AKA “what the dickens is this even supposed to look like” week.
1. First of all, let me just tell you everything we went through trying to watch this week’s episode. First of all, around 6:30am on Monday our television decided that it had, quite frankly, had enough of our bullshit and erupted into a shower of sparks when Chris tried to turn it on. I’d argue that there’s no ideal time for one’s TV to explode, but first thing Monday morning is almost certainly one of the worst because it’s a long way from the weekend, when you might have time to go out and browse the shops for a new one, so instead you have to go on the internet and shop blindly and just sort of hope for the best. And of course there’s the lag between ordering the new TV and having the new TV, which meant we were entirely TV-less for the whole of Monday. “Not a problem,” thought we. “This is the year 2016, we have laptops and fibre optic broadband, we can simply STREAM the Sewing Bee through the magic of the internet”. And then we thought “hmm, the iPlayer page is loading awfully slowly” and then I ran a speed test and discovered that our super-fast fibre optic connection was currently delivering speeds of <1Mbps. So after resetting the router three times and eventually digging out the spare router that we’d junked when Sky thought it might be broken, we eventually managed to sit down and watch the Sewing Bee 15 minutes behind everyone else. Brexit Britain, eh?
2. This being the semi-final episode, we began with a brief summary of our four remaining contestants and the judges’ quick appraisal of their best and weakest attributes, as follows.
JOYCE: 60 years’ experience and neat, clean work; sometimes lacks flair
CHARLOTTE: consistent and methodical; doesn’t always handle setbacks well
TRACEY: has won more challenges than anyone else; has ongoing problem with the fit of her garments
JADE: open-minded and embraces new ideas; lacks the life experience of a Joyce
I don’t necessarily think the show intended it to come across in this way, but I can’t help feeling that roundup marks Tracey out as being in danger right from the off. “Has won the most challenges” feels fairly lukewarm and impersonal as praise goes, and “still hasn’t given us a garment with a perfect fit” feels like a criticism of her skills in the way that the stated weaknesses for Joyce, Charlotte and Jade were more about temperament and approach. But we’ll see, shall we?
3. Claudia explained that this week would be all about complex patterns and pattern cutting, and then Esme handed out this week’s pattern challenge.
I love that Charlotte already has her hands over her mouth in horror and she hasn’t even seen the pattern yet. She’s literally terror-struck just at the plumpness of a stuffed envelope. Anyway, the first challenge for what I came to affectionately refer to as M.C. Escher week, was a flared skirt inspired by contemporary Japanese pattern cutting. And also by
Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde by the looks of it. Most of the sewists were fairly perplexed by the pattern on first glance, with Charlotte noting drily that “it looks like a map” and Tracey just stopping short of bolting altogether and spending the weekend in Westfield instead. Esme and Patrick explained for our benefit that this challenge would involve precision sewing of two entirely different curves to form one garment, and that would lead to a lovely yoked skirt with lots of draping. If they did it right, of course; if they didn’t, it would literally be full of holes. Apparently fabric choice was key here, and Tracey, Charlotte and Jade all went for a standard wool-based fabric, while designated rebel Joyce went for…well, I’m not actually sure what Joyce went for, but Claudia thought it might be neoprene because “it feels scuba-like”, and I like that idea because it makes me think that Joyce is edging ever closer to her final project being WETSUIT KIMONO. In further odd-one-out news, Charlotte, Joyce and Tracey all ironed their patterns before pinning it to make sure it was smooth and flat, while Jade did not, which may well have doomed her before she’d cut so much as a millimetre.
4. To make things even more fiddly, the patterns were marked with “notches” that would mark where the two sections of the skirt would meet, so the sewists had to mark all of those clearly onto the fabric, well aware that their garment wouldn’t hang properly if they didn’t make, er, buenos notches. (Sorry.) This was the most controversial aspect of the entire episode: Charlotte marked hers with chalk, Joyce left little triangles that she could cut off later, and Tracey cut into her fabric. Fortunately – and again I think this shows how well this year’s contestants get on, and how they’re only really incidentally treating it like a competition – Charlotte had spotted that the pattern instructions specifically warned you not to do that, and ran over to tell Tracey while she still had time to start over. Tracey was very grateful.
