Sunday, August 27, 2023

Weekend Review: The Seamstress of Sardinia

The Seamstress of Sardinia / Bianca Pitzorno
translated from the Italian by Brigid Maher
NY: HarperPerennial, 2022, c2018.
287 p.

It's 1900 in Sardinia, and a young girl lives with her only surviving relative, her grandmother. Her grandmother is a seamstress, and to help scrape out a living, the girl learns to sew from a very young age.

This young sartina (seamstress of sheets, linens and basic clothing) relates her life story from her youth to her advanced age. And as she does so, she sheds light on the society she lives in. As a seamstress who goes to people's homes to do their sewing, she is privy to many family secrets. The book is told in episodes that interrelate and create a picture of her town and its many layers of social class and privilege. 

There is a rich and complex cast of characters, all seen through the eyes of this poor girl who has ambitions and respect for herself. There's the Marchesa Esther, an intelligent girl whose upbringing is unusual, and who doesn't put up with the misogyny of her husband and their society; there are the Provera sisters, a family who is rumoured to be so wealthy that they order all their clothing directly from Paris (but when she is called to work for them, our seamstress discovers the secrets of the household, and the wardrobe). There is an American lady who pays well to have her linens managed, and her tragic story is revealed in one whole section of the book. And there is the neighbour child Assuntina, who somehow becomes the responsibility of our narrator. 

Plus there is romance and pathos and tragedy and class strife -- so much drama & excitement, told in a flowing style. The story involves so many details of daily life, from food to social events to transportation to landscape to expectations of women of different classes -- it's illuminating and fascinating. 

And for sewists, this one is a must read. The author is clearly a sewist as well, the descriptions of actual sewing are fabulous. The main character is not just a sartina in order to provide inside eyes for the author, rather the sewing is a key part of the many stories she tells. From descriptions of fabrics, to her first sewing machine, it is all very realistic and engaging for anybody who can imagine it right alongside the characters. At one point, she's told that you can only sew baby layettes from old sheets that have been laundered over and over, as they are the only fabrics soft enough for infants. At another, she raves over the beautiful silks and prints she's never had a chance to work with before. And one key element near the end will be guessed ahead by sewists, but I'd say probably not by other readers! 

I really enjoyed this book -- for the strong sewing content of course, but also for the story. The characters were so engaging, the stories were dramatic and focused on the female experience. And the setting was completely absorbing. I couldn't stop reading. One of my favourite kinds of historical reads are ones that travel alongside a woman over her whole life, and this is a great example. So good! 


  1. After your enthusiastic review, I can't wait to read this! So glad my library has it; I ordered it today.

  2. I hope you will enjoy this as much as I did!

  3. Thank you! I always enjoy your book recommendations, this one sounds wonderful. I do know a real seamstress from Sardinia 😉

    1. Oops, sorry, this was from M-C

    2. That's so fun! Hope you enjoy this read.

  4. I am on a cruise and found this book in their library. So glad I found it. Quite a captivating read. Thank you for your review and recommendation Melanie. Laura S. See you in December.


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