Let’s do the Time Warp (and Weft) again!
1. The theme this week was “retro”. That’s right – this time on The Great British Sewing Bee we were travelling back in time through the decades, with our intrepid contestants asked to demonstrate arcane and elaborate skills that would be beyond 99% of the modern populace. You know…just like every week then. I don’t think it’s being harsh to say that a programme as old-fashioned and charmingly and deliberately fusty as the Great British Sewing Bee (previously : make gentlemen’s pyjamas to be presented whilst Doris Day sings in the background and Rock Hudson winks at Patrick Grant through an open window) having an actual Vintage Week is pretty bloody ironic. To really stand out as a theme from the rest of the series we would have had to have seen David sewing his own doublet and hose, Chinelo stitching her model into a toga with a ruddy great palm frond on one shoulder, and Tamara deftly converting a ladies night-dress into a velociraptor warmer. Instead we were, as usual, firmly ensconced in the 1930s and 40s. Personally I would have preferred it if all contestants were dressed up as Land Girls at ALL TIMES with Patrick as a saucy Blackout Warden but…I could say that about most reality shows to be honest.
2. This week served as the “Quarter Finals” as well, and you know that as soon as we get into any sort of week that combines an exam type with a fraction everyone is duty bound to start talking about their plans for the end-game and the Final Reckoning. Tamara identified Chinelo as her main rival, because apparently they “think about fabrics in the same way”. I’m guessing her days as serving children’s parties as Nanny Whatever must get pretty tiring then, because as we all know Chinelo mostly thinks about fabric as a means of garotting children (in the nicest possible way) (LOVE YOU CHINELO!). Chinelo for her part had fingered Lynda as her main rival due to her technical prowess. Heather saw all the women as her rivals because she thinks they’re all pretty much neck-and-neck in skills. Oh yes and David’s still here. Well he was this week. Poor David. From the moment that Chinelo identified him as the Underdog it felt like his time was running short.
3. The Pattern Challenge this week was to work with vintage Interwar sewing machines to make a blouse from 1930S PATTERNS! The prime difference between ancient patterns and modern ones apparently is that olden days patterns were covered in some sort of secret clubhouse Morse Code scrawl denoting the Ancient Language Of Sew whereas today’s ones….say “SEW THE THING HERE” or what have you. I assume. Automatically the use of olde-worlde sewyng machynes placed some sewers at an advantage over others. Lynda’s mother (who was watching on from a picture on the wall, slightly ominously) taught her how to sew on a vintage machine. Heather had to use a 1930s sewing machine to learn how to sew at school (possibly as punishment for obscene fancy dress/public drunkenness who can say?). And as we all know, Chinelo doesn’t sew using modern patterns anyway so wouldn’t be handicapped by being provided with an older version. Actually…I say “we all know”, but apparently 6 weeks in Claudia (THE SHOW’S HOST AND THE CONTESTANTS’ PRETEND CONFIDANTE) hadn’t really noticed this, as she stared agape at Chinelo when she pointed this out to her. Although to be fair, I think boggling her eyes and squeaking in awe is Claudia’s reaction to, like, lift doors opening or cats or the metric system. David and Tamara meanwhile were left all at sea, what with Tamara being a modern quirky funky sewer and David being…I dunno a bloke with man’s needs and big hairy hands and that. That’s normally what it is isn’t it? (Apologies if I accidentally turned any of you on with that. I am on twitter, I know how some of you feel about David)
4. Not only did this week’s challenges require the use of ancient sewing technology (like the Pharaohs use), the History Bit was dedicated to the humble sewing machine. When the electric sewing machine was introduced into the British market in 1935, they were really expensive, but then the inventor came up with a REVOLUTIONARY REPAYMENT SCHEME THAT WOULD CHANGE THE WAY WE SHOP FOREVER. That’s right, Isaac Singer invented HIRE PURCHASE. (Sorry, the History Bit wasn’t that fascinating this week. I miss Forbidden Chintz).
5. Anywho, back with the ancient sewing machines, it seemed like a bit of a clique was forming in the workroom, as Chinelo, Tamara, David and Lynda all buzzed around one another’s tables, asking one another for advice about where to cut their fabric and as to what a placket is (I think it’s a type of cured fish?). Lynda in particular seemed to be elevated, based on having the most experience, to the level of a Vintage Techniques guru, as Tamara, David and Chinelo all deferred to her superior home-spun wisdom. They apparently didn’t notice May off at the side, sighing sadly that “…well it’s not how I’D do it, under these time constraints” *meaningful shrug*. May is kind of hard to overlook at times, although I can at least now pick her out from the contestants (based on her interactions with Chinelo, I’m not sure that Claudia could. There’s probably acres of footage of her asking May what she’s going to make this week or gently ushering over to her mark next to Simon and Julie). Heather, meanwhile was left to work alone, and this, whether by accident or by design or because the fourth time whirling around the workroom like a gin-sozzled Wonder Woman cackling “OH HAVE YOU NOT FINISHED YET?” has caught up to her and left her a pariah, worked to her advantage as she won the challenge handily, striding through the wreckage of Lynda’s advice. Tamara’s sprawling gap (in her collar, you filthy minds), David skewiff shearing, and Lynda’s gaping placket (…) left them all eating Heather’s alcoholic dust, and even Chinelo was left hanging on to second place by her fingertips. It seems Heather really DID pay attention in school, which is not how I imagine her schooldays going but there we are.