I love this cast so much. Lookit! So coot! Once all the parts had been cut and the two individual sections of the skirt constructed, the really tricky part was lining it all up to join the two. Honestly, after watching them all struggle with this, I vow never to make a “so stupid he/she couldn’t complete a two-piece jigsaw” joke ever again because sometimes two-piece jigsaws are LEGIT HARD. Because it was all so complicated, we had to get the solution via Esme and Claudia (you line up the notches, fool) in a segment that increasingly veered towards the
Blue Peter side of things. There’s even the one she (/one of the production team) made earlier in the background, look. Meanwhile the contestants were getting increasingly panicked and asking “does yours look like this?” to each other, at which point it was established that no one else’s was bulging in quite the same way that Jade’s was, so Floor Walker Charlotte was dispatched once again to investigate and determined (I think) that one of Jade’s panels had been sewn in the wrong way round.
5. Unsurprisingly, after being the one who got everyone else out of their scrapes throughout the challenge, Charlotte secured first place as the only real complaint that Esme or Patrick had was that the seam linking the two parts together was just a bit overdone. Joyce benefited from having shrewdly picked a more sculptured fabric, though her seam was even rougher than Charlotte’s, so she had to settle for second place. Jade took third place following some accuracy problems, and Tracey’s shoddy top-stitching and non-invisible zip landed her in last place. Tracey declared this “brutal, but fair”.
6. The alteration challenge was to transform a child’s duvet cover into a piece of women’s clothing “with a very striking silhouette”. They were given a pillowcase and a half-size mannequin to practice on, and informed that this was a zero-waste challenge, so they had to use every last scrap of the material. Which is fine, except Chris and I both originally heard this as “zero-waist” and interpreted it as meaning either it had to fit a size-zero waist (Chris) or that it had to be some sort of smock-type garment with no discernible waist (me). Little glimpse into the workings of our addled minds for you there. While Claudia explained that it’s common practice for designers to practice on half-size mannequins to allow them to try out ideas without wasting too much fabric, I got the impression that not everyone was taking this bit entirely seriously.
Yes, yes, very funny. It’s the whole class’s time you’re wasting, not just your own you know. Charlotte correctly identified this challenge early on as a “who can do the wackiest shit lolz” challenge and proceeded as such, and Tracey and Jade tried to get some sort of silhouette out of it while Joyce decided to just do a sort of dress poncho thing that you could wear at the beach, with lots of pockets for your book, your keys, your sun lotion and your collection of spirit miniatures. Easily my favourite part of this challenge was the last five minutes when everyone looked at the scraps of fabric remaining on the floor that they’d unthinkingly cut off earlier and frantically tried to find some way of incorporating them into the garment, but overall I have to say I didn’t really get on with this challenge because well, look.
I say this with the greatest of affection and admiration for everyone involved in tonight’s episode, but those are all hideous and they were always going to be hideous. This was not a challenge that was ever destined to have an aesthetically-pleasing result. I appreciate this was about pushing the sewists to the limits of their creativity and imagination, and that’s fine, but just don’t ask me to look at any of these and think that they don’t look like a hot mess. Joyce (second from left) finished in last place because, while the judges liked it, they felt it was still a bit too square and duvet-covery. Jade’s (far left) took third place because it was well-constructed but not as bold as the other two. Tracey (second from right) finished runner-up because they really liked how she’d echoed the geometric print in the shape of the dress, and Charlotte cinched her second win of the episode with the most avant-garde garment of the lot.
