, namely Motta Camastra and Forza d’Agro. The scenes where Michael meets and proposes to Apollonia were filmed in Savoca [1].

The character of Vito Corleone was based on Carlo Gambino, who was born in Palermo and was initiated into the “cosca mafiosa” (mafia clan) at the age of eighteen. He emigrated to the United States in the 1920s where he participated in selling contraband alcohol. During the thirties he became involved in various illicit activities and became head of the “famiglia” by ordering the murder of many of his rivals.

It has been remarked in Italy that The Godfather has tended to glorify the mafia and its activities. However, an American may have a different perspective than an Italian about the mafia. The actions of the mafia in Sicily were once more like banditry and the clans ran a type of protection service that substituted for the rule of law in Sicily immediately after the unification of Italy. Perhaps, this romaticised view of the mafia, which was handed down to the Italian immigrants influences this film. In contrast, the mafia in Sicily became an organised crime syndicate involved in protection racketeering, smuggling, drug refining and distribution and the rigging of public contracts. In the seventies they had inflitrated politics at a national level and there are many more victims of the mafia’s crimes in Italy [2].

Bar Vitelli as shown in the film and today

Bar Vitelli as shown in the film and today

The Italian-American Civil Rights League wanted all uses of the words “mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” to be removed from the script, in addition to feeling that the film emphasized stereotypes about Italian-Americans. The two instances of the word “mafia” were removed from the screenplay and the league gave its support for the script.

Kidnappings were commonplace during the seventies and between the middle of the seventies and the middle of the eighties, as many as 489 people were kidnapped in Italy. The kidnappers demanding a ransom in each case [3].

On the 10th July 1973 John Paul Getty III, grandson of the millionaire oil baron John Paul Getty is kidnapped in Rome by the ‘ndrangheta calabrese, a criminal organisation. He was taken, blindfolded, and imprisoned in a cave. It took a while for the news of the kidnapping to filter through. His grandfather for a time was convinced that his grandson had orchestrated a “fake” kidnapping in order to ask for a ransom, hoping to receive the money himself. His immediate family though, immediately recognised that he was in real danger.

The police were able to establish that the perpetrators did not have any scruples and would kill the young Getty if their ransom demand was not met. The Getty patriarch, even through his money could have paid the debts of the entire Italian population for ten consecutive years, refused outright to pay the ransom. The kidnappers, at that point passed the hostage onto another group, who sent a slice of the boy’s ear to a newspaper, complaining that they were endangering John Paul’s life by taking so long (three months) over the negotiations.

A letter arrived for the family containing a few lines from John Paul. He wrote that he was only 17 years old, but he expected to die if they didn’t pay. The letter also included a photo of his severed ear. Finally a telephone call was received by “Il Tempo” newspaper from the kidnappers. The severed ear convinced the hitherto inflexible grandfather to pay the ransom. John Paul Getty III was released on 15th December, after five months in captivity. He was found at a service station on a road between Salerno and Reggio Calabria [4].

John Paul Getty III interviewed after his release

The story of the kidnapping has been told in the recent TV series, Trust. At the end of the series you get to find out how the ransom was used by the kidnappers. The money was invested into the industrialisatiion of the Gioa Tauro region. Today the economic activies of ‘Ndrangheta include international cocaine and weapons smuggling. An estimated 80% of Europe’s cocaine passes through the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro [4].

In February, the dollar is devalued by 10%. The monetary exchanges are closed throughout Europe. The treasury minister decides to let the currency fluctuate. When the exchanges open again the lira has lost 10% of its value. A strategy of devaluation and prioritising large industrial exports, principally cars and tyres follows. This sees the prices of certain goods that Italy doesn’t produce, such as flour, rise steeply. The price of bread had been fixed at 160 lire per kilo, but in Naples, bakeries refused to bake because this didn’t cover the costs of production. For days shoppers couldn’t find any bread. In other cities it was also difficult to find bread.

