The Great British Sewing Bee 2 : Episode 1

Our search for blog projects in the Strictly/Apprentice off-season expands ever outwards.

1. By popular demand (i.e. a couple of people suggested it might be a half-decent idea), we’ll be covering series two of The Great British Sewing Bee for the next eight weeks, because that’s how long it’s on for. Recaps will be done much like they were for the Bake-Off, so Chris and Steve will take alternative weeks (personal schedules permitting), and since Chris is very busy this week, Steve will be writing the first one. I am Steve, so if you’re wondering why this one isn’t quite as funny as usual, that’s why. In the interests of full disclosure, I think it’s necessary to confirm that Chris and I know even less about sewing than we do about singing, ballroom dancing, enterprise or baking, but we do really like watching telly and writing about it afterwards, so we’re hoping that’ll go some way towards making up for it. We will do our best to learn the lingo as we go along, because neither one of us delights in ignorance (even if our Twitter feeds occasionally indicate the exact opposite), but our real-world experience of handicrafts basically amounts to Chris breaking three sewing machines in Textiles lessons and Steve hamfistedly sewing a few buttons back on when they fell off shirts. So for the time being at least, our expertise may be…limited. Especially since neither of us watched series one, so forgive us if we’re occasionally retreading old ground.

2. Before we get on to the contestants, let’s start by discussing the host and judges. Claudia Winkleman acts as the Mel & Sue of the series, and it’s just about the ideal outlet for her breathless sincerity and boundless optimism. The number of people who can state convincingly that they love everyone and everything can be counted on the fingers of a blade of grass, and yet somehow when Claudia tells the 10 finalists “you’ve made it this far, so you’re all brilliant”, you totally believe she means it even though Cliff is about to disprove it in the most catastrophic way possible (but we’ll get to that presently). Here to judge are May Martin from the Women’s Institute (looks a bit like she should be teaching science at Waterloo Road) and Savile Row’s own Patrick Grant (like a really dapper, slightly more serious Jamie Theakston). Based on this episode, at least, my problem with them as a judging double act is that Patrick seems to fulfil the roles of both Mary Berry (warm, nurturing) and Paul Hollywood (stern, sarcastic) all by himself, leaving me slightly unsure where May fits into the equation. Though this is my recap and not Chris’s, he observed while watching the episode that he kept mistaking May for a contestant when she appeared in talking head segments, so while I don’t doubt that she absolutely knows what she’s talking about, she’s not really making much of an impact with me just yet.

3. On an entirely random note, I love how the contestants on this show are “sewers”. I mean, it makes perfect sense given that the contestants on the Bake Off are “bakers”, and I think calling them all “seamstresses” or whatever would be too twee even for this show (not to mention the problems it would cause for the first two or three episodes while there are still some men notionally competing). But it’s one of those words that looks absolutely fine when said out loud, but when you see it in print you can’t help thinking of other people’s poo and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

4. So let’s talk about the first round, and the contestants who made an impact therein, for better or worse. The first round tests how well the contestants work with fabric and patterns – in this case, they were requested to make a sleeveless cotton top with a button at the back and a hand-sewn loop to fasten it with. Chinelo made an instant impression here by revealing that she’s really not into the whole pinning your pattern to the fabric thing. For any of you who watched season six of Project Runway (a niche US reality show reference? On THIS blog?!), she’s basically the Ari Fish of the group, except that she actually seems fairly switched on rather than spaced out, and she wasn’t cast solely because Lindsay Lohan was the guest judge for week one and she looked a bit like Samantha Ronson. But apart from that, y’know. Meanwhile, Lynda is deaf, has her own signer, and is the Welshest person you will see this side of an episode of Stella. I enjoyed the matter-of-factness with which Lynda’s disability was handled, and I think that’s one of the things that GBBO/GBSB generally does quite well – apart from occasionally leaning slightly too hard on narratives like “I put my dreams on hold because I had kids” or “I just want to make my family proud of me”, they tend to let people’s work speak for itself without expecting us to get particularly invested in their personal lives. We also learned that Julie is extremely northern, a bit lazy (she didn’t do the understitching because she didn’t feel like it) (JULIEGODDESS โค – Chris) and isn’t very good at turning things inside out, and we learned that Jenni is the sort of person who will stop and help someone else work out how to turn their outfit inside out in the middle of a challenge, which is very nice and all but is also the sort of thing that’ll get her eliminated, especially since later challenges suggest she needs all the workroom time she can get.

