In which the remaining sewers prepare wee mini outfits for children. Gird your ovaries, viewers.
1. Last week week’s opening episode gave us the impression that the casting team had really gone the distance to find some credible male contestants for this series, given that both finals so far have been all-female affairs. Intriguingly, this week seemed set-up deliberately to challenge those horny-handed sons of toil (and Ryan) though, because all of this week’s garments were to be made for children – meaning that everything would be small and nimble and delicate and precise. I realise that I’m stereotyping on gender grounds here, but I seem to recall at least two of the blokes drawing attention to their giant hands in the space of two episodes, so I don’t feel like I’ve pulled this theory out of thin air exactly. Still, leaving gender studies aside (for now), all the contestants have now realised how hard this challenge is going to be and are preparing to up their collective game by whatever means necessary: for Lorna, that means going through all of her pattern books and trying to modernise her ideas, and for Matt, that means shining an apple for Patrick. *waggles eyebrows*
2. Most of the contestants felt like they were on familiar ground with children’s clothing, having attempted at least something in that general area before – apart from Paul, perhaps because you don’t tend to find many pre-adolescent drag queens these days (#brokenbritain); Ryan, who had at least started out making clothes for toys and thus was used to working in smaller scales; and Alex, who has only ever made clothes for herself (<3). First up, the pattern challenge was to make a child’s waistcoat with two welt pockets. Welt pockets, for the uninitiated, are those little flaps of material sewn on top of a garment to look like pockets, but without actually any real storage facilities. I think the inventor of welt pockets was inspired by the London property market. The big risks here were taken by those like Ryan, Amanda, Neela and Lorna who opted to use patterned fabric, because getting the welts to line up with the patterns is apparently very tricky (even Patrick admitted he wouldn’t have attempted it). The challenge augured ill for Alex, who attempted to cut the back of the waistcoat out using the wrong material and later, after struggling with getting the lining to fit inside her welt pockets, burst out with my favourite line of the episode by far: “all this ugliness should be on the inside!” I plan to use that line when my future children are misbehaving. Towards the end Alex and Amanda were both essentially giving up their efforts as a total waste of time and Alex proposed that they stage a joint quit of this round, which Claudia made very clear she would not accept. Ultimately, Alex presented a waistcoat without buttons or buttonholes, Amanda only managed one of each, as did Deborah, whose effort was not symmetrical, and Neela wasn’t even close to finishing. Ryan didn’t manage to match his welts in the end, but the rest of his waistcoat was so good that Patrick and May gave him first place nonetheless, with Lorna as runner-up.
3. The other theme of this week’s episode was “meet the family”, as we got a bit of extra VT time to meet all of the needlecraft widows in our contestants’ lives. Through this, we learned that Matt makes awesome fancy dress outfits for his children (and his wife Gemma seems genuinely lovely, so now I feel a bit bad about how many times I’ve referred to Matt as a DILF since watching episode one); Neela makes matching garments for her entire family; Ryan’s parents are called Len & Bev (<3) and are hugely proud of their son’s creativity; Amanda has bonded over sewing with her teenage daughter; Alex’s fiancé Carl is weirded out by the fact that she apparently dreams about sewing at night; Lorna made her sons wear dreadful homemade Bermuda shorts on holiday; Deborah’s new husband is quite hot in an Artie-from-Glee sort of way; Neil’s rugby-playing sons appear to be very proud of their father’s sewing skills, so that seems like excellent parenting on every level, well done Neil and Neil’s wife; and Paul’s clothes that he made for his mum were such a hit that he started making them for her friends as well.
4. The History Bit made a triumphant return in this episode as Claudia guided us through the story of the waistcoat, a tale marked by bloodshed and not just as a result of fashionistas arguing whether it deserved a place in this year’s fall collection. Tim Long, curator of fashion for the Museum of London, explained that Charles II needed to distance himself from French fashion and fabrics at a time when Britain and France were at warm, so he called for his tailor and ended up with a very British new garment, originally called a “vest” and later amended to a waistcoat. They had sleeves originally, and then did not (quite how or why this happened was not explained), and Charles II used his waistcoat for PR purposes to promote pro-British, anti-French sentiment. Expect to see Nigel Farage in nowt but waistcoats from now until 7 May.
5. For the alteration challenge, the sewers were each given a basic yellow t-shirt and a woven cotton dress. The purpose of this test was to see how well they could combine the two very different fabrics involved, so May gave them strict instructions not to use any other fabrics apart from those (although they could go to town on the trims if they really needed to express themselves). Deborah was keen to push the boundaries of classic childrenswear and decided to make a cardigan-slash-bolero jacket. She was cheered by Claudia’s revelation that May loves bolero jackets, while I was less so by the discovery that May pronounces it “boller-oh”. Neil was also up for experimentation, and came up with a pair of boxing shorts and matching gloves (with some admitted concerns about whether this was appropriate attire for a small child) in honour of his short-lived boxing career, where he had a proud run of losing all three matches he took part in. Lorna, on the other hand, set out with no specific plan in mind and opted to see where the muse would take her – admitting to Claudia that she doesn’t generally do that at home because normally she’s paid for the fabric herself and doesn’t want to waste it. Oh, but when it’s our licence fee it’s fine, is it Lorna? Call Ofcom! Claudia and Matt ended up giggling hysterically about how hideous the shorts he’d made were, and the sight of the two of them practically collapsing in a squealing heap as Claudia tried to prevent Matt from making things worse by adding a little flower on was genuinely precious. Oh, and Neela managed to whack herself in the face with her mannequin, and her immediate reaction was concern that she’d stretched her garment in the process. Fortunately for everyone involved, May and Patrick ended up really liking everything they were presented, and assured those who ended up getting ranked at the bottom (Amanda’s cape, Matt’s aforementioned gaudy shorts, Neela’s asymmetric dress) that it wasn’t that their efforts were bad, simply that their peers’ were better. Ryan scored third place with his shirred dress (whatever one of those is), Lorna was the bridesmaid once again with her fab little ruffled swimsuit, and Neil took top place with his boxing ensemble, which Patrick called “the coolest thing I think I’ve ever seen in my whole life”. After singing ‘So You Wanna Be A Boxer?’ from Bugsy Malone. And if you want to tell me that there’s anything on this show more endearing than Patrick Grant: Übernerd, I’d like to see some proof.
