‘The Seamstress of Sardinia: A Novel’

Stitching the lives of a community together

‘The Seamstress of Sardinia: A Novel’
“The Seamstresses,” 1912, by Armando Montaner Valdueza. (Public Domain)
Anita L. Sherman

Bianca Pitzorno is a best-selling Italian writer with some 70 titles to her credit for fiction and non-fiction books for adults and children. “The Seamstress of Sardinia: A Novel” is the first of her adult books to be translated into English. As a consummate reader and fortunate to be able to offer reviews, I am delighted to have discovered this read and suspect that many of you will feel the same.

While I have visited Italy and Sicily, I have not been to the island of Sardinia, the second largest Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea, where this narrative takes place at the end of the 19th century. While much of the action is in small towns or the sewing rooms of well-appointed homes, the environs are delightfully described and serve as a tempting travel destination.

 The island of Sardinia. (OGdesign/Shutterstock)
The island of Sardinia. (OGdesign/Shutterstock)
The story has an immensely intimate feel from the very beginning as it is narrated in the first person. It’s like turning the pages of this young woman’s journal or diary. Historical footnotes are interwoven in the dialogue, so, in addition to the various charming and curious storylines, readers will get a sense of fashion, family dynamics, manners, religion, and romance all blended and fitted together like an intricate tapestry.

Looking in From the Outside

All is seen and narrated from the eyes and perspective of a young seamstress, a "sartina," who inherits a rich legacy from her grandmother: not material wealth but a sense of confidence and competency and an independent and adventurous spirit.

These qualities bode well as her remarkable talent with a needle, an eye for design, and the ability to put clients at ease earn her entrance into the homes of the wealthy and privileged. Always mindful of her humble beginnings and clear class distinctions, she navigates the lives of her patrons and earns their respect for her discretion, professionalism, and positive attitude.

Early on, we find the main protagonist able to sew but not able to read. That changes as one of her clients introduces her to the wonderful world of literature, and soon she expands her reading to include fashion magazines from abroad, unleashing her creativity to create complicated gowns and wedding trousseaus.

Her meager existence in cramped quarters is offset by her near daily work assignments that transport her into fairytale settings often offering opulence that she finds endearing but always out of her reach. She is an observer of these situations so different from her own, yet affairs of the heart are universal. She will hear hushed secrets in the silence of her mending. She will learn that the rich are not immune from many of the circumstances that plague the poor when it comes to family politics.

The chapters are long but each serves as a vignette, sharing with readers the compelling characters—her clients—and their various fates.

Sewn Together With Flaws and Friendship

Signorina Ester plays a pivotal role in her life. Disappointed in love, the marchesa serves as a source of constant inspiration and encouragement for the young seamstress. Ester’s been known to don trouser-like pants when she goes riding and has a penchant for mechanics and the study of ancient languages.

Lily Rose is an American journalist living in Sardinia but planning to return to America. She commissions a corset complete with hidden pockets.

Doted on by a controlling mother, the Provera sisters are known to parade in Parisian fashions but how they afford these luxuries is a mystery with a twist at the end.

 “The Little Seamstress,” 1868, Jules Breton. (Public Domain)
“The Little Seamstress,” 1868, Jules Breton. (Public Domain)

Assuntina is the seamstress’s neighbor. She’s a frail child but often full of mischief. One of her acts, done in a moment of spite, could have dire consequences.

In addition to a cast of characters that includes determined and powerful women, there are young and old men, lasting loves and broken hearts. Just to add some spice, there’s also an untimely death. Murder or suicide?

One of the most endearing aspects of this novel are learning of the seamstress’s dreams and desires. She acts as her own reality check but her aspirations and yearnings are ambitious, hope filled, and always offered with a tender and generous heart as her source of energy. Readers will root for her.

While the author’s compelling characters are fictional, Pitzorno has based them on stories she heard from her grandmother and others as a child. The period detail is rich in atmosphere. This was a time when sewing was done by hand, whether hemming sheets and pillowcases, or creating school clothes or fancy dresses. Those having sewing machines were far and few between. Days were long and hard for seamstresses, but their skills were highly valued.

Sewing may be a lost art but those who have sewn or know someone who has, know that it’s in large part a mechanical and meticulous process: measuring, cutting, pinning and putting together numerous pieces to make a whole. The outcome, if done well, is magic in a way. Yards of fabric become a fashionable garment.

This read shines. It not only illuminates and brings voice to a long-ago art and those who practiced it, but it’s a bright and enthralling offering from an author whom readers will appreciate discovering.

 "The Seamstress of Sardinia" by Bianca Pitzorno. (Harper Perennial)
"The Seamstress of Sardinia" by Bianca Pitzorno. (Harper Perennial)
‘The Seamstress of Sardinia: A Novel’ By Bianca Pitzorno Harper Perennial, Dec. 6, 2022 Paperback: 304 pages
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Anita L. Sherman is an award-winning journalist who has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for local papers and regional publications in Virginia. She now works as a freelance writer and is working on her first novel. She is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to four, and she resides in Warrenton, Va. She can be reached at [email protected]