7. And so we went into the made-to-measure challenge with everyone having grounds to feel nervous about their place in the competition except Charlotte, who was pretty much guaranteed a spot in the final whether she showed up on the second day or not. For the made-to-measure challenge, the four remaining sewist had to make a day dress – they were given a block pattern for it, but it was a very rudimentary one, with the idea that the contestants would alter the pattern themselves to a style of their own choosing. Tracey went for a 1950s-style dress with a matching statement collar and cuffs (snorfle), Jade went for a sleeveless skater dress, Joyce went for a panelled tea dress with princess seams and Charlotte opted for a dropped shoulder cowl-neck dress. Jade and Tracey both decided to make a toile, which is apparently a way of perfecting the fitting on much cheaper fabric to save yourself a headache later, but this didn’t stop Esme and Patrick whispering in the corner like a couple of gossiping understudies about how Tracey seemed to be completely mis-measuring her model’s bust. Cut to Tracey fussing with her toile, well aware that the fit wasn’t quite right and also well aware of what she actually wanted, but somehow not quite sure how to get from point A to point B. Eventually Jade and Tracey got their toiles into a state that they were happy with and progressed to working on the actual fabric, by which point Charlotte and Joyce were substantially ahead – in theory. What this meant in practice, however, was that when Charlotte came to fit the bodice to her model
it was huge and baggy, the sort of problems that Jade and Tracey had already ironed out with their toiles. I don’t know about you, but I’m quite enjoying the whole ‘tortoise and hare’ element of this challenge. My favourite bit of this challenge, though, was Tracey deciding to make a circle skirt and sitting there tapping away on a calculator, having to use pi for the first time since leaving school. I’m sure there were a small but smug group of maths teachers who went to school on Tuesday morning going “yeah, they used pi on TV last night, did you see?” My second favourite bit was Jade, desperate to nail this round after an inconsistent first day, spending so long on pattern-matching that she started to go blue in the face and slump down her left side, causing Claudia to come over and sit down next to her for a
Quiet Word about how maybe she might be obsessing over the details just a smidge too much.
8. Despite the usual last minute panic, everyone’s end result was a credit to them. Charlotte’s had plenty of movement and bounce to it, and Esme was particularly impressed by the sexy draping neck, to the extent that I think Charlotte’s poor model was on the verge of filing a cease-and-desist on behalf of her cleavage.
Esme! Hands where we can see them! Tracey’s 50s dress was a big improvement on her toile, fit-wise, but Patrick and Esme had reservations about the collar, which they thought was a little too heavy and overpowering (Esme suggested she could’ve offset this by cutting the neckline lower, like ESME YOU’VE BEEN WARNED ONCE ALREADY). Esme wasn’t sure about Joyce’s collar either, in terms of how far over the shoulder it fell, but she did think it had been exceedingly well-cut (as opposed to Joyce herself, who was just longing to get out of there and get half-cut). And as for Jade’s, well just look at it.
Okay, yes, she never did quite manage to get the pattern-matching done, but that is gorgeous and I won’t hear another word.
9. In deliberations, Jade and Charlotte’s made-to-measure dresses were in contention for garment of the week as well as Charlotte’s alteration duvet cover dress, which Patrick called “one of the best alterations we’ve seen on Sewing Bee”. Yes, sure, it was the best of the bunch in context but having it on a hanger next to the made-to-measure dresses just demonstrates what an Eldritch nightmare that challenge was. That selection in turn meant that it was either Joyce or Tracey going home, and they’d both had one strong challenge and one weak one combined with a good turn out in the made-to-measure challenge, making it pretty much a photo finish between them. Ultimately the garment of the week was
…okay, sure, why not. You’re obviously seeing something that I’m not seeing here, but go for it. And in my defence, even Charlotte seems fairly nonplussed by this turn of events.
Congratulations to Charlotte anyway on absolutely steaming this week of the competition and being the first contestant this series to win both challenges and get garment of the week on top. Sadly, the contestant who didn’t quite make it through to next week’s final was
Tracey, who cried and said she was devastated, but that she’d got much further than she ever expected to. The genuine emotion in everyone’s farewells to Tracey was very moving, particularly Patrick just barely keeping it together when he congratulated her on everything she’d achieved in the competition. He had red eyes in his final to-camera interview, bless him. And if you somehow managed to stay dry-eyed through all of that, then I bet you broke when Jade rang her mum to tell her she was in the final, and Jade’s mum didn’t say anything at first but just sobbed down the phone before telling Jade how proud she was. Admit it.
10. And we’ve reached the end of the semi-final, so shall we finish things off with a poll?
Next week: join Chris for the final, what else can I say?