The Great British Sewing Bee 3 – Episode 1

And yes, we’re still holding out against recapping that allotment twaddle, even if it was won by a hot gay flight attendant.

1. It’s back! The quest to find Britain’s best amateur sewer and then eliminate her in fourth place CONTINUES (#teamlynda) (not really Heather, we love and cherish you still and forever) (and Chinelo was blates the best one anyway). Claudia is talking to the mannequins like a millinery Dr Doolittle, Patrick has decided on what facial hair arrangement he will be favouring this year (a moustache), the soundtrack has been set to “most suggestive sounding pop hits of the 1940s”, and May is…well, May’s still there, being May. The calm professional eye about which Hurricane Claude rotates, riding a giant eye-liner and cackling “10 MINUTES LEFT!” like Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard Of Oz. The sad news though is that, despite getting decent enough ratings last year, only slightly below what the second series of Bake Off got, the order from BBC Two for this year’s series has been reduced to six episodes from eight. Well…either that or there’s going to be a particularly gruesome accident involving a runaway overlocker in Episode 2 that forces the show-runners hands. Maybe BBC Two are worried that the show’s going to love them for 4 years then leave them JUST LIKE PAUL HOLLYWOOD DID, WHEN A PRETTIER CHANNEL STARTED BATTING ITS EYELASHES AT HIM and are jealously trying to limit the show’s success so that it will stay with them a la A Star Is Born. Oh BBC Two producers, if you love something, set it free. Although before you do so, if you could do a crossover episode with Wolf Hall where the contestants have to make made-to-measure codpieces for Henry VIII, Edward Seymour and Harry Percy that’d be grrrrrrrreat.

2. The first challenge this year was presented to the challengers with a “this is the easiest challenge in the history of the sewing bee and if you mess this up, Patrick will take you to his dungeon and use Heather’s riding crop on you” preamble from May and indeed, on paper it did sound pretty simple – a pair of women’s cotton trousers. Of course, what wasn’t immediately apparent is that the range of prints provided for this chalenge would be the most garish array of materials seen in one place since the N Sync episode of The Big Reunion. Neon flowers and cutesy emoji fruits, retina-searing shades of lemon and loops and swirls that you’d usually see bedecking the walls of an Am Dram production of Abigail’s Party. Sure, you could make a pair of ladies trousers, but could you make them STYLISH? Amanda (an ambitious deputy head from Darlington), who proudly started off the episode saying that she loves making her own clothes because she knows she’ll be the only one wearing them (and I’m increasingly thinking would be the only one who would want to) immediately seized on a fabric in a frankly pond-scum shade of green and panted her excitement. I on the other hand immediately reached for my sunglasses, aware that if I didn’t get eye-protection stat I’d be seeing purple striata in the shape of strawberries every time I shut my eyes for the next week.

3. Whilst the show will never quite be the Bake Off in terms of innuendo, sliding on a neat pair of women’s slacks not quite matching the earthiness of shoving a cream horn in your gob, this week was enlivened by the presence of a “9 inch invisible zip”. Although what’s the point of 9 inches if it’s invisible, I find myself asking. It was left up to Neela (a scatty Marketing Manager from Surrey, inspired to sew by Princess Diana’s wedding dress (WARNING, INCOMING FROO-FROO!)) to seize the day, winking to camera that she should know what 9 inches is, which I’m sure her husband thanked her for after the episode aired. Said husband incidentally appeared to be sporting a Patrick Grant tribute moustache, possibly to curry favour. To round off this picture of Neela’s domestic life, she’d brought with her a portable wristbound pin-cushion made by her eldest daughter, and a Cleopatra dolly, made by her youngest.

