Is the difficulty level getting higher? Corset is! (Sorry.)
1. We are now over halfway through the series, for reasons best known to BBC2 (new theory: they really wanted two more episodes of the Sewing Bee, but they desperately needed the money to pay for the last 30 seconds of Wolf Hall. Someone on that production REALLY dropped the ball financially-speaking and they were going to have to make some seriously anachronistic last-minute alterations if the BBC didn’t start siphoning in money from elsewhere), and it was time for the remaining sewers to discuss the elephant in the room. And by elephant, I mean penises. Because after two straight years of all-female finals, we have a Sewing Bee first on our hands as we’re one week away from the semi final and all four men are still standing, while just three women are left. YEAR OF THE MAN! Of course, it is still theoretically possible to have an all-female final, but it would require both Amanda and Deborah to best Neil in the same week, which seems about as likely as The Voice producing a commercially successful winner. And as Claudia announced this week’s inevitable double-elimination (which will presumably be followed by another next week, if we’re to have the standard three-contestant final), everyone started talking loudly about the possibility of a man actually going home this week, with Ryan admitting that none of the men want to be the first bloke to leave. (Spoiler: whoops.) Anyway, this week was structure week, which basically meant making lots of fiddly garments and getting to say “boning” a lot. Hooray!
2. The first challenge was to make a corset, with Ryan being the only contestant to respond in the affirmative when Claudia asked if any of them had ever made one before. Apparently Ryan has made three in his time, including one made of leather. It’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it? Personally my favourite aspect of this development was the apparent competitive fury it sparked in Neil, who spent the first challenge nonchalantly commenting on what a deviant past Ryan must have enjoyed, at the sort of volume that could be heard in the Cook Islands. By Marlee Matlin. (It all turned out to be academic anyway because while Neil hadn’t made an actual corset before, he later told Claudia that he’d made a corset-based wedding dress for the woman who drove him around the mountains in Bosnia. As you do.) Apparently fabric choice was a key component of success here, because you needed to choose something stiff enough that it would retain its shape once you’d inserted the boning (tee hee). Matt and Deborah both ended up making life difficult for themselves by choosing a rather flimsy material – the exact same material, in fact – although Matt ended up stitching his together slightly better than Deborah did, so his end product was less puckered. (My love for Matt was well-documented in my last recap, but just let me add here that it only got stronger when he said “wowser” at one point during this task. Oh Matt.) Ryan also sandbagged himself with his fabric choice, opting for an unforgiving striped material that made it very easy to see if his stitching was straight, which in some areas it was not. Meanwhile Amanda – for reasons best known to herself – decided to make her own biased binding, while everyone else used a premade one, which ended up costing her valuable time and not looking nearly as neat as everyone else’s. Ultimately Amanda finished a very distant seventh place, with Neil in a very clear first, leaving the others to scrap for the middle spots. (If you’re really interested in the specifics: Ryan was sixth, Lorna fifth, Deborah fourth, Paul third and Matt second.)
3. And thus we came to this week’s History Bit where Claudia went off to learn more about the corset, which she ominously introduced as “the only garment in history that could kill”. (Unless you count that jacket that killed All Saints. And that cloak Madonna was wearing at the Brits gave it a damn good go. And let’s not forget that scarf that did for Isadora Duncan. Basically what I’m saying here is that this opening may not have been as meticulously researched as the show would have you believe.) As you will know if you’ve ever read an interview with an actress who appeared in a period drama, corsets are stupidly uncomfortable and basically make it impossible to breathe or eat or live. Indeed, as Claudia explained, they were responsible for an alarming number of miscarriages. Strangely enough, we have the humble bicycle to thank for driving corsets out of fashion, because women soon came to discover that long bike rides and restrictive fashions were incompatible, and since they liked bikes a lot more than corsets, they decided to change their manner of dress rather than change their mode of transport. In 1881 the Rational Dress Movement began a campaign against fashions that were damaging to your health or overly restrictive of your movement (a battle that they ultimately lost, if America’s Next Top Model is anything to go by) and championed a new, much less rigid corset that you could wear on a bike. Except of course that large chunks of society were against Rational Dress as a concept anyway because it meant that women were getting uppity and starting to think that they could decide for themselves where they were going and how they were going to get there, and that’s how the Men’s Rights movement got started. The things you learn on this show!
