Welcome back Claudia, Patrick and…oh.
1. There was a worrying silence after the third series of Sewing Bees finished. The time came and went when we’d have expected the show to be casting and filming with a new batch of competitors, and nothing was heard about a potential fourth series. Had it been…cancelled? After all, series three did get trimmed down to a lean six episodes instead of the usual eight, and what with all those BBC cutbacks going on, perhaps John Whittingdale had argued that this is the sort of show that the commercial sector could do much better, it should be on ITV with Kirstie Allsopp and Joey Essex as judges, just think of the sponsorship opportunities for Singer and Hobbycraft and Cath Kidston. And then finally we got the news that series four was going ahead after all, on BBC2 where it belongs, restored to a much more sensible eight episodes (no double eliminations this year) and, while it’s been moved to a different but basically identical-looking location (it’s been pushed out of East London and had to set up again in Bermondsey, that’s gentrification for you), everything is back to normal. Well, almost.
2. The “almost” is that we have a new judge this year: Esme Young, film costume-maker and senior lecturer at Central St Martin’s School of Fashion, has replaced the WI’s May Martin. The exact reasons for this changeover might never be known – although the statement May gave to Sew Magazine (<3) rather implies it wasn’t her decision to leave – but nonetheless, this is the situation that we find ourselves in. Say hello to Esme everyone.
Esme is looking forward to seeing the variety of talents on display in the sewing room, and says she will “probably find it quite hard not to say what I think”, so I think we’re all sufficiently clued-up right from the get-go that Esme’s got her eye on being the Mean Judge. Mind you, being the Mean Judge on this show is a bit like the Coherent Judge on America’s Next Top Model. Oh, and there’s one more departure from the judging team that we should probably mention: Patrick’s moustache is gone. I can only speak for myself, but I’m relieved.
3. The first challenge was, as always, ostensibly simple but clearly designed to weed out anyone who might have accidentally ended up on this show after going through the wrong door at casting when they actually meant to try out for Tipping Point. Patrick and Esme (nearly typed Patrick and May there, damn you muscle memory) asked the sewers to create a sleeveless women’s top cut on the bias (that’s “diagonally” to us non-sewers) and using a material that would create a chevron pattern. Angeline caught our eye immediately, not because she was already following Chris on Twitter before the series started and therefore there’s a reasonable chance that she reads this blog already HI ANGELINE, but because she decided to live dangerously by picking some fabric that wasn’t just stripey but also had a floral pattern. Also deciding to show the other sewers up for the Magic FM loving cocoa-drinking ITV3-watching OLD FARTS that they are? Jamie, who decided to make his top out of georgette which Claudia informed us was the most treacherous fabric in the entire building, because it’s silky and light and usually reserved for eveningwear, and Tracey, who picked material that already had a chevron pattern on it in the first place. Still, as our obligatory plain-speaking Northerner (/East Midlander, just for variety), she didn’t seem overly concerned about it as long as she was home in time to do the weekly shop.
4. Since the Sewing Bee is not exactly the most cut-throat of reality competitions, it’s always interesting to see who, in the early stages, needs a bit of help and who is willing to provide it. Struggling in this first challenge were Duncan (a maths tutor with very tall hair who’s been sewing for three years) who needed Joyce (71, retired school administrator, has been sewing for six decades) to show him how to cut on the bias because it had been on his list of things to practise but he didn’t think it would come up this early, and Josh (keen footballer who earns a bit of pin money doing alterations on his teammates’ kits) who couldn’t get his chevrons lined up and needed a bit of direction from Charlotte (mum of three, edits a medical journal, has completely taken over her garage with all of her sewing equipment). Meanwhile, Ghislaine (office manager, likes to sew in her underwear so it’s easier to try things on) got some very useful feedback from Patrick and Esme: ditch that fabric you’ve chosen immediately because the pattern is completely irregular and an absolute nightmare to cut on the bias and then match up, so find yourself something much easier. Oh, and if that little parenthesised bit where I mentioned Josh helping out his footie teammates by altering their kit appealed to any sort of niche desire within you
here you go, knock yourself out, just please don’t ask me to read your fanfic. Tracey and Jade (18 and therefore youngest Sewer ever to Bee on this show) earned points for finishing before the time ran out, so they got to sit there peering at everyone else over the rim of a mug of tea while they frantically stitched and pressed and unpicked. Standouts at judging for the right reasons were Jamie, Charlotte and Angeline for their neatly-finished tops, standouts for the wrong reasons included Rumana (junior doctor, started out making Barbie clothes) whose chevrons pointed up instead of down and her armholes were unfinished, Duncan who spent so long on his matching that his hemming was a mess, and Josh who had the chevrons going up the front and down the back like a sort of wearable travelator.
