I got hooked watching the Great British Sewing Bee after seeing the first episode on YouTube linked here: Episode One, and last night, via my Swiss computer hookup, I caught the second episode. (If you're in the UK, you can watch that here on the IPlayer here: Episode Two.)
After forty-seven years of happy home-sewing, (yeah, sorry about that) I still found myself asking, could I do what those sewers are trying?
Because as the most experienced of their contestants, the charming gray-haired Ann, points out, one is used to having time to do everything right, or at least to rip it out, like the much younger Scot Lauren (pictured below) often finds herself doing. But here, two rather fiendish judges say there's only one hour to put on patch pockets or three hours, say, to adapt a neckline on a purchased blouse.
Their rather snotty and rueful pseudo-sympathies are enabled by the host of the show, one Claudia Winkleman who, I suspect, has never, never, darling, worn a hand-sewn garment in her entire be-fringed life. (Are you under those bangs, Claudia, and what the hell was that joke about Tom Cruise from "Cocktail" all about? Don't you realize these people are fighting the clock while you swan around making idiot jokes? These people are armed with scissors!)
So, while I applaud the show for giving us impassioned sewists of all walks of life, and I applaud the winners and losers for their sportsmanship and game faces when confronted with the nicky-picky judging, I condemn the show for missing the whole point of home sewing:
SEWING IS ONLY RELAXING AND REWARDING AND PROFITABLE WHEN YOU HAVE THE TIME AND PEACE TO DO IT RIGHT! (yes, I'm shouting, lean back from your computer to avoid the full force of my indignation at the idea of making sewing a "bake-off.")
What would I have done? Oh, I'm so glad you asked, BBC2.
I would have given each of the contestants the challenge of making one demanding Vogue Designer pattern for man or woman, one costume, one Burda high-fashion quickie, one home dec project, one self-designed pattern, and one children's item and maybe more? Slow them down a little and lets see some ensembles emerge to highlight the possibilities of individual style. Let their skills develop over time, rather than do them in under the pressure of the clock. This road leads inevitably to a victory for the home ec teacher, Ann. Instead, let these projects develop over a season, stop eliminating people, and let us love their different sewing styles and root for them until the season's grand judging at the end.
Every time they eliminate a contestant, starting with the vibrant, gracious (only) black lady on the show, they narrow their viewing audience. That's dumb. No! Let the London bookies take our bets for months on end.
Stretching the contestants' chances over a whole season would have let Mark do both a costume in his style, with the needed time, and a pattern for men devised by himself. Stewart could let fly with his fabulous quilted pillows or drapes or amusing little boys' clothes. The odds would have been soaring as we watched Tilly do an original Alexander McQueen knock-off!
But no, it's all about the neatness of invisible zippers. It's all about the "excitement" of seeing people axed, like sewing was some Donald Trump, "you're fired" moment. These producers so don't get sewing. It's inclusive, supportive, generous in spirit and all about broadening rather than narrowing options, about exploring rather than judging.
The sorriest event so far is the (spoiler alert) elimination of the studded, pierced and roughly handsome Mark who specialized in eighteenth century costumes for his steampunk festivals. Did you see the photo of him in full rig? Didn't he look happy and proud in his homemade kit? Did you see the work he did on the row of buttonholes lining the front of his piratical jacket?
No. What do the producers do? Give him a handful of challenges, at least two featuring invisible zippers, when he's never had to do a zipper in his life! Or a flyfront! He's been doing buttoned flies from the historical past. Give the guy a handicap, for God's sake. Haven't you ever been to a horserace?
The next sorriest event so far is the (spoiler alert) elimination of Tilly, who had by far the most fashion sense of anybody in the room and was caught out first by trying to fit a black Chanel collar on the white blouse instead of the winning tacky ribbon stitched on by Ann, and second, for being the only contestant to be trying to fit her own pattern design onto a busty live model who looked nothing like the slim Tilly in size or shape. This meant that while all the other contestants were cutting commercial patterns to the size of their live models, Tilly had to REDESIGN AN ORIGINAL PATTERN. Doesn't she get mega-points for that?
The elimination of Michelle was a bit awkward, but her wrap dress was a disaster, I admit.
Bravo, Tilly! Bravo Mark! You're my winners for your originality and pep! It looks already like the winning ladies will be the least adventurous in fashion sense and the most reliable at putting in zippers. They will give home-sewing no fresh reputation, and just reinforce the idea that it's best left to aunties in hairsprayed helmets, armed with ruffles and rickrack.