All of us who write for Frock Flicks also sew, and we know that many of you do too. For us, there’s nothing better than a historical movie or TV series that features sewing as a craft! So here, in no particular order, are my top five* historical costume movies or TV shows that feature sewing.
*Okay, my four, with one addition from our Sarah
Bright Star (2009)
As someone who mostly just doesn’t get poetry, this Jane Campion-directed movie about Fanny Brawne, lover of poet John Keats, set in the Regency period could have gone badly for me. Luckily, Fanny sewed, which is featured in the film (and quite beautifully too). The best upshot of this is that she frequently made her own wardrobe, so instead of your usual little white dresses you get some really interesting costumes on Fanny, like this evening dress with dramatic Renaissance-revival ruff and the fabulous pink ensemble below.
The Time in Between (2013-14)
El Tiempo Entre Costuras is a Spanish TV miniseries about a dressmaker who lives during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. Through various trials and tribulations that I don’t want to spoil, she ends up in Morocco making dresses for the Nazi elite’s wives while also spying for the British. There’s a TON of sewing and dressmaking scenes, including an extended bit where Sira makes a faux-Fortuny gown that turns out beautifully. Sira herself is dressed fabulously, of course, but the clothes she makes are also great. It’s a beautifully costumed soap opera that features love, heartbreak, and sisters doing it for themselves.
The House of Elliot (1991-1994)
Normally I can’t stand pre-mid-1990s British TV miniseries for one reason — low production values. That makes it all the more significant when I say that in spite of the fact that this is shot on video, I REALLY loved it! Two upper-middle-class sisters left destitute by their shmuck of a dead father during the 1920s must make their own way in the world, and happily for us they do so by starting their own fashion house! I enjoyed both the nice 1920s costuming as well as the soap opera-esque stories of their lives and loves.
The Dressmaker (2015)
This 1950s, Australian-set film starring Kate Winslet has gotten a spotty release, and I know a lot of us have been dying to see it and wondering when the hell that will be. Well, it just got released on DVD in the UK and Australia, so now may be your chance! (Still TBA for the U.S. — bastards). I finally got to see it, and I will do a longer review whenever it does get more widely released in the states, but for now…
The movie has been described as “Unforgiven [a famous Clint Eastwood Western] with sewing machines,” and seriously, fuck yeah. Kate Winslet plays an Australian woman whose small rural town turned its back on her as a child. She ended up eventually in Europe, where she worked for famed couturiers Vionnet and Balenciaga. Now, she’s back in her hick town to reconnect with her off-her-rocker mother (played by Judy Davis), figure out what really happened to her as a child, and get her revenge. In short, Winslet rocks the acting, the dressmaking plot is FABULOUS — Tilly (Winslet) turns women who look like they’re living in the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl into Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, and she has a cute romance with a local boy (played by Liam Hemsworth, who I guess a lot of people are hot for but I’d just give him a B- for dreaminess).
¡Three Amigos! (1986)
I was debating what should be my fifth entry in this list, when Sarah suggested ¡Three Amigos!. Despite being a huge Steve Martin fan, I confess I’ve never seen it, so I asked her to ‘splain to me why it should be here, and this is what she says:
Just in case anyone was wondering, ¡Three Amigos! is actually a period film. It takes place in 1916. Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short play three actors who are mistaken for actual heroes by a young woman desperate to save her town from the local Mexican warlord, El Guapo. The sewing scene in question happens during the build-up to the big showdown with the bad guy. The Amigos concoct a plan to use the skills of the tiny town of Santa Poco, and that skill happens to be … sewing. Thus, our three heroes embark on their mission to sew their way to victory against the enemy, leading to one of the most amusing scenes (from a costumer’s standpoint) featuring women toiling away at treadle sewing machines with no thread, “sewing” randomly at the fabric. And of course, there’s Martin Short’s iconic and impassioned urging of one very unimpressed old lady to, “Sew, very old one! Sew like the wind!”
On a side note, I think this movie deserves more love for the amazing costumes that the Amigos wear. All that soutache and sequins!
Any other great sewing scenes in historical costume movies or TV you’d recommend?