5. Claudia, hon? I’m not sure this quite works as a daytime look.
Might be time to dial back the eyeliner just a pinch, we can’t actually see your eyes at all any more and it’s kind of unsettling.
6. The first alteration challenge of the series was to take a drab, shapeless maternity dress and refashion it into something chic and fitted. They were advised to drape, cut, dart, add other colours and fabrics. The one thing that Esme wanted more than anything was for them to be really imaginative and creative.
Oh. It’s like the kimonos for Madonna week on Drag Race all over again, isn’t it? Most people’s reaction to this challenge was “arrrgh, sod it, I’ll just do a skirt” and Patrick and Esme’s disappointed faces when they walked into the room were perhaps the biggest indication all episode that this isn’t your grandmother’s sewing bee any more, and they are hoping for the contestants to pull out something a bit more impressive than what they were being presented with right here. It wasn’t even so much the abundance of skirts that bothered Esme and Patrick, more the fact that some of them weren’t even particularly well made. Charlotte at least managed to claw back a degree of respect for the fact that her A-line skirt was a good fit on the mannequin, though Patrick thought it “still lacked wow”, and Angeline got grudging respect for having a good blend of colours and a home-made bow on hers. Possibly due to the generally low curve she was being graded on, Rumana succeeded with her dress which the judges thought had gone through a lot of shaping and had some nice finishing touches in orange, Jamie at least gave the judges what they were looking for with his bold redesign (though I personally thought it was ugly as hell), and Joyce showed some adventure by adding sequinned godets. Tracey’s addition of lace was a miss, however, as it wasn’t deemed bold enough, despite her attempts to defend it as being “quite flouncey”. Tracey ended up in last place, with Jade and Duncan just above her, while taking the top spots were Rumana in 3rd, Joyce in 2nd, and Jamie at the top of the pack yet again – though Patrick pointed out this challenge isn’t about showing off your technical ability, but rather the extent of your imagination, so I suspect this challenge wasn’t really viewed as a home run for anybody.
