Sewing Bee 2021, Episode 4: The Geometry of the Human Shoulder

The Great British Homemade Necklace Off isn’t going great.

It’s International Week which is the closest most of us have been to going abroad for over a year now. So enjoy the sunny climes of The French Navy, that sarong you wore in Majorca and Frida Kahlo’s Back Catalogue.

Breton Your Bike!

For the Pattern Challenge of International Week the sewers (that’s SO-ERRS) will have to create a striped Breton Top that hails from Brittany in France – and if you thought they might tone down the comedic French-isms because Raph was in the room…

sacré bleu!

The Breton Top, or to give it’s traditional French name: La Marinière, is a three quarter sleeve, striped top – usually featuring blue and white stripes as the design is favoured by the French Navy. Fashion-wise, the design was popularised by Coco Chanel who began wearing them after seeing the French navy’s uniform while on her seaside holidays DURING World War 1. And with this rich history of the Breton Top, Farie describes them as “Mummy Staples” – The French Navy seethes and Coco Chanel turns in her grave.
Farie was determined to make life as easy for herself as she possibly could, as was evident by her sprint towards the thickest stripe she could possibly find

It’s like The Hunger Games Cornucopia scene all over again.
However the ghost of Coco Chanel was not having the slight against the chicest garment in all of Interwar Era Europe and Farie unfortunately fell quite far behind after accidentally creating a vertically striped placket and so while her chunky stripes were matched up very well

her placket was… just not a placket at all and featured the now Farie Trademark of a single pin

The Farie Redemption Arc has hit a minor, possibly paranormal, hitch but we’ll be back on track in no time at all!

The placket stumped a lot of the sewers and I must say that I was completely baffled by the explanation of it and I had the visual aid of the TV diagram showing exactly how it worked – it’s sewing wizardry at its finest.
Adeena came up against the placement of it and fixed it slightly too close to the neckline but I did like her shirt

it’s very MS DOS video game colours, an aesthetic I will always appreciate, but the slightly unevenly spaced buttons will drive me mad until the end of time. At least she got three on the correct side of the garment, unlike Rebecca who was utterly bamboozled by the geometry of the human shoulder

thus ending up with an inverted Frenchwoman lacking a button

the placket aside, the garment is beautifully sewn and she perfectly matched up a very finely striped fabric. My theory that Rebecca is actually Reverse World Serena grows stronger every day as Serena’s top was essentially an inverse of Rebecca’s

It’s red with white stripes, as opposed to white with red stripes (or we could get philosophical and debate that on the free marketplace of ideas) and features a truly perfectly made placket and flat neckline. Eventually they had to give up on critiquing everyone on their necklines because basically everyone other than Serena had one that was a little bit dodgy – the worst offender was maybe Raph

I will say, it’s a truly divine fabric choice – if Interior Design Masters taught me one thing it’s that I’m a sucker for mustard and blue as a colour combination. There is also a slight issue with his placket as the stripes are meant to run horizontal to the shoulder and Raph had attempted to pattern match it. I would say he probably realised this was a mistake because Damien was doing the same thing

He is truly the Chaotic-Neutral Tiefling Rogue of this haphazard game of Dungeons and Dragons.
The placket may not have been exactly what the judges asked for but Damien’s top is undeniably very good

It’s a great fabric choice and I am very taken by his sort of amber buttons

It’s a nice change of pace to the turquoise beaded fringe.

Only Andrew really embraced the very traditional Breton Top aesthetic of naval blue and white stripes was which is a surprise given that Adam and his never ending supply of anchor buttons were in the room. It wasn’t anything flashy but it was a very well made top

the neckline is a little lumpy but the stripes are very well aligned and he succeeded in the art of placket based witchcraft which I think evens it all out.
As for Usually Nautical Adam, he ended up with a pastel multicoloured stripe which made for a very cute top

the stripes on the side-seams are a spot out but in terms of the sleeves’ stripes lining up with the torso’s stripes, he has some of the best pattern matching of anyone, it might just be more noticeable with the multicoloured stripes but I think it looks very impressive. There are however issues with the placket, mostly because he only really made two buttons and then added a third imposter button to just sit there decoratively and try to hide the fact he had sewn the placket on back to front, upside down or done something otherwise odd to it

Esme of course zoned in on it in a matter of seconds and amidst her barrage of button induced rage Adam quietly tried to retreat into his shirt like a turtle

I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same if Esme ever started to rip my placket to shreads.

No one had quite as big a nightmare as Cathryn did as she went head to head with the overlocker and very much came off second best as it chewed its way through the hem of her shirt

remember in Series 5 when the overlocker was treated like it was one of the House Robots on Robot Wars, capable of doing immeasurable damage and now it barely gets a mention? I want more Overlocker peril!
The holes weren’t the only issue as Cathryn stretched her fabric and thus her stripes were very much out of sync but the placket was neat and from a distance it was very cute

and really, it’s a testament to the level of failure that this top, with the unaligned stripes and holes in the seams, was considered only the 4th worst one.

An Official Breton Top Ranking

  1. Serena’s Breton Wally
  2. Andrew’s Application for Official Tailor to the French Navy
  3. Damien’s Rogue Breton Top
  4. Raph’s Lumpy Mustard
  5. Adeena’s Video Game Breton
  6. Cathryn vs The Overlocker
  7. Rebecca’s Breton Yllaw
  8. Adam and The Button Masquerade
  9. The Haunting of Coco Chanel

What’s Sarong With You?