5. To the surprise of precisely no one, the three men finished bottom in this challenge, leaving Cliff (retired Buddhist prison chaplain, and no I don’t know whether he was the chaplain of a Buddhist prison or a prison chaplain who happened to be Buddhist, but the latter makes slightly more sense), Simon (pokes his tongue out adorably when he’s concentrating, such a northern clichรฉ that he works at t’mill…museum, is the one I fancy therefore is obviously DOOMED) and David (police officer, currently on crutches after an operation, thinks his wife is rubbish at sewing) needing to work much harder to restore the reputation of male sewers everywhere. Simon in particular was narked that Patrick implied that his top was unwearable. It was TOTALLY WEARABLE. Just. Meanwhile, the top places went to, in ascending order, Tamara (I hate her for no discernible reason other than the fact that she wears ties in a big chunky knot, which is a shit look on anyone, also she added a load of trim to her top that the judges hadn’t asked for because she’s That One, apparently), Cerina (pronounced “Serena”, has been sewing for 40 years and BOY ARE HER ARMS TIRED etc) and Heather (from Leicestershire, has a mug with “Posh Totty” on it, is basically the spare Christine Hamilton we’re keeping on standby in case we lose the old one) took the best in show award for her exquisite understitching, as May put it.

6. The second challenge was to adapt something mundane (in this case, a grey woollen maxi skirt) into something fabulous. The contestants were given carte blanche to do anything they liked, but essentially the more adventurous they were, the more likely Patrick and May were going to like it. Or so we were told. Jenni looked as though she was going to run away with this round when she announced she was going to turn hers into DUNGAREES, but then Patrick saw the end result and sniffed that she’d hardly done anything apart from hack a bit of the hem off and turn it into some shoulder straps. Cliff crashed and burned yet again (he hadn’t worked with wool before, and it showed) and he and David ended up at the bottom of the pile again, but the good news was that Simon managed to catapult himself into third place by adding a well-crafted pocket and a patch of colour-contrasting fabric, while Chinelo scored second place by crafted an impressive peplum from hers, and Tamara (ugh) took first place by stitching some paisley fabric all over it and making it boho, or something. Oh, and even though this challenge was judged blind, Patrick managed to identify Simon’s skirt right away because there was “a history of Bradford in there”. Whatever is going on with those two, I ship it.

7. The final challenge was to make SEXY NIGHTWEAR for a real live woman – to be specific, they had to make a silk nightgown in five hours – and was apparently the only challenge the contestants had been able to practice at home – but this time they had to work to the exact specifications of the human body in front of them. At this point Simon uttered the immortal words “I’ve never done anything for a woman before” and everyone on Twitter snorfled and made (inaccurate, it turns out) jokes about his sexual orientation. Elsewhere, Jenni’s intended pattern hadn’t turned up so she’d had to improve, Julie couldn’t find a pattern she liked so adapted a pattern from a slip dress instead, and Chinelo wasn’t working from a pattern at all because THAT IS HOW IT IS DONE IN NIGERIA, apparently. Also, Julie revealed that she likes to put diamantes on everything, and suddenly I liked Julie 50 times more than I did before. In the end, Simon undid his good work from the previous round by using the wrong material (apparently) and producing something that looked more like a dress than a nightdress, Lynda didn’t quite finish, Chinelo had a few fit issues but otherwise produced an impressive piece, and David revealed himself to be a secret time-management ninja, project-managing his entire nightdress perfectly and producing a really good fit. It wasn’t quite enough to get him garment of the week, though – that honour went to Julie’s Diamante Masterpiece, of course.