An oil crisis began in October 1973 when the members of OPEC (the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) proclaimed an oil embargo. The embargo was targeted at nations perceived as supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. With a shortage of oil, the government set various austerity measures in place.


[1] Locations filmed in The Godfather (in Italian)

[2] The portrayal of the mafia in The Godfather (in Italian)

[3] Kidnappings in Italy (in italian)

[4] The ‘Ndrangheta (in English)


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Sewing The Seventies: 1972 in Italy

To understand some of the events of 1972, we need to rewind a little to 1969. On 12th December, in Piazza Fontana, central Milan, a bomb exploded causing the deaths of 17 people. 88 were injured. Shortly after an unexploded device was also found in Milan. The bag was recovered but the device was detonated in a controlled explosion that evening, destroying vital evidence. A further three bombs exploded in Rome injuring 16 people. The Piazza Fontana bomb was the first and most shocking terrorist act since the war and is considered as “the mother of all the atrocities” that followed [1].

The investigations into the bombs centred around extremist groups based in Milan. On 12th December Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist was questioned by the police. On 15th December, after three days of interrogation, he died after falling from the fourth floor of the police station. The Milan police, said that Pinelli committed suicide because they had proved his involvement in the bombings. This official version of events was strongly criticised by the press, due to inconsistencies in the accounts of the witnesses.

An inquest was held. The three police officers interrogating Pinelli, including Luigi Calabresi, were put under investigation for his death. Luigi Calibresi was targetted by the press and received frequent death threats from extreme left groups. On the city’s walls, graffiti was daubed depicting hands dripping with blood, accusing Calibresi of having assassinated Pinelli.

CALABRESI ASSASSINO (Calabresi is an assassin)

On 17th May 1972 Luigi Calabresi was shot by unknown assailants from a car as he left his house. Calabresi, mortally wounded, collapsed on the pavement. People tried to save him; an ambulance arrived and took him to hospital, but Calabresi died. The car used by the assassins was found abandonned, it had been stolen. Members of the hard-left Lotta Continua group were found responsible for the killing.

The inquest into Pinelli’s death finally reached its conclusion in 1975. Pinelli’s fall was attributed to him fainting then losing his balance and falling from the room’s balcony. It was proved that Luigi Calibresi was not present in the room at the time of Pinelli’s death. There was found to be no wrongdoings regarding Pinelli’s death [3].

And what of the investigations into the Piazza Fontana bombing itself? Tobias Jones, in his book “The Dark Heart of Italy” [2], devotes a whole chapter to this. In 2000, a commission was once again looking into the atrocity, the eighth investigation (yes, you read that right, the eighth) into the bombing. Over the years, any who have come close to explaining what happened on that day, including Pinelli and Calibresi, have become themselves additions to Italy’s long list of “illustrious corpses”. Suspects, witnesses, police and magistrates all became indirect casualties of the Piazza Fontana bomb. Victims of the escalating cycle of recrimination. Vital evidence too has been lost or destroyed in the intervening years.

The investigations concluded that the atrocity was carried out by far-right extremists, organised, promoted and supported by men within Italian institutions and by people linked to American intelligence. The Vatican too, cannot escape mention here. It had an ambiguous attitude to fascism and was in favour of whatever intervention was necessary on the part of the USA. The aim being to spread panic and justify a state of emergency in the country, a plan known as the “strategia della tensione” (strategy of tension). Of the actual perpetrators, several individuals were sentenced, but were always acquitted on appeal. Like Tobias Jones notes in his book, we will probably never know the entire truth and the case will remain one of the “misteri d’Italia” (mysteries of Italy).

Last year I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the foods that people ate in the 1970s. In the UK our diet has changed quite considerably to embrace cuisine from other countries, including from Italy. Our family used to spend the summer holidays in Italy each year and drove by car from England to Italy. One of the annual rituals was a stocking up on Italian foods whilst we were over there. On our journey back the car would be filled to the brim; there would be the clanking of the wine bottles and a huge canister of olive oil and the aromas of parmesan cheese and cured ham would mingle with the smells of a damp tent and unwashed socks.