7. After Claudia, Patrick and Esme had a chat about who was in with a shot of winning garment of the week based on previous form (I’ve always found this a bit of a weird part of this show because garment of the week is almost always something produced in the last round, which obviously hasn’t happened at the time this conversation takes place, but nonetheless Jamie, Angeline and Charlotte were considered very much in the running) and who was in danger of going home (Duncan, Rumana, Josh and Tracey), it was time for the made-to-measure challenge, where they were required to make a skirt for a real actual human woman. The style and cut of the skirt was up to the sewer, but the fit had to be perfect. There were two things that Esme and Patrick wanted to see in particular in terms of the process: first, they wanted to see the sewers actually trying the skirts on the models as they were going along, pinning and adjusting it as required, and they wanted to see an understanding of the fabrics that they were using. As a viewer, meanwhile, what I was interested in seeing was who was the best at covering up just how much of a flap they were in: Charlotte, for example, was already behind schedule more or less from the beginning but just sort of sighed and got on with it, whereas poor Josh was running around his corner of the workroom, peering in drawers, upending rubbish bins and only just stopping short of lifting up Claudia to check nothing was stuck to the soles of her shoes because he’d lost the pattern piece for his waistband. His search proved fruitless, so he ended up having to improvise it as he went along – and given that this was only the second skirt Josh had made in his lifetime, this wasn’t exactly an ideal scenario. Jade’s high-waisted tutu skirt provided the best innuendo of the episode (Esme: “You’ve obviously done boning before.” Jade: “Yes, I made my prom dress, so I had to have boning in it.” – certainly stacks up with what I remember about prom night), while Jamie kept up his ambitious streak by adding a chiffon flounce to the front of his skirt (hang on a sec, just adding “Chiffon Flounce” to my list of possible future drag names.) Patrick was wary of this, saying that he doesn’t love a flounce. Not what I’ve heard, but okay. After a fairly disappointing turnout in the last round, this batch of skirts was generally quite impressive: Esme admired the way that Angeline’s pencil skirt fit the model so well “under her arse”. Well, at least now we know why this series has a post-watershed timeslot – it’s Esme and her potty mouth. Joyce’s multi-panelled skirt had a lovely sense of movement about it, Josh made up in finesse what his garment lacked in complexity, and Jade’s tutu skirt showed confidence in her skills as well as her personality. There were a few stumbles: both Charlotte and Tracey had uneven bottom hems, and Jamie’s brave flounce just didn’t work because it didn’t go all the way around the skirt. And poor Duncan basically sealed his fate with a waistband that wasn’t quite fitted enough, and also by randomly attacking the hem of his skirt with scissors which, it turns out, isn’t a technique that Patrick and Esme particularly appreciate. Shocker!
8. Biggest mystery of the episode:
Why is there a random pair of cargo shorts on the mannequin behind Tracey’s workstation? Is it part of the set dressing? (There are lots of random garments on mannequins dotted about to give the whole room a work-in-progress sort of feel, but these shorts look a bit ‘just picked up from TopMan’ and don’t seem to fit that aesthetic.) Did someone bring them as a change of clothes in case they got overexcited? Did someone just decide to strip them off because they’re all sat behind tables anyway so none of us can tell if they’re wearing anything from the waist down? We may never know.
9. Ultimately it was a two horse race this week for both garment of the week and for elimination. Angeline and Jade were clearly out in front with their made-to-measure skirts but in the end it was
Angeline’s shapely, sexy peplum pencil skirt that came out on top. I’m absolutely in love with that electric blue piping by the way, and I’m off to buy myself a sewing machine so I can add that to basically everything I own. As for the elimination, it came down to Duncan vs Tracey due to a general sense of sloppiness in both of their work, even though they both showed promise. And our first boot is…
Duncan. Aww. He seemed sweet and I kind of liked his made-to-measure skirt, but it’s hard to argue with his elimination because he did make a lot of mistakes, and I think he was generally a bit out of his depth. Also, I really liked the jacket he’s wearing in that picture, and if he’d stuck around I might have tried to convince myself that there are any circumstances in which I could pull off wearing something like that, so it’s probably best for all of us for him to go before that happens.
10. The show ended rather unexpectedly with a silent but clearly heartfelt tribute (before playing out the credits with a slightly more sombre version of the theme music), and as odd as it feels to end what I hope was a fairly fun and lighthearted recap in the same way, I’m going to do the same.
Last year’s runner-up Lorna died earlier this year after a long battle with aplastic anaemia. It’s always quite sobering when something like this happens, perhaps because it’s easy to forget that the people who take part in reality shows are actually real, so the idea that they’re mortal like the rest of us is sometimes a bit hard to get your head around. It was really touching to see how many people were genuinely saddened by this news on Twitter as the show aired, and also not that surprising because Lorna was such a warm, joyful and above all else supremely talented presence on series three. Our condolences go out to Lorna’s family and friends.
NEXT WEEK: children’s clothes. So cute and tiny!