6. Speaking of things that are endearing, I know we’re only two episodes in but I just wanted to say how well I think the show has been cast this year. Already this group of sewers seem like warm, funny people who’ve bonded quickly with each other and who are fast becoming a pleasure to watch every week. Admittedly there are a few who are in need of slightly more screentime than they’ve had so far (Amanda, Deborah, maaaaaaybe Paul) because they’re not making quite as much of an impact as the others, but that’s fine – sometimes casting a few wallflowers can be useful in itself. My only real concern at this stage is that there already seems to be too much of a gap between the likes of Amanda, Alex and Neela and the rest of the pack, so it feels as though the next few weeks of eliminations will be fairly predictable. Still, at least the front of the pack doesn’t feel quite so predetermined – even Neil admitted that his luck “has to run out at some stage”. (It probably doesn’t, though. There are only four more episodes.)
7. The final challenge inevitably meant that the sewers had to forego their children-sized mannequins and work with actual children instead. (Shudder.) The challenge was to make a 3D fancy-dress outfit, and part of the fun was in watching the sewers interact with the kids while they worked, because there wasn’t really a lot for the models to do when they weren’t being measured, and kids aren’t exactly known for having long attention spans. Pleasingly, everyone seemed to be relaxed and chatty with the kids without being overly patronising – I particularly enjoyed Lorna telling her captive audience Louis that she was teased as a child for being so tall, but she got revenge when she learned to sew because everyone wanted her to make things for them and suddenly she was in a POSITION OF POWER. (Also, Lorna gets fifty bonus points on whatever scoring scale we’re using for having her costume be a blue-footed booby. Tee hee, “booby”.) Meanwhile, Matt and Deborah both chose to make peacock costumes, and Matt won my heart a little bit more by informing Claudia that the collective noun for peacocks is “an ostentation”, while Amanda misread the brief by designing a flapper-girl dress that didn’t really incorporate any of the requested 3D structural elements, and just kind of shrugged it off when Claudia pointed that out to her. It probably wasn’t the most dynamic of decisions, but I can’t help admiring the pragmatism of realising that it’s far too late to redesign the whole thing from scratch, so the best you can do is just appliqué a load of shit around the hem and hope that’s enough. Paul made an elephant costume, which prompted May to ask “what have you used inside your trunk?” and briefly made me think she was about to burst into an acapella rendition of ‘My Humps’. In the end, everything was basically brilliant – Amanda piled all of her 3D efforts into the headpiece which May absolutely loved – although Alex’s was a little unfinished, and Matt’s was a bit wobbly, but all the kids looked totally adorable and I basically dissolved into a big squeeing puddle and started wondering when I can have children and dress them up in coot costumes and let’s just move on before I embarrass myself and my theoretical future offspring even further.
8. There were a lot of strong contenders for garment of the week, but ultimately the honour went to Paul and his excellent elephant ballerina costume. He was a deserving winner, but I do feel a bit bad for Lorna, who had three very strong rounds and didn’t come top in any of them. Her blue-footed booby costume in particular was a triumph – structurally complex but aesthetically awesome, and her model even spoke up to say how comfortable it was. And it made Claudia’s ovaries lurch right there on the spot. #justice4lorna
9. A lot of contestants skirted around the danger zone this week – after the first two rounds, Neela and Amanda were the prime picks to go home, but Patrick felt that Neela thoroughly redeemed herself with her bookworm costume, and May was sufficiently impressed by Amanda’s flapper to declare that both of them had done enough to stay another week. As a result, two new candidates were needed as potential eliminees, and while Matt was briefly considered for his limp peacock, it was Alex who had to pack her needles and leave, after her ongoing issues with getting everything done in the time limit led to her cupcake costume looking a little drab (and being partly held together with safety pins). I’m sad to lose Alex, because she was probably my favourite sewer this year in terms of personality, but I think this was the right time for her to leave because those time limits aren’t going to get any more forgiving. Still, I look forward to next year’s “Class of 2015” update and seeing the hopefully kickass wedding dress she’ll have made for herself.
10. After a slightly poor showing on the innuendo front last week, I was very pleased to see everyone up their game for episode two. Honourable mentions go to Patrick (who described Matt’s shorts in round two as “a little hungry in the crotch”), Alex (“it’s so thick, it really doesn’t like it”) and Neela (“do you want to be my inchworm?”), and in any normal week the prize would clearly go to May, who had not one, not two, not three but FOUR ooh-er-matron moments: “the bigger you make the hole, the more difficult it is to cover it with the flap”, “they bounce around, they have their own life, and you’ve got to harness that”, “that is quite a lightweight trunk” and “the boning has worked at the back”. Brava, May, for that last one especially. However, despite that sterling effort she still managed to be outshone by Claudia, who managed to slip two in where only one was expected by informing us that “Matt’s peacock doesn’t require any stuffing. Instead, he’s boning.” Top quality pre-watershed filth, well done everyone.
Next week: it’s the 1950s. Is it ever not on this show?