Uncanny isn’t it? Anywho, Neela’s experience in handling nine-inchers proved invaluable, as she was propelled to 3rd place in the opening challenge with a pair of comparatively subdued green spotted trews that forced Patrick Grant to get particularly fussy about the kneecaps just to find something bad to say about them (I’d let Patrick Grant get fussy about my kneecaps etc etc)

4. Other contestants finishing well in this challenge were Lorna (a serene retired air hostess from Kent) and Neil (a macho lieutenant colonel from Kent) but we’ll get to them later because quite frankly they both bestrode this episode like two Kentish Collossii of Sewing and if we don’t see both of them in the final four at least I’ll be very surprised. In the meantime here’s a picture of Lorna looking like a WAF Glamdessa to tide you over.

Of the two I preferred Lorna’s tropical floral masterpiece to Neil’s marginally less exciting neon pink daisy explosion, but the latter did prompt Claudia to snark on how much she hated pink, which just made me sadly shake my head at the garish shades they were about to force her into in the first few weeks of Strictly before they had a (sensible) change of heart. Doing less well were Paul (a tattooed sports therapist from Cheshire) who made the mistake of having a visible nine-inch zipper, Ryan (a baby-faced student from London), whose aqua trousers were quite frankly showing pubes (or would do if mannequins had any) and particularly Alex (a potentially psychotic raven-haired feather ear-ringed Corporate Sustainability Manager from Romania and therefore my early favourite, entertainment wise) whose zip was put in so wonky and asymmetrical that it hopped into a time-machine and became the inspiration for the haircuts of a thousand 80s bands. Alex took her failure in her stride, snarling into camera that we didn’t want to know what she was really thinking before flicking her hair and laughing throatily. Oh I do. I so do.

5. Fortunately for Alex, the next challenge gave her an opportunity to work off some of her rage issues, as it was the Alteration Challenge. The challenge where the contestants are given a garment and are then allowed to TEAR IT TO SHREADS in the name of fashion, in order to produce something else entirely. In this case, a denim shirt. And indeed Alex’s rage reduced in probably the best…deconstructed garment yet, as all that was left of the original denim by the end were the buttons and a bit of trim, used to hold together masses on pink tulle ruffle (Alex’s FAVOURITE THING IN THE WORLD, FAVOURITE *jabs at Claudia, possibly with scissors*), glued to it like some sort of grizzly trophy against 90s lesbian stereotypes. It looked like something Cyndi Lauper might wear when she’s off her meds. Patrick and May declared it the winner, possibly out of fear. It wasn’t so much an Alteration Challenge as a Demolition Challenge, as Alex spent the entire challenge muttering about how she was about to found dead under a mound of pink fabric and that is NOT HOW SHE WANTS TO REMEMBERED. Anyway, more or less everyone else made boring denim skirts, which I guess show why you need to cast Alex in the first place, the best of which belonged to Lorna (well elasticated), Amanda (succesfully cut down to child sized) and Paul (well draped), and the worst of which to Neil (not symmetrical), Neela (too clunky and babyish), and Annie (a thickly accented diary farmer from the Scottish Borders), who committed the worst alteration crime of all – just cutting the arms off and replacing them with poofy sleeves.

6. The major talking point, as far as I can tell, to arise from this episode of the Sewing Bee has been that, after two series of XX domination, they’ve managed to find some male sewers who DON’T TOTALLY SUCK. By which I mean most of them, (bar Neil) spent the episode happily muddling along in the middle of the pack, rather than, say, just flaming out and disappearing halfway through episode 1 CLIFF. Other than Neil, our other token heterosexual is Matt (a ginger IT Consultant from Berkshire) who is the least experienced of all the sewers and has really big manly hands so he can’t…erm…no sorry, off in a reverie there. He can’t do delicate ladies sewing so he has to weight down the fabric with rocks and twigs and MANLY NATURE THINGS and stuff. I am presuming that Ryan is a gay here, because whilst there is a limit to how useful stereotypes are, his profile says that he was inspired by his nana “making clothes for small bears” and he enjoys sewing whilst watching Sex And The City : The Movie and COME ON, I can buy straight guys watched the tv show by choice but not the film. (Also his intro on the show was of his jogging crotch bouncing directly into the camera in gym shorts

whilst I’m not *on* grindr, I am familiar with its works). Finally amongst our manly mid-rankers is Paul who has a boyfriend and makes clothes for drag queens, so…no questions there.