Whilst many Italian foods have been embraced in the UK, who doesn’t love a good pizza or pasta dish, the same affection has not been extended to every Italian food. These are the Italian marmite equivalents:

Fette biscottate

Fette biscottate are packaged slices of toast – light, crisp and largely tasteless. They are the kind of snack you snatch from the hotel breakfast bar on the way out and find yourself nibbling later on the train in disappointment.



This is a fizzy drink that comes in a lurid shade of red. It comes in cute little bottles and is known as an aperitivo (aperitif), so is apparently drunk before dinner [4]. I’ve always known the drink as “gingerino”, but this is just a brand name (the manufacturer being Recoaro), but there are also other brands such as Crodino or SanBitter. This is definitely something you need to grow up with, because trying this drink out on friends and colleagues most can barely manage a mouthful without wanting to spit it out! The only person I found who liked drinking it in this country was Swiss!

A bitter fizzy drink


Another drink. Cynar is a bitter tasting alcohol digestivo (a digestive – for drinking after dinner, do Italians have a drink for every occasion?) It is made from artichokes. It is similar to some other drinks. My personal favourite is Avverna, made out of basil leaves amongst other things and is somewhat sweeter.

A drink made from artichokes

Pocket Coffee

I’ve actually got a few of these chocolates left in the fridge from a recent trip to Italy. They are a little like liquor chocolates, but have what tastes like a sip of neat coffee in each chocolate. There is even a decaffeinated version! They are made by Ferrero-Rocher, but I’ve never seen them in the UK.

Pocket Coffee

Squid ink spaghetti

This one is like all those foods that are just the wrong colour. I can’t say I’m too fond of blue cake either. Of course, it doesn’t really taste any different from ordinary spaghetti. But ee get so used to spaghetti’s usual wheat-like shade, that somehow dress it up however you like, it just reminds me of a plate of black tentacles!

Squid-ink spaghetti

[1] The Piazza Fontana bombing – wikipedia (in Italian)

[2] The Dark Heart of Italy (Tobias Jones)

[3] Pushing past the night (in English) / Spingenda la notte più in là (in Italian)

[4] Cos’è il gingerino? (in Italian)

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Sewing The Seventies: 1971 in Italy

A North-South divide exists in the UK, but its influence is not felt as keenly as the North-South divide in Italy. On the surface, geographical differences in Italy don’t seem so huge; the Italian regions, seem to have more in common than anything that sets them apart. The food, culture and climate are broadly similar, although they do reflect the different climates and geography up and down the country. However, there is considerable prejudice. I know people in the North who won’t set foot anywhere further south than Florence. My landlady in Italy used to get very upset about hanging out the washing on the line on Sundays. She used to declare that “we aren’t in Naples here”, the implication being that only Neopolitans would be as brazen as to let their undies flap around in the breeze on holy days. Even cleaning is a prejudiced activity in Italy; many Italians clean their kitchens with an almost competitive fervour; the Southerners must outdo the Northerners and vice versa! I find it perplexing when even a marriage between a Northerner and a Southerner can be discussed in hushed tones.

Dear Peppino, this is the divided Italy before the Vienna Congress…that is the united Italy with its regional authorities

This North-South divide has existed at least since the unification of Italy in 1861 and throughout Italy’s history there has always been some factor that has contributed to this ongoing division. [3] In the seventies, public life was dominated by a “razza padrona” (the ruling class) which exhibited a code of silence, a hidden economy and extensive bribery. This was the beginning of wide-spread corruption and an abuse of power in government that lasted until the nineties. During this year, it seemed that all the parties were engaged in their own internal squabbles and made no attempt to occupy themselves with the evident economic and social problems. There were strikes and there was pervasive absentiism in the workplace. At Fiat, every day 20,000 workers were absent, resulting in 35-40 lost hours in the course of the year. [1] No wonder the Italians suffered from a “stanchezza politica”, a tiredness for politics! Turning their backs on the political vacuum in Rome, the “Modello Terza Italia” (The Third Italy Model) economy emerged. In brief, this Third Italy consisted of the North East and Central regions of the country which thrived on the dynamism of small industries and local and community cohesion.[2]

