Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life


Seventies Fashion: The Mafia Only Kills in Summer TV series Episodes 1 &2

For the last couple of years I’ve been running a Sew The Seventies competition. I chose not to do that this year, but I’m still interested in all those seventies fashions. If you are new to this blog and are interested, there are a whole series of posts on the seventies – Year by year accounts of the history for the UK and Italy, and some reviews of TV series including Trust, The Little Drummer Girl and the Italian series, Maltese, which is still showing on 4OD .

I found another Italian series on Channel 4. Again, set in Sicily. It’s called “The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” and it’s still on 4OD, and I thoroughly recommend giving it a look. Here’s is my review of the first two episodes, along with a glimpse of the fashions and available sewing patterns that could recreate the look.

The series could be classed as a dark comedy. It is certainly a parody of Italian family life. The drama in set in 1979, in the “Years of Lead”. It follows the Giammarresi family. The narrator is Salvatore, a ten-year-old schoolboy who recounts the dramatic events that make his family realise that they have to leave Sicily for good.

They are, all in all, a fairly typical family. Older sister, Angela, spends her time trying to find some privacy in order to make phone calls to her friends and her boyfriend, often taking the phone into the bathroom. Their mother, Pia, is a primary school teacher, who has yet to secure a permanent position and their father works at the local registry office. Money is tight and consequently they live in a cramped, run-down apartment block in Palermo, where the water supply is intermittent. Salvatore ironically calls his family”calm”, they are anything but! This all adds to the sense of fun in the series, despite the drama’s tough themes.

Episode 1 – The Mafia Doesn’t Exist

The opening episode sees new girl, Alice, join Salvatore’s class at school and he falls in love. But his attempts to befriend Alice seem to be thwarted at every turn. Meanwhile his mother, Pia has secured a temporary, but hopefully lengthy position at a school over an hour away. With the long commute she tries to enlist Angela’s help with housework, but she isn’t very keen to lend a hand. She believes women should be freed from housework! Angela’s head is filled with thoughts of Rosario, who woos her by quoting Karl Marx and talking of female emancipation. His father, Lorenzo witnesses a brutal crime and toys with coming forward as a witness. He doesn’t and struggles with his conscience.

Salvatore in class. Primary school children used to wear these robes to school.


Angela Teal Jumper

Angela wears a polo neck jumper. Odd to me that someone in Sicily would need to wear something so warm?


Pia’s Argyle sweater. Love the idea of an Argyle sweater. Can’t say you see many around these days.


Clockwise from top-left: Polo neck sweater on set, Vogue Argyle knitting pattern,  vintage sewing pattern, Simplicity 5196 Top with roll collar and long set-in sleeves 1972 and True Bias Nikko top.

Episode 2 Guarantees and Other Crap

This episode starts with the Salvatore discovering the salacious “Pigs with Wings” book hidden by Angela in their shared bedroom. Lorenzo worries about Angela growing up and Pia feels that Salvatore and Angela both need their own rooms.  Lorenzo hears of a new housing development through a colleague and, despite his reservations, thinks it might solve the family’s problems.

Meanwhile Angela has a new class mate too, Torino (because he originally comes from Turin – Torino in Italian). It’s obviously from the start that Torino is “a pitiful case, forever in love” with Angela, but she isn’t interested in him at all.

Angela is on baby-sitting duty again, but decides to sneak off with Rosario. Salvatore, left to his own devices makes an ill-fated bus ride to see the new apartment and discovers that things are very different from how they appear on the brochure.

Angela's coat

Angela’s woolen coat has a contrasting checked lining / facing?


Clockwise from top-left: Angela’s woolen coat on set, Papercut Patterns Waver jacket, Grainline Studio Cascade Duffle Coat and vintage sewing pattern, vintage Style sewing pattern.

We are introduced to another character too, Patrizia, Uncle Massimo’s new girlfriend, who gets invited to dinner.

Patrizia's blouse

Patrizia wears a cream blouse with shirred sleeves and lace trim


A longer view of Patrizia’s outfit – I think the cream blouse looks great with the suede skirt.


Clockwise from top-left: Patrizia’s cream-coloured blouse on set, McCalls M7978, Burda Shirred Blouse 09/2017 #104A and vintage sewing pattern, Simplicity 9313, Tops with shirred cuffs, 1971.


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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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.