4. Surely I can’t have been the only one who spent the whole episode expecting Paul to yell “¡AY AY AY, NO ME GUSTA!” and fall off his chair?
5. For the alteration task, each of the sewers was given a woman’s suit from the 1980s and instructed to modernise it however they saw fit. Ryan immediately started giggling about how funny it was that he was working with clothes that were older than he is, and that made me start thinking that I probably also have clothes that are older than Ryan is, and then I descended into a deep, deep spiral of depression. Meanwhile, Lorna danced around her suit, wafting a pair of scissors around and singing “what you gonna make? GHOSTBUSTERS!”, which made no sense whatsoever but was a joyous experience to witness all the same. The task ended up turning into an interesting critique on the excesses of 80s fashion, considering that Matt decided to turn the skirt from his suit into a dress in its own right, while Lorna decided she was going to make a maternity top out of hers. This task ended up becoming a bit of a millstone for several contestants, as Claudia ended up having to talk Matt out of several disastrous dressmaking decisions, which led to my favourite exchange of the entire episode (Matt: “I can’t even chop a button off, leave me alone.” Claudia: “I don’t understand why you’re here. Did you want to go on the baking one?”) Meanwhile, Ryan decided to basically tear his suit to shreds and hold it all together with elastic to make a sort of peepshow garment, at which point he started crying because he was convinced it was a disaster and Deborah started shouting “YOU’RE AMAZING RYAN!” at him from across the room, which I guess makes her the Michelle Williams of this particular ensemble, and Ryan the Ann Widdecombe. Also by this point everyone had given up pretending that there was any chance of Amanda not going home this week, including Amanda herself, who started saying things like “I’m fraying the edge of this fabric because that’s quite a modern look”, which I’m pretty sure is the sartorial equivalent of setting fire to your work and going outside for a fag. Sure enough, Patrick and May didn’t really know what to make of her waistcoat with a random strap on the shoulder, the other end of which was ATTACHED TO NOTHING, so Amanda ended up at the bottom AGAIN and (surprise surprise) Neil took first place again, but the good news was that May and Patrick ended up really liking Ryan’s risqué pile of elasticated rags and awarded him second place.
6. Poor Amanda, though. By the end of the second round, Patrick and May were openly admitting to Claudia that at least three other candidates would have to SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST in order for Amanda to survive this week. I’m slightly surprised she didn’t just get quietly Cliff-ed so she wouldn’t even have to participate in the third round at all. And just to complete her humiliation, she was all dressed up and ready for Ross’s gala dinner at the museum, and then Joey accidentally flicked hummus all over her.
Still, good job Rachel had that leftover Christmas ribbon just lying around, eh?
7. The final task was to make a kilt for either a male or a female model and, well, let’s just say that I think Ryan got the plum draw on that front.
Handsome. Hairy chest. Looking faintly embarrassed to even be here. We don’t actually do Incidental Character Boyfriend Of The Week on the Sewing Bee recaps, but if we did I am telling you this would be your series winner right here, even if I had to rig the poll to make it happen. Actually this was probably a terrible round for everyone’s blood pressure, because after being introduced to that tall drink of water, it was then revealed that the example model to show everyone how a kilt is supposed to fit over the body was none other than Patrick.