May 1971 saw the first transmission of “Telecapodistria”. This was a public television and radio service that broadcast to the Adriatic coast area including parts of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia (the former Yugoslavia). It was broadcast from Koper in Slovenia and became very popular both in Yugoslavia and Italy because it was broadcast in colour. Until 1976, when it was ruled that privately owned, fully commercial stations could be established on Italian soil, it was the only fully commercial station broadcast in Italy. [4] Spending much of the summer holidays in North-East Italy, I remember watching this channel on TV, particularly the cartoons. The channel also broadcast the first music video TV show. It featured Western pop music and was broadcast both in Yugoslavia, and neighbouring Italy.

TV Station Telecapodistria

On the 30th December a law was passed extending maternity rights. This allowed pregnant women to stop work two months before the birth of their child and allowing them leave for three months afterwards.

I can’t leave this year without mentioning the continued grip of the mafia on Italian society. In 1971, the attorney Pietro Scaglione and his driver were murdered on the orders of Salvatore Riina, head of the “corleonesi” mafia.  This murder was the first in a war against the state by the mafia. And yes, you would be right in thinking that the corleonesi came from the Sicilian town of Corleone, made famous by the The Godfather.


[1] Storiologia website – 1971 (in Italian)

[2] The Third Italy Model (in Italian)

[3] The North-South Divide (in Italian)

[4] Capodistria TV and station on wikipedia (in English)

[5] Salvatore Riina on wikipedia (in Italian)


Sewing The Seventies: 1970 in Italy

Last year when I was doing research for my year-by-year account of the 1970s (click here to read it), I realised how little is actually written about this period of history. In bookshops or in the library you’re lucky if you come across any volumes about the seventies squeezed between the second world war and a biography of Margaret Thatcher (Yes, Margaret Thatcher was PM from 1979, but her premiership is synonymous with the eighties).

In contrast, in Italy, the years that encompass the seventies are considered of pivotal importance in post-war history and are given their own name – “anni di piombo” or the Years of Lead. These years are characterised by social and political turmoil in Italy including public disorder, social conflict and terrorism. The term’s origin is a reference to a 1981 German film Marianne and Juliane directed by Margarethe von Trotta, which was released in Italy as Anni di piombo. The film centres on the lives of two members of the West German militant far-left group Red Army Faction. However, the term “The years of Lead” has come to have wider meaning, encompassing various terrorist activities, the “strategia della tensione” (the strategy of tension in Italy), Operation Condor (South America) and the cold war (US / Russia). Given the prominence of this slice of Italian history, I wasn’t short of historical source material, only short of my own ability to read and absorb it!

Anni di Piombo film

Juliane visits Marianne in prison in the film Marianne and Juliane, as known as The Years of Lead in Italy.

On the 1st December the Fortuna-Baslini Law was introduced which legalised divorce. However, there was widespread controversy and many of the political parties were opposed to the move. In the same year another law was passed specifically in response to the controversy. This law established that referendums could be used as a means for citizens to express their opinion. The hope, in some quarters, was that this law could be used to revoke the “scandalous” divorce law. [1][2]

Womens' rights protesters in Italy

Placards – “Italians and Love” and “In love we want the same rights as men”

The first regional elections were held this year. There are twenty regional governments in Italy. Although some of these were already in existence before 1970, for example Sicily and Trentino-Alto Adige, the elections saw regional governments set up for the remaining Italian regions. What might not be obvious is just how autonomous these regions are. All regions can keep 20% of all levied taxes. Regions with special status are able to levy their own taxes and are entitled to as much as 100% of the tax revenue raised locally. Italy has only been a united country since 1861 and it is a cultural and linguistically diverse country. This return to regional politics not only retained this cultural and regional diversity, but in some regions alleviated political tensions, such as in Trentino-Alto Adige, where a large percentage of the population are German-speaking. In contrast, the Scottish parliament and the National Assembly for Wales were only granted in 1998. [4] [5]