For the Transformation Challenge this week the sewers will be turning a pair of sarongs into whatever garment they can possibly think of. There are obviously a few pitfalls to take into consideration: sarongs are generally hideous colours that only look good in holiday photos, they’re mere rectangles of fairly flimsy fabric and they’re sheer. It all reminds me a bit of the net curtain challenge in which Rodrigo and Leah spent ages working out how best to conceal the nipples and Juliet basically didn’t bother

Long live the Queen of the Risky Nipple.

Farie was in desperate need of some success this round and it wasn’t looking good as she found herself tethered to two very small sarongs, one of which was this glitzy monstrocity

this pushed her into the corner of having to make a child’s costume – the debate as to whether it’s a top or a dress will rage for a millennia to come

I think the cursed child mannequin doesn’t show it off well enough because it looks fantastically made and there’s some very nice pleating on the back

and it was all stitched together – not a pin and prayer in sight!

Raph was also making something for a child by scaling down the pattern of his rainbow romper

and if you want a closer look of Raph wearing said rainbow romper, HERE it is – consider yourselves blessed.
It turned out mostly good

the drapiness and the kind of rustic looking belt do make them look like the jazziest dressed monk in the monastery, which isn’t a bad thing.

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in the sarong transformation was trying to get the sarongs as far away from a sarong as possible and I don’t think anyone managed it better than Andrew who made a shirt

It’s really quite impressive and has that kind of ironic ugly vintage look that’s quite trendy at the moment – I could see some questionably famous YouTubers wearing this.
Cathryn was less successful in the transformation, which isn’t to say she didn’t try because she had grand plans of making trousers at one point before realising they were big enough to aid a small boat across the English Channel

and thus plan B kicked in which was to make a dress, which is to say that she sewed a Frankensteined pair of sarongs around her mannequin

it does kind of loop through the legs like a chastised dog’s tail – it’s not wonderfully attractive and it’s unfortunate that her initial dream of harem pants didn’t come to fruition.

In Cathryn’s favour though was the fact you could feasibly wear it and still have the basic functionality of your arms. Serena and Adeena were not quite so charitable and made very gauzy straight jackets. Serena’s had quite a floaty, almost negligee feel to it

the fabric choices are utterly baffling but someone had to be left with the duds – the treatment of the sarongs is excellent though, unfortunately if you want to hold a drink you have to wear it like this

so if the apple green, grandmother’s tablecloth sleeves didn’t kill the sex appeal, that definitely did. We haven’t seen a fall from grace like this since the Book of Revelation.
Adeena’s armholes suffered mostly because she spent quite a while engineering a sort of waist cinching pull chord that worked very well and gave her, once again very 80s arcade looking, outfit a very flattering shape

the armholes were unfortunately less well calibrated and thus if you wanted to hold anything the outfit had to be worn like this

The cincher works less well on your boobs.

Adam also went quite 80s with his sort of bubblegum prom dress

it’s incredibly flattering, the pleats are perfectly placed to show off both the figure and the swirly pattern on his sarong – you can either deduct points or give him a bonus point for not perfectly aligning at least one of the swirls to be on the boobs. The pop the tie-dye looking sarong at the back and along the neckline is really fun – Adam’s domination of the transformation challenge continues apace. Although he had some stiff competition from Rebecca who made a very fashionable looking two piece

I’m a big fan of Rebecca grabbing the only neutrally coloured sarongs in all of Christendom. It’s one of the few times you could actually see a transformation challenge piece being worn in public, it’s very cool and the lace trim boob pelmet is really cute

Two things can always be guaranteed in a Transformation Challenge: Adam wil dominate and Damien will inevitably gravitate towards anything brown, enter Damien’s sarong transformation

The fact that the blue and brown sarong even exists is a mystery to me – something about it really reminds me of the Na’vi from Avatar

I am slightly astounded that given that it might have been the only time it would have worked well he didn’t utilise the turquoise blue fringe, although maybe not so surprising given that Joe seemed to be using the embellishments as wigs

this local theatre production of Priscilla isn’t great, is it?

But Damien had put a zip in the back, so there was some very technical skill on display. I’m not going wax lyrical about the attachment of the cape which was essentially just that time Alex rolled up a towel, draped it over his mannequin and called it a cape

remember how that wasn’t even deemed the weakest garment? Iconic times.

An Official Sarong Transformation Ranking.

  1. Adam’s Sarong Prom Dress
  2. Rebecca’s Neutral Two Piece
  3. Andrew’s Ironically Ugly Shirt
  4. Damien’s Formal Na’vi
  5. Raph’s Well Dressed Child Monk
  6. Farie’s Lack of Fabric
  7. Adeena’s Straightjacket and Ripcord
  8. Cathryn’s Would-be-Trousers
  9. Serena’s Fall From Grace

How Kahlo Can You Go?

In a distinctly new type of challenge the sewers have been tasked to make a woman’s outfit inspired by acclaimed artist, feminist icon and Mexican hero Frida Kahlo – whether it be inspired by her art, her life or her beliefs they pretty much had free range. I think it’s a really interesting challenge and certainly delivered on the variety and creativity fronts. It does also inevitably come with the jeopardy of a possible lack of understanding or context of who Frida