6. The Alteration Challenge was tied, rather tenuously, to the theme by Claudia mentioning “make do and mend” and hoping that’d do. I’m not sure the “make do and mend” era is best represented by taking a high-end designer suit and turning it into a grey flannel boob-tube but there we are. The challenge was to take a men’s suit and turn it into an item of clothing that’d be suitable for a woman to wear (Monkseal Blog Solution : Hand it right back again and call everyone a BLOODY SEXIST). The process of hacking up a suit proved weirdly symbolic for David in particular, as he envisioned it as the start of a new life away from his day-job, possibly in the glamorous world of having a segment on This Morning showing Britain’s housewives how to make a box-pleat whilst Holly Willoughby coos admiringly at the side. The women on the other hand had no such qualms about ramming their scissors into the crotch of a pair of high-waisted trousers. I think Lynda in particular was reliving a few bad break-ups. The major gimmick about this challenge, aside from the cross-dressing, is that Patrick and May considered an entire men’s suit was more than enough to be working with, and contestants were hence BANNED from using the Magical Haberdashery Cupboard. This meant that contestants were operating at the raw bleeding edge of their creative powers, which means that it should come as no surprise that Sewer-On-Instinct Chinelo won handily with a genuinely stylish women’s top and skirt. To be honest, it left everyone’s else’s efforts looking slightly unambitious, with the height of avant-garde tailoring elsewhere in the pack represented by Lynda’s cute pinafore dress made out of a trouser-leg. Heather took third place with a very simple but well-executed top (that looked a bit like an executive hankie) whilst David and Tamara brought up the rear with Patrick and May telling them that their outfits still looked too much like men’s suit jackets. In Tamara’s case, turned backwards and with the arms ripped off. We’ve all that night out haven’t we LADS EH?
7. The closing Made-To-Measure challenge required some homework on the part of the contestants, as it hinged rather loosely around the idea of “Make A Coat Using Really Old Techniques”. All involving sewing naturally, none of the poor models got wattle and daub’ed. As such, much of the round felt a little like the contestants were doing their very own History Bits, and to be honest I much preferred them to this week’s EXCITING STORY OF THE INVENTION OF THE HIRE PURCHASE. Tamara gave us all an inspirational story about aspirational early 20th century women as embodied by her mother. Lynda then did the same but cried as well so Lynda kind of won that one, truth be told. Heather, looking to the flesh like an actual Fabric Historian, waxed lyrical about the celebration that ensued in the wake of the end of rationing of fabrics. Chinelo told us about Christian Dior and the invention of the New Look and David kept the end of the police up by telling us about the story of the Police Coat and even went so far as to do his own original research phoning up the Police Heritage Centre. Sterling work from all concerned, and I hope to see them all eagerly chatting with Claudia in the Museum Of Buttonholes in 12 months time on The Great British Sewing Bee 3.
8. So how did all this extracurricular activity pay off? Well, thankfully, my opinion of Heather as a behind-the-bike-sheds smoker/swigger was restored after her success in the Pattern Challenge dented it, as she turned out a slightly shabby coat. Apparently. I mean obviously to my untrained eyes it looked fine (and Chinelo’s as well apparently, as she thought it would end up being Garment Of The Week) but Patrick and May leapt on it like the hyenas from The Lion King, picking little faults at it all over, of course sighing the whole time that it’s a REAL SHAME because she was SO CLOSE to perfection OH WELL. Chinelo looked like she might meat a similar fate for her caramel 1940s housecoat but fortunately at the last minute May and Patrick were dazzled by her glamourous shimmery lining and she ended up more or less middle-of-the-pack for the challenge. Joining her, slightly higher up, was Tamara, whose mustard coloured Mad Man flavoured 1960s coat quite possibly could have won Garment Of The Week, if it weren’t for her chunky hems.
9. In the end it was Lynda doing her mum proud and winning Garment Of The Week with her very swishy dark blue coat, with the judges praising her invisible hems, perfect darting, and even sleeves. Needless to say, because it’s Lynda, she was crying before the announcement was even made, because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Lynda’s emotions are all over the place these days. As the end-game increasingly looks like it’s going to be Lynda vs Chinelo, with Heather and Tamara both hovering around the edges waiting to swoop in to take a Shock Victory from nowhere, I can only hope that the current frontrunner can hold it together. Here’s hoping that her love for Patrick will keep her motor running over the finish line.
10. Whilst Heather’s coat may well have got the harshest critique, it was David who left us, as eventually his underdog status caught up with him. I liked David, and his sense of humour, and his status as Last Man Standing and the slightly amatuerish outsider vibe he gave, but it was always clear that once we reached the “X-Finals” stage he was going to be tidied away to let the women fight it out. I like that he went out, after his brief existential crisis when attacking that suit with scissors, as he came in, as a policeman, with his police coat complete with appropriate insignia and slightly limp collar.
Next week : Steve recaps the SEMI FINALS as Chinelo finally BITES OFF MORE THAN SHE CAN CHEW (maybe, probably not).