[1] Storiologia website – 1970 (in Italian)

[2] Divorce on wikipedia (in Italian)

[3] The years of lead on wikipedia (in Italian, in English)

[4] Trentino-Alto Adige on wikipedia (in Italian)

[5] Italian Regions on wikipedia (in Italian)



Sewing The Seventies: Prize Announcement 2019

Our deadline for Sewing the Seventies is nearly here! I’m sure you’re all waiting to hear more about the prize. This year, I have decided on some fabric and a sewing journal.

The sewing journal’s cover is a McCalls pattern envelope and the pages are interspersed with other McCalls pattern envelopes from the sixties and the seventies. It amused me that I recognised one of the patterns in there – the one that I had used for my faux fur jacket!

The fabric is a viscose crepe with a dramatic floral pattern. It also has a broderie anglaise border. Perfect for a dramatic blouse, or draping skirt or dress.

Finally, I thought I’d just mention that Sewing the Seventies finishes on 27th March. If you are taking part let me know by replying to this blog post (if you haven’t already replied to a post already) or posting on Instagram under #SewingTheSeventies2019. I will then gather all the entries and post a round-up of all the makes in the following week. Until then, happy sewing!


Sewing The Seventies: Make 1 – In-seam pockets for a faux fur jacket

My faux fur jacket needed some pockets. After all, who wears a coat without any pockets? I didn’t want to include all this detailed information in my post about the finished jacket, and thought this was worth a tutorial-type post instead. I didn’t think to take photos of all my steps at the time, but did some diagrams instead. The reinforcement steps (8 – 10) were adapted from the seventies (of course!) dressmaking book, The Complete Dressmaker by Peggy Hayden.

 book, The Complete Dressmaker by Peggy Hayden

The Complete Dressmaker by Peggy Hayden

Materials used:

1 metre x cotton tape (3 cm wide)

Medium-weight, or relatively stiff woven iron-on interfacing


Carry out steps 1-4 before the side seams are sewn in the jacket.

1. Create a pattern piece for the in-seam pockets

Pocket with hand

Make a pattern piece the size of youir hand.

2. Cut out left and right pockets in lining and in faux fur fabric

Cut Out Pockets

Cut out 4 pockets – 2 in the lining fabric and 2 in the jacket fabric

3. Mark the proposed position of the pockets on the jacket. I positioned mine at about hip height.

4. Sew the faux-fur pocket pieces to the back of the jacket, with right-sides together using a 1 cm seam allowance. Sew the lining pocket pieces to the front of the jacket using a 1cm seam allowance. A smaller seam allowance is used here instead of the usual 1.5 cm so that when the side seams are sewn, the pockets will sit slightly inside, for a more discreet finish.

5. Pin the side seams of the jacket and around the pockets, pinning the front of the pocket (lining fabric) to the back of the pocket (faux fur fabric).

6. Sew the side seams with a 1.5 cm seam allowance. When you get to the top of the pocket, pivot and stitch the two pocket pieces together following the curve of the pockets.

With right sides together stitch along seam line following the curve of the pockets

7. Clip the back seam allowance below and above the pocket.


Pocket attached to inseam

Clip across the back pocket seam allowance almost to the stitching lineabove and below the pocket.

The following steps reinforce the pocket seam and prevent it from sagging under its own weight and also to help it to lie flatter within the jacket.

8. Iron the interfacing onto the cotton tape. This will make the cotton tape much stiffer. I used cotton tape as I knew my iron-on interfacing wouldn’t stick to my fluffy fabric!

9. Pin the interfaced cotton tape to the back seam of the in-seam pocket. I needed about 40 cm for each pocket.

Pocket reinforcement attached to inseam

Place reinforcemnt strip on top of seam and slip stich the strip to the seam allowance / jacket.