9. So who was at risk of elimination? Well, Simon, David and Jenni were all basically in the position of having a maximum of one good round each and performing fairly disastrously in the others, so all three got the elimination tease, but in the end all three were saved, because Cliff “felt ill” and withdrew from the competition during the final challenge, and everyone talked about how they’d already bonded SO MUCH and how they were REALLY GOING TO MISS HIM while trying not to look too excited about the fact that it was clearly a non-elimination episode now. I guess “retired Buddhist prison chaplain MASTER SEWER” is just too many adjectives for one lifetime.

10. And since this is essentially a spin-off of The Great British Bake Off, we’d be missing out if we didn’t have an innuendo corner. Excellent efforts this week from Simon (“I can’t get my big fat fingers in there”), May (saying to Simon “You’ve got something happening in your back seam, it’s puckering slightly”) and Patrick (declaring Simon’s output “substantial and impressive”). The Simon-centric nature of all of these innuendos makes me worry what we’re going to do when he inevitably gets eliminated around episode three. (It makes me worry that you are paying attention to literally nobody other than Simon – Chris)

Next week: Patrick models made-to-measure pyjamas. You may commence fapping now.

29 thoughts on “The Great British Sewing Bee 2 : Episode 1

  1. Jan

    “is the one I fancy therefore is obviously DOOMED” – my thoughts exactly. That I fancy him so he’s doomed rather than that you fancy him so he’s… you know what I mean.

    Is this the reality show with the most brilliantly bloodyminded contestants? They seem unusually convinced that they’ll get away with going rogue. Which is all to the good, obviously.

  2. FuTeffla

    I weirdly enjoy Sewing Bee more than I enjoy Bake Off even though I like cake much more than I like fashion. I don’t understand it. It’s not even because Patrick Grant is a fox, and shallowness is usually the reason I like things. I don’t know if it’s because it’s easier to tell a duff article of clothing from a duff cake when you’re watching it on TV. I don’t know how that cake tastes but, goddammit, I can spot a crooked hem and JUDGE ACCORDINGLY.

    I have already developed a soft spot for Lynda (so jolly!) and David (so exasperated!) so they are completely screwed.

    1. stevenperkins

      I think that’s a good point – obviously all this stuff is still highly subjective, but it is a lot easier to spot a poorly-made garment on television than it is to spot an undelicious cake.

    2. Sue Howarth

      I agree, I think one thing is the sewing is a continuous operation. There is no staring into the oven waiting for it to bake. You can sort of believe you see everything, on Bake off you know there must be hours of unseen footage of tea drinking and back stabbing

      1. stevenperkins

        That was one of the joys of the Sport Relief Bake Off – since nobody was there for any longer than one round, nobody seemed terribly bothered about making friends so they were quite happy to make catty comments about each other while they all sat around sipping tea.

  3. Lesley Rigg

    decided that as I am obviously in an off season with nothing to watch currently, I will actually start to watch what you blog about – as it’s funnier and more enjoyable that way, and I have been sewing my son’s solar system model together so I might learn something…

  4. Poppy

    I’m really pleased you’re blogging this. I absolutely *hated* the peplum skirt, thought it looked lumpy and just awful, and that dreadful boho frill thing that won was laughably bad. Still, shouting at the TV is one of the main reasons anyone watches these shows. No?

  5. Scottieboy (@merseytart)

    David is a silver fox and has a bum chin, so he’s far more my type than David Bowie impressionist Simon. Also Simon’s teeth are distinctly tobacco stained so no. Tamara wears a tie, a look which works for Diane Keaton and no-one else on earth, so she must die, not least because she stitched a load of lace all over her blouse in the very first round to show off. That’s the kind of shit Frances on GBBO used to do with her giant matchboxes and fondant carrots. I know she won but I still don’t like her (KIMBERLEY WUZ ROBBED). Lynda’s enormous teeth and Welshness reminded me of Gwen from Torchwood, but she fortunately had a pleasing personality to make up for it, and Chinelo is made of FIERCE.

    Someone fell ill in the first round of last year’s competition which makes me wonder if this programme is just so nice they give the really shit contestants some dodgy prawns at dinner so they withdraw of their own accord and don’t have to go through the humiliation of being eliminated. Cliff was going home whatever happened.