It’s business above the waist, and party below it! Patrick explained to Claudia that a man’s kilt should sit naturally on the waist and length-wise should run down to the knees – essentially (and this is his explanation, not mine), if you’re on your knees, the bottom of your kilt should just be skimming the floor. I wonder what percentage of the viewing audience paid absolutely zero attention to the rest of the episode because they were contemplating what sort of scenario might involve Patrick getting down on his knees? (I also loved the coquettish way Patrick explained this:
Such a tease.) Some of the sewers went for a very traditional approach, while others tried to stand out a bit: Paul’s plan for a glittery denim kilt seemed very Vivienne Westwood (well, Vivienne Westwood-slash-Miss Selfridge circa 1996), Ryan went for a “contemporary kilt”, and Matt and Amanda both decided to make kilts for women. Or “skirts”, as I believe they’re generally known. The most important part of this challenge, it being structure week, was to get your pleats right, so everyone made sure they did all of the pleating first so they had time to sort out any problems – except Amanda. Oh, Amanda. If this episode taught us anything, it’s that if Amanda is the only one doing a particular thing, it’s a bad idea. Conversely, Neil was the only one who hand-sewed all of his pleats, and his kilt was absolutely superb – so much so that Patrick declared he’d be more than happy to wear it himself. Most of the sewers acquitted themselves well overall: Lorna and Matt both displayed “exemplary” pattern-matching, but were let down by a lack of understructure and some dodgy darting respectively. Paul’s denim effort came out looking great, but just needed more precision in the measuring of the pleats, and Deborah’s traditional kilt moved brilliantly on her model and was, in all honesty, probably a very close second to Neil’s. Amanda and Ryan were the ones who stumbled the most, because while Amanda managed some nice pleating overall, something had gone very wrong in the fit around the waist and it was all twisted and wrong, while Ryan’s kilt came too low below the knee and too high above the waist, and basically committed the cardinal sin of taking the most attractive model and ending up making him look frumpier than everyone else’s.
8. So we’ve already discussed Amanda finishing in last place in every challenge, so let’s take a moment to discuss Neil’s utter domination of this week. He came first place in every single challenge (and probably by quite some distance in every challenge apart from the kilt one), which begs the question: can anyone actually stop him at this point? Lorna seems like the only credible alternative, but this wasn’t her strongest week. I really can’t see anybody else taking it – Matt and Deborah are probably the only two with even a sliver of a chance, but Matt doesn’t have Neil’s overall level of precision (although it would be kind of delicious, narratively-speaking, for Beta Matt to come out of nowhere and best Alpha Neil at the last moment), while Deborah just doesn’t have the edit of a winner. I would have no problem with Neil winning, because he’s almost certainly the best sewer in the group, but his higher level of skill is so obvious at this point that it’s making the competition as a whole feel slightly redundant, and I wish it was just a little bit closer, just to make it feel like there’s actually something at stake in the final other than Lorna+1 competing for the bragging rights of being first runner-up.
9. Amanda’s exit was a foregone conclusion (to the point that Patrick and May didn’t even bother to debate it), as was Neil’s kilt winning Garment Of The Week, so the only matter left for discussion would be who would be joining Amanda on the bus home. Patrick and May narrowed it down to Paul vs Ryan – Ryan had excelled in the alteration challenge but struggled in the other two, while Paul made a great kilt and an impressive corset but struggled in the alteration challenge. Ultimately it was Ryan who got the boot, with Patrick saying that he’d done well to make it this far, but he just hadn’t displayed semi-final skillz. A tearful-but-grateful Ryan promised to “see Patrick on Savile Row in four years’ time”. Even if Ryan’s just on his way to buy a hoodie from Abercrombie & Fitch.
10. And now for innuendo corner, which was an absolute goldmine this week, largely thanks to the corset challenge. I can’t possibly rank them because they’re all so great, so here’s an entirely unordered list for you to put in any order you see fit.
– Patrick: “If that channel isn’t exactly the right width, either the boning won’t go in or it’ll move around.”
– Claudia: “So you’ve never done the boning thing?” Deborah: “No, I used to sell it.”
– Patrick, to Ryan: “While we’re on the subject of small bits…” (OH NO SHE BETTA DON’T)
– Claudia: “Ten seconds, then it has to be on the mannequin. You can’t have a fiddle.”
– Neil, to Patrick: “It’s an eight-inch set.”
And bonus points to May for the clear joy she took in stroking all the men’s bottoms while ostensibly judging the kilt challenge. Get it, gurl.
NEXT WEEK: rubber, leather and lace. Special guest judge: EL James.