The British version of RuPaul’s Drag Race really is going to be a bit…lower budget isn’t it? Anyway, according to the website Paul “sews out of frustration at the monotony of men’s clothing” so if this year’s reduced run IS due to intra-cast murder, I’m guessing he’s responsible. Or, y’know, Alex.

7. The final challenge of the week was to make a summer dress. As usual with the final shows to…ready-to-wear challenge, contestants were given free range in terms of style and fabric to work with, so it was good to see most of them working with fabrics just as…vibrant as that provided by the show for the first challenge, with Neela, Lorna, Alex and Deborah (a scarlet-haired Support Officer from Manchester, who was the sort of middle-of-the-pack who doesn’t feature much, but who DID have a fascnating backstory over being bested by her older sister in a competition aged 7 to make the best big cat doll, that was kind of fascinating) in particular all having to desperately wrangle their fabrics to try to get the print to match up. Fortunately for Deborah and Lorna, they triumphed over adversity and managed to get everything lined up and their dresses looking beautiful for a strong finish (Deborah’s in particular was doing wonders for her model’s boobs). Alex and Neela…didn’t, with Alex’s cherry-studded dress in particular left looking like an ice-cream parlour that had been wallpapered by The Chuckle Brothers, and left themselves both on the verge of elimination. For those of you keeping track of the midtable males, Ryan probably came out strongest here, just pipping Matt whose zip was visible. Whether it was a nine-incher was not recorded.

8. So yes, Neil and Lorna, this episode’s winners. Neil in that he won Garment Of The Week for his summer dress, managing to make something beautifully constructed and attractive out of the same fabric previously found in the Mr Blobby Fall Collection, and Lorna for being consistantly 2nd in all three challenges, producing consistant results and showing a preference for scarlet shades which I personally find very promising. I can see Neil being the public favourite though, as he’s pretty much a BBC 2 wet dream. A soldier who looks like a cross between Mark Strong and Ian Hart with an active sense of humour who was making his summer dress for his wife. You could feel a thousand Mills & Boon fantasies about David The Police Officer from last year fading away and hearts breaking in the living rooms of the leafy home counties. Not least in that of Matt who was ALSO in the army and who was ALSO making his summer dress for his wife just…in a more middle-of-the-pack sort of way. Poor Matt. Such a beta at the bee.

9. Despite Neela and Alex’s adventures in mispatterning, it was Annie who was our first boot, after producing a summer dress that would frankly tip you off that the owner was on day-release in an episode of Doctors and had…well it looked like it had titty-pockets. Whatever helps you keep warm in the winter I guess, but I’m not sure any woman wants to look like she’s storing a couple of bean bags for an impromptu school Sports Day. Annie’s downfall can probably best be encapsulated in two quotes – first “I know my creative skills are not good, and that’s going to be a problem area for me” (…) and second the one she opened the episode with : “I use sewing mostly as a form of relaxation”, after which you could pretty much plot her trajectory, with her leaping up like she’d just heard someone got shot every time Claudia announced how much time was left (not til Episode 3 Annie…they never should have used real muskets for that Civil War costume challenge) (not with Alex around). Still Annie took her defeat good-naturedly, promising Claudia that she’d still name a calf after her on her dairy farm. The part where she slaughtered it and boiled its hoofs down to make glue, less so.

10. This episode of The Great British Sewing Bee was brought to you by the British Pina Colada Marketing Board, with May, Claudia and Lorna all at some point expressing a fondness. For more recipe ideas please visit the British Pina Colada Marketing Board website at

Next week : CHILDREN.