10. Slip-stitch the cotton tape to the seam allowance, the pocket or the jacket.


Sewing the Seventies: Make 1 – Faux Fur Jacket Part 2

It’s taken me a long time to get to the point of writing this post. February was a busy month with limited sewing time and I’ve only just finished making my seventies faux fur coat.

McCalls 3016

McCalls 3016

I discovered that the yardage suggested gave me enough to make View B, the mid length coat, and to make the hood from View A. I was really pleased that this was the case, because hoods are useful and this one is detachable. And I still had more fabric left! So I opted to make a couple of inseam pockets, after all who has a coat without pockets? There’s still more fabric left, but I shall ponder what I’ll do with that once I’ve finished the coat.

Faux fur jacket worn without the hood

Since my last post I have sewn the lining and inserted it into the coat. I made a slight modification here. I decided that since I had made two darts at the neckline in the jacket, to add a pleat at the centre back. This actually means that, like most jackets the lining is slightly larger than the coat itself, which is just the way it should be.

Faux Fur Jacket

Faux fur jacket worn without the hood

Next, I made my pockets. These were self-drafted to fit my hand and were cut from the faux fur and the lining fabric. The faux fur fabric is quite heavy and I had noticed someone wearing a dress recently where the inseam pockets had sagged under the weight of the fabric. I was determined to make sure this wouldn’t happen with my pockets, so I employed a technique using a binding to stiffen the pocket edges. I’ve decided to write an extra post on this to illustrate the method, which I’ll post soon.

Finally, (and this took ages) I sewed on all the snaps onto the hood and the coat and added the faux fur hook and eyes to the front edges of the jacket.

Faux Fur Jacket

Faux fur jacket worn without the hood

Now this is where I hit a snag. I followed the instructions in the pattern and the hooks and eyes are sewn directly onto the lining inside the coat with the hook and eye lined up against the front edges of the jacket. When I did the jacket up I found that the fastenings just don’t hold the coat closed very well. If you move, or bend it gapes wildly at the front. I suppose the attachment points are quite a long way from the edge of the jacket and this is the reason the front opening gapes open. Plus, I don’t like the way the hooks and eyes are sewn directly onto the lining. Perhaps if I could have found some grey fabric-covered hooks and eyes it would have helped, but to me the inside of my jacket now just looks ugly.

Inside the Faux Fur Coat

Inside the Faux Fur Coat – the paisley lining is rather wish isn’t it?

I’m still not sure I’ve struggled over the finishing line with this coat yet. I’m really not happy with the front fastenings, but the question now is what do I do about this? Looking at some RTW coats, the hooks and eyes are sandwiched between the coat and a facing. This could mean that the fastenings are secured right at the front edge of the jacket which would improve the situation. Or, I could get some more snaps and overlap the edges to fasten them (just possible as there is enough ease in the jacket). Alternatively, I could insert a zip. This would probably be the warmest solution as there wouldn’t be any possible gaping at the centre front. I think the whole look of the inside would be improved with a facing. It seems like I’m overly bothered about the inside of the jacket, but when it’s worn undone at the front, the weight of the hood tends to throw the neckline open revealing the inside edges – I want this to look good too. What do you think would be the best solution?

The faux fur jacket done up

In summary, I loved sewing with the faux fur, it was actually quite an easy fabric, even if I created lots of fluff which I’m sure will still be filling up the vacuum cleaner for weeks to come. I’ve been admiring my reflection in shop windows today (do you do that?) and I love the sheen on the fur, and I can’t help reaching round the back of my chair today to give the coat an extra stroke!

Unfortunately, the pattern isn’t the best vintage faux fur jacket pattern out there. I would have been happier if the coat had included pattern pieces for a facing and of course some pockets. But, I think it is supposed to be more a “quick make” rather than an all-out coat pattern.

Faux fur jacket with hood attached

Faux fur jacket with hood attached


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.

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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