SPOILER ALERT –do not read this if you have yet to see the programme shown on Tuesday April 9th as it reveals who was eliminated!
I was SO looking forward to this programme
From the same company that did “The Great British Bake Off” a four part series “in which eight hopefuls are tested on their sewing and dressmaking skills as they compete to be crowned Britain's best amateur sewer”
But I have been a little disappointed thus far
The problem is, for me, it just does not match up to the GBBO. Judges May Martin [WI] and Patrick Grant [Savile Row] don’t have the same on-screen chemistry as National-Treasure-Mary, and Paul-The-Pilsbury-Doughboy. And the ubiquitous Claudia Winkleman doesn't quite have the wit of Mel’n’Sue. It’s all too earnest!
It is my own fault – I should have seen beyond the blurb and realised they were making a TV programme and it would be totally formulaic. According to The Rules of Good TV, our eight contestants must be
- a mixture of ages from twenties to eighties
- a mixture of races and gender
- a mixture of newbies and experienced sewers
- a mixture of different social backgrounds and interests
So we ended up with
- Traditional West Indian Young Mum, “channelling Grandma’s love in every stitch” Prone to anxiety
- Retro-style Newbie Needlewoman [drafts her own patterns]Not much experience or technical know-how, and lack of practice means she is slow to finish things.
- Merry Widow, loves classic cars, and looking different from everyone else. Very individual style
- Steam Punk Macho Guy – brilliant at effective, and economical costumes, which looks good [but has little or no experience of zip insertion] Trustworthy East Midlander.
- Conscientious Scottish Newlywed Head Girl, Lauren, sewing since she was in the Brownies [and a wizard with bias binding]
- Brummie Mummie Sandra, who has made the family clothes for thirty years, dressing daughters in cutesy matching outfits back in the 1980s [oh Liz, Steph, I am so sorry…it seemed OK at the time] Very competent, but panics under pressure
- Cheery Chappie – camp as a Boy Scout Jamboree – probably there to lighten the tension and entertain. Cannot topstitch, not good at working with pattern fabrics or fly-front zips.
- Ann-the-Gran – sewing since the days of WW2 clothes rationing, producing semi-professional couture garments. Traditional styling, immaculate zip placement and clothes-fitting. Works steadily and safely. Prefers to take her time and achieve perfect results.
The top four were eliminated by the end of Programme Two.
For me the problem is that Ann is far and away the most competent of the lot. That was obvious from the get-go. So what on earth are they going to do for two more shows? My family [who know far more about the making of TV programmes than I] tell me that I was wrong to expect a genuine ‘competition’. “It’s entertainment – don’t expect realistic ‘judging’” Sadly I realise they are dead right.
Patrick has repeatedly referred to Ann’s ‘safe’ style, and praised Stuart’s ‘quirkiness’. I am not surprised Sandra ‘made a bit of pork’ after he told her he didn’t like scalloped edges, the poor woman is a bag of nerves to start with. And he wasn’t very kind about Lauren’s trousers either! [I can’t do zips at all, I thought L did extremely well]
My final gripe is that the weekly Programme Project [1- Laundry Bag, 2-Cushion Cover] is not explained clearly, and the instructions are rapid and hard to follow. I wanted to encourage my ‘sewing girls’ to watch it – but I am not sure how much they’d really learn. Lots of important details seemed to be ‘presumed’ and omitted.
I would not be surprised if Programme 3 shows Stuart falling at some complex technical hurdle, and Sandra panicking herself into a disaster. One of them will depart. And then in the final, Ann will somehow be judged too ‘trad’ and not sufficiently ‘cutting-edge’. So Lauren will be crowned Queen, and this will be just the boost she needs as she sets up her new haberdashery. [I suspect I am getting too cynical]
And I suspect that Ann will display her usual impeccably gracious behaviour and say what jolly good fun it has been to take part with these young people, and how she wants to encourage the next generation to pick up their needles and sew.
But if I needed someone to make an important garment [like a wedding dress] I would choose Ann out of this octet, no question. [Actually, my friend Susan is pretty good at bridal wear too…]
I am sorry, you are all shocked now, because I have been so awfully negative. But I really did so want it to be about genuine sewing skills, and the best amateur needle-workers. I naïvely expected that the contestants would all be wearing clothes they had made themselves, and at least be able to insert zips, and topstitch properly, in order to get into the final eight. Bob is now insisting I should go and read Ben Elton’s “Chart Throb” and then I’d understand how such TV shows work!