July 16, 2013

July 16, 2013

Sorry I Missed It: The Great British Sewing Bee

You might say that I can’t be blamed for not watching a show live if it’s only aired in the UK. But I like to pride myself on knowing these things, on familiarity with the zeitgeist. So the fact that I found out about The Great British Sewing Bee only via a blog entry on Smitten by Britain shames me a bit.

The Great British Sewing Bee aired over four hourlong programs. Though I haven’t asked my Helper Hippo to confirm through research, I’m pretty sure it was produced by the same people who did The Great British Bake-Off. It’s not just the names that are similar: it’s the set layout, the music, the camera angles, and even the competition structure.

[A quick search of this here blog informs me that I appear not to have written about The Great British Bake-Off. BOO ON ME. Soon to be rectified. Because even though I watched spinoff The American Baking Competition, Jeff Foxworthy is no Sue Perkins.]

The contestants were eight amateur sewers, from various age groups and of both genders. They were all British, of course, which immediately makes them seem classier and smarter than 80% of reality show contestants in the United States. Add to that the fact that this show involves a verifiable skill, and not just the ability to move piles of money from one table to another or pick from one of three doors, and you’ve got yourself a show.

The host, Claudia Winkleman, is a journalist/host who I guess would be vaguely analogous to a Katie Couric. Hard for me to say; before this, I’d only seen her on a celebrity edition of UK quiz show The Chase. Regardless, she manages enough authority to present the show and enough cheek to keep it interesting. Which is important when the show is about sewing versus, like, diving or jumping through hoops on fire.

Each show involves three challenges. First, the pattern challenge, in which the contestants are all given the same pattern for, say, an A-line skirt. They can pick fabric and embellishments, but they must all end up with the same skirt. So in challenge one, we see how closely the contestants can hew to someone else’s “recipe,” and also how they make that recipe their own.

Second is the alteration challenge, wherein the contestants are given a very simple store-made garment and asked to sex it up. Add pockets, redo the collar, chop off six inches of hem, whatever..

In the final challenge, the judges just tell the contestants what to make and the rest is up to them. “We want to see a woman’s blazer.” The design and materials are totally up to the contestants. The trick with this challenge, though, is that actual models are used. And when you’re used to dressing mannequins, using real models kinda sucks. They have shoulders that aren’t symmetrical, boobs, and arms. It’s a mess, really.

The two judges have legitimate Savile Row and sewing expertise. No celebrity judges here (I’m looking at you, Project Runway). It’s all about technique, and these people will call you out on a puckering collar or a French seam that’s too wide. As someone who sews, I can appreciate just how difficult it is to get those things right.

[I have, indeed, worn garments I made myself. When the apocalypse hits, I will be able to keep us clothed, as long as I’m provided with electricity for my sewing machine and a well-stocked fabric store.]

And as with Project Runway, the things these people do with needle and thread is pretty astonishing. Like music, sewing’s no longer considered a vital life skill for a woman, and I think that’s too bad. Then again, neither are conversation and cookery, and I suck at those. Call it a wash.

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