Back with another one of those block-rockin’ pleats.
1. By the semi-final stage of a competitive reality show – particularly a pre-recorded one such as this where the editors already know the outcome – you can often work out a few things ahead of time by looking at the sort of edit the contestants are getting. In many ways, this episode felt like an exaggeration of that, as it was a little bit clunky in constantly reminding us who the contestants are (or at least, how the show wants us to see them), presumably to get our support apportioned appropriately ahead of next week’s final. As such, this week’s instalment was very keen to present Chinelo as plucky and unconventional, a determined sewer who quite often treads her own path but frequently delivers spectacular results. Tamara at this point seems to be reliable and creative, as we’ve seen her repeatedly perform well in challenges and constantly surprise the judges with the flair that she brings to her garments – even if she occasionally goes a little bit too far. Heather‘s edit at this point is leaning towards gifted but conservative, as we were constantly shown reminders that Heather’s ability as a sewer is rarely in doubt, but that the judges have often remarked that the garments she presents them with could do with being a little bit more ambitious. All of these, I would say, have been borne out fairly acceptably by what we’ve seen so far. The bit that didn’t quite ring true for me was the presentation of Lynda as skilled but inconsistent – sure, she’s had a couple of slip-ups throughout the competition, but my recollection is that they’ve been fairly isolated and I remember seeing her at the top of the pack far more than I saw her at the bottom. So this sudden depiction of Lynda as someone whose inconsistency demonstrated a problem within the competition was perhaps our first hint that something was about to go very, unexpectedly wrong.
2. With the departure of David last week, we are now officially without any contestants whose departure felt inevitable. Obviously there can only be one winner so in a sense loss is inevitable for all except one, but I think most viewers pegged Chinelo, Heather, Lynda and Tamara as the frontrunners from a very early stage and never really considered them as genuinely at risk of elimination. Claudia remarked at the end of the show that going out in the semi-final is probably right up there with being the first one kicked out as far as gut punches go, because you were almost-there-but-not-quite (of course, considering that we didn’t so much have a ‘first boot’ in this series as we had Cliff going “COUGH COUGH I’M SICK right I’m off now”, the allusion falls apart a little bit), but I think that the real reason it’s so painful here is because any one of these four could quite conceivably be the winner, so it’s inevitably going to suck to make one of them go home a week before the end.
3. The theme for this week isn’t less a theme, more a commandment: NO PATTERNS. You’d expect the competition to have a bit of a difficulty spike this close to the end, but it strikes me as a particularly vicious increase coming right on the heels of “retro week”, which despite some fairly arduous challenges allowed the contestants to work with concepts and ideas that they probably had a fair amount of experience with. The prospect of doing three challenges without patterns, however, seemed to have everyone debating stabbing themselves to death using the overlocker before they even knew what the specific challenges were. (Note to ITV: “impaled on overlocker and ghoulishly sewn up into some sort of human puppet” would be an excellent demise for a character on Midsomer Murders. You can have that one for free.) Even Chinelo, who was probably the closest of anyone to being in her comfort zone here, looked fairly despondent at the idea. The first challenge required them to make a dress using a mannequin, three metres of fabric, some pins, and ALL OF THE TECHNIQUES YOU’VE USED TO FAR, YES ALL OF THEM, PLACKETS AND PEPLUMS AND PLEATS, OH MY! Tamara opted to make a picnic dress that Patrick considered “overtucked” (now there’s a RuPaul’s Drag Race spinoff I’d like to see), Chinelo made a dress that was aiming for tulip and either worked (if you’re May) or didn’t (if you’re Patrick), while after an initial flap, Lynda turned out a strapless bodice dress that fitted the mannequin rather well, and Heather made a bias cut dress with some lovely pleats but Patrick wasn’t entirely sold on the wider pleats at the side. Tamara ended up bottom of the heap, with Chinelo above her and Lynda beating out Heather for first place because she understood the brief extremely well and finished her garment to a high standard. This is (spoiler) pretty much the last time anything goes right for Lynda in the competition.
4. I know that people in the fashion industry are often colourful/creative/eccentric dressers, I know that I really shouldn’t be judging any of these people on their sartorial choices, and I know that if you combine this with #9 it’s going to look like I’m really ragging on Tamara this week, but despite all that: WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THAT’S SITTING ON TAMARA’S SHOULDERS I JUST CAN’T. It’s a kind of giant grey sack with enormous drooping sleeves, and as the hour goes on it seems to increase in volume and angles and become some sort of terrifying turnip-samosa-meets-hospital-inpatient-gown horror story. I can only apologise, Tamara. I tried not to let the smocky horror show influence my judging of your work over the course of this episode, but I don’t know if I was entirely successful.
5. This week’s History Bit was almost Too Hot For 8pm: it was all about the rise in popularity of draping luxurious fabrics on the mannequin, as developed and popularised by Madeleine Vionnet. (I believe the V&A Museum was named after her, albeit in a bastardised, anglicised way. We always butcher la langue française, n’est-ce pas?) Mme Vionnet was not one for sketching (she would’ve been the Chinelo of her day, essentially) and preferred to just work directly with fabric and with the human body. In an era where women were used to lots of layers and corsets and fusty things like that, she wanted the dresses to “flow over the contours of a woman’s natural body”, which was a brilliant and revolutionary idea at the time, but now sounds a bit like the sort of paedophilic prose that MailOnline churns out daily whenever it gets a new batch of photos of the 14-year-old daughters of celebrities. Shame about that, really. Anyway, Mme Vionnet’s work was a revolution in women creating clothes for women, by women, about women, above women, behind women, through women, next-door-to women. Or something.
6. The alteration challenge this week offered up an interesting variation – normally the challenge is to pick apart something old and completely reshape it, but the contestants were a lot more restricted this time as they were given a basic sleeveless high-street dress and told to add sleeves to it. This was uncharted territory for everyone – they all knew how to make a sleeve, but not how to design their own pattern to draw a sleeve onto a pre-existing outfit. This led to Claudia, the judges and the contestants all saying “armhole” repeatedly as they discussed the various ways of approaching the task, which in turn led me to giggle childishly because HURR HURR IT SOUNDS A BIT LIKE A RUDE WORD. Lynda took a risk by attempting sleeves with no gathers. I haven’t got a clue what that means, but apparently it requires her measurements to be even more accurate than everyone else’s. “The trouble is, I’m not a measurer,” mused Lynda, as the chimes of impending doom sounded in the background. In the end, Lynda’s non-measuring-eye did her in as one of her sleeves wasn’t attached as cleanly, and she’d done a buttonhole the wrong way. (How do you do a buttonhole the wrong way? I have no idea. Patrick explained it, and I’m still none the wiser. When can we go back to writing about cakes? I understand those.) Heather had one sleeve longer than the other, but no distortion and some smooth shoulder lines. Tamara’s short sleeves had some nice top stitching, but there was something in the alignment that May and Patrick didn’t like, and Chinelo’s strident fabric turned out to be a well-chosen gamble, as Patrick and May marvelled at the shape and structure and the way she got the big pink line in the middle. Lynda finished last, with Tamara third, Heather second again, and Chinelo winning. Deservedly so, in my opinion: it looked like a really brilliant school uniform from one of those dystopian teen dramas that are all the rage at the moment.
7. This week in “Notable Moments Featuring Your Host And Judges” – Claudia, Patrick and May “enjoyed” a rare excursion outside to stand on the canal bank and fill time for a minute or so by reminding us of everything we’ve learned from the contestants in the medium of their edit. That wasn’t the most important part of the segment, of course: the best bit was seeing the usually impeccably-groomed Patrick exposed to the elements and dealing with some clearly windswept hair that he couldn’t do anything about but seemed both aware of and distressed by. I also got to add further evidence to my “Claudia Winkleman and Kermit The Frog, Separated At Birth” file when Claudia announced the winner of the second challenge with an amusingly high-pitched and drawn-out “it’s CHINEEEELLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” We didn’t get to see her on screen at that specific moment, but I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if she turned out to have been doing this with her arms throughout.