23 thoughts on “The Great British Sewing Bee 3 – Episode 1

  1. Sue Howarth

    What a treat Monkseal Thankyou. Due to the welding nipples going missing I have not finished the vertical reed bed today as planned. Therefore Sunday afternoon came a day early. I am on Gorse May 2013. I had just finished watching this epi and was on my way to check you would be blogging sewing bee and there you were in my inbox, so happy
    Neil and Lorna for the final. I am not sure how much Alex drama I can take but half way I hope. I have to be on team Paul as he is from my home town, I think, but he is not that good. Generally the skill set is very high this year.. Nobody not using patterns, hmm. Lorna is brilliant at pattern matching that will become a feature. I look forward to seeing Alex repeatedly stabbing the school teacher with an unpicking tool, I guess it is only a question of time. Oh yes that cherry pattern fabric was beautiful I may need to find it

    1. monkseal Post author

      I am sad that “halfway” feels a realistic goal for Alex and yet in real terms that’s only two more episodes…

    1. monkseal Post author

      I was disappointed when Claudia opened by saying that this series was going to be about making the sort of mundane items we all wear every day. WHO WANTS TO SEE THAT? WHERE’S MY WEDDING DRESSES AND SPACE-PIRATES?

      1. Jan

        Well by the looks of the preview we’re getting a full-on creeptastic children’s masquerade ball next week. Snouts and beaks everywhere. I can’t wait. That’s proper sewing.

  2. Neio

    I was shocked when Alex won the alteration challenge for that ballerina skirt monstrosity that only used two strips of the shirt (and is it me, or was the front strip not even?) I felt like Paul was robbed there, as his halter neck top was really inventive. It does seem like Patrick and May let Alex win because of the proximity of so many sharp objects.

    I was sorry to see Annie go, but her designs were frumpy as hell, so it wasn’t a huge surprise.

    Neil’s pattern-matching and cut-outs on his summer dress were impressive, but I much preferred Lorna’s poppy print dress with the three-quarter-length sleeves.

    So far I’m loving Lorna, Neil, Neela, Matt and of course potential psycho Alex.

    1. monkseal Post author

      I think Alex’s win was definitely gifted to her to try to encourage the other contestants to be a bit more exciting and out there than just turning a shirt into a dress. Although I agree that Paul’s dress was pretty inventive as well, and could easily have deserved the win.

      And yeah Annie’s eye was…well I’d say functional but titty-pockets…

    1. Sue Howarth

      Really can you sell it on ebay? Everywhere I have looked has sold out. It is the Mary Berry effect. Just a lovely shift dress not too complicated, maybe with a red lining

  3. acraftybag

    Devastated to hear they’re cutting the number of eps – six will barely get me through to Spring. Why oh why BBC?
    I started off LOVING Neil but by the end he was beginning to annoy me as I suspect he is an alpha over-achiever and I know that’s supposed to be a good thing but to my mind, ain’t nobody got time for that. He looks a bit smug.
    The male contingent definitely stronger than usual. I thought Ryan was going to sink like a stone but he managed to swim to the middle by the end.

    1. monkseal Post author

      He did kind of suck at the Alteration Challenge though, so he does have flaws. Or at least if you care about the Alteration Challenge. (I of course do, because it did for Tamara in the final last year)

  4. Tattycoram

    I live in America, and I’m the only person I know (well, except my children when they wander through the kitchen) who watches this show. I am so glad to have your kaffeeklatsch observations to relive the wonky charm of this show. It took me 3 hours to make binding tape the other day (translation: I am not very good at sewing), so I’m very impressed if slightly demoralized by the high quality of the sewing overall this year.

      1. ynysmon

        What we call bias binding. it is cut across the material,on the bias, so it does not stretch or fray. You use it to finish edges, it went round the top of the trousers

      2. Tattycoram

        Oh lordy, I didn’t realize how suggestive I sounded. It must be catching. (Yes, it’s the same as bias tape as ynymon knows. Sometimes we Americans call it bias binding which sounds even more interesting.)

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