  6. Little Nemo

    I’m so glad you both are going to blog this ๐Ÿ™‚

    My favourite part was Lynda showing Patrick what his sign name was!

    1. stevenperkins

      Bugger, I knew there was something in my notes that I’d forgotten to include in the write-up. That bit was amazing – especially since she was embarrassing her daughter on national television by demonstrating that Patrick’s sign name is basically “I am so wet for you right now”.

  7. Pauline Vernon

    I am SO glad you’re both blogging this. I think what I love about this show is that it is, like GBBO, quintessentially British. I know they sew elsewhere (even if I now know they don’t use paper patterns in Nigeria), but in America it would be The Great American Quilting Bee and would run to one episode, max.

    My predictions – also-rans: David (fat fingers); Jenni (too inexperienced); Julie (you can’t put diamante on everything, you just can’t); Heather (a perfectionist, so she’ll run out of time); Simon (short on experience and technique); and Tamara (who I also dislike for absolutely no good reason whatsoever). So it looks like a battle between Cerina (nothing will faze her), Chinelo (off the wall is good on shows like this) and Lynda (just because).

    Oh and Claudia was made for a show like this – or it was made for her. Whatevs.

    1. stevenperkins

      Weirdly, I haven’t even considered who might win yet, which is the sort of thing I normally do right from the beginning. I’m tempted to say Lynda might take the whole thing, but I’m not really a good enough judge of sewing to say that with any authority.

  8. Sue Howarth

    The nightdress that Chinelo made by chalking a circle and fitting on the body may be traditional in Nigeria but in the UK that was anarchy, it was awesome, out of the box rebellion and the final piece was magnificent Chinelo woz robbed.
    Tilly was a similar character last year, refusing to use standard patterns, but she was no where near as close in touching the divine

    1. stevenperkins

      I like the matter-of-factness of Chinelo’s anarchy. On a lot of other shows, a contestant taking on that role would be all “SCREW THE RULES, MAN! I DON’T CARE TO LISTEN TO A BUNCH OF SQUARES TELLING ME WHAT TO DO!” – whereas with Chinelo it seems to be more “yeah, I know it’s not really what you’re supposed to do, but this is how I do it. *shrug*”

  9. minxy

    ah, as a Pratchett fan I wish you would call them Seamstresses (hem, hem), especially as that fits so well with y/our love of double and single entendres.

    Guess I better go check iplayer

    Good to have you both back!

      1. PosiePebbles

        I’d recommend upping your Pratchett knowledge but I suspect I’m not the only person to say that.

        In other news, thanks much for covering this show. I wasn’t going to bother watching but you pointed me in its direction and I’m already slightly in love. (I mean with the show – goes without saying that I adore you and Chris – mwah!)

        Can we have more of you and Chris falling out over your Simon obsession, Steve? ‘Cos, you know, I’m evil like that…

        Think Lynda is my favourite at the moment. She seems lovely and smiley and, as someone who is now grandmother-less, I kind of want her to adopt me as a grandkid. I need spoiling, dammit.

      2. minxy

        oh I wish I had got to play it!
        Seamstresses are “ladies of negotiable affection” – and can’t sew lol
        I agree with Posie

  10. Amy

    Why the hell aren’t I watching this?! *goes to iPlayer*

    Of course, you know who should be on this? WETSUIT KIMONO BOY off Junior Apprentice.

  11. Diane

    May is redundant Patrick is enough to carry this, and also she has those very light eyes that don’t do well on film. Claudia is wonderful on it and watching her peer so intently at everything reads as earnestness, not the fact that she can’t actually see very well at all.
    Glad you are re capping this, though I do think you missed a trick no doing the Voice. Kayleigh is actually fun, and Ricky weird enough to get you wonderinging whether any of the contestants in opposing teams have taken out extra life insurence .

  12. Dancing cake

    I haven’t caught up with this series yet, but I watched GBSB last year for the same reason FuTeffla did: I don’t even sew, but I can still spot a mistake in a buttonhole or something a lot more easily than I can TASTE A CAKE THAT’S ONLY ON TV.

    Sheesh. What is the point of a cake you can only SEE?

    Love the blog so far – please add extra Claudia!


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