8. For the final challenge, the contestants had to be their own models once again as they were instructed to recreate a favourite item of clothing from their own wardrobe. They had no patterns to work from, obviously, so they just had to use the original garment as a template as best they could. (I like to call this task The Great British Plagiarism Challenge.) Lynda wanted to remake her “Mary Poppins dress”, so-called because it had women on it carrying umbrellas, and because Lynda is a nursery nurse and so likes to think of herself as a sort of Mary Poppins, while Chinelo wanted to recreate the strapless party dress that she wore to the first Valentines Night she and her husband hosted at their church (this is why I love this task – all the backstory just casually being dropped in), this time putting a colour gradient into the 42 strips of gathered organza. Tamara picked the first yoga outfit that she bought when she first became a yoga teacher, which involves 22 sections and which she considered to be “like a jigsaw puzzle”, while Heather brought in her “a plain little shift dress” that she wore to an exhibition when she was painting in Sweden. (See what I mean? SEE?) Claudia asked Patrick and May if this task wasn’t “just copying”, having seemingly read my mind, but they assured her that to succeed in this task, the sewers would need to understand the geometry of garment-making. See, they’ve been sneaking science into this show right under your nose. Everyone had their own approach to creating a pattern, with varying degrees of success – Lynda’s in particular seemed…haphazard, to put it politely, and this caught up with her when it turned out she didn’t have enough fabric with her. Patrick and May decided that rather than just let Lynda stand there and have some sort of breakdown while waiting for the clock to run out, it would be fairer just to let her take something from the haberdashery – but then she ended up with a fabric with a different kind of stretch to the one she was looking for. That May was able to identify this by sight alone makes me think she’s either a genius, a witch, or possibly both. In the end, Chinelo’s reproduction got a largely positive reaction, to the extent that May and Patrick actually seemed to prefer hers to the original version, while Heather’s was considered too simple and not quite fitted properly around the hips and at the back, but was judged to be an extremely accurate interpretation of the original dress. Lynda knew her dress was not up to standard, and while Patrick raved about her pleats, there was trouble with a roving waistline (a problem I’m all too familiar with). Finally, Tamara was applauded for taking on multiple panels in different fabrics with all sorts of conflicting properties, and every part of the garment was exactly where it was supposed to be. She’d very cleverly shown off all sorts of skills in putting it together, and this was not lost on May and Patrick.
9. It’s not a huge surprise considering the judges’ gushing reaction to it at the time, but garment of the week goes to Tamara for her multi-panelled yoga top. And after seven weeks of watching this show, I appreciate that the criteria for GOTW is based on crafts(wo)manship, invention, attention to detail and all sorts of other factors that are not “personal taste”, but at the same time: they did SEE that top, right? They saw the clashing patterns and colours and the fact that it looked, well, horrible? I don’t doubt that it was excellently made or that it had a high difficulty level of that it represented hours of exacting work on Tamara’s part, but at the same time: looking at it made me feel a bit ill.
10. Unfortunately, despite winning the first challenge, her poor performances in the second, and especially the third, meant that poor “inconsistent” Lynda was sent home this week, resulting in arguably our very first (and only) SHOCK BOOT of the series. Before this week, I would’ve put my money on Lynda to win it all, and I can’t imagine I was alone in that. But I guess at this point, when everyone is at more or less the same technical level, it comes down to performance on the day and Lynda had a rough weekend, so she went home. Patrick gave her a big kiss goodbye, and she instantly squealed “ooh, it’s worth going!” I like that she chose to take it as a compliment that she’d made it this far, rather than a disappointment that she hadn’t made the final. Aw, Lynda. We’ll miss you and your habit of finishing an hour before everyone else and telling us all about your daughters.
Next week: the final, duh. Chris will be blogging that one for you, which means this is my final Sewing Bee blog for the foreseeable future. Thanks for reading, and I like to think I know a little bit more about darts than when I started. Not a lot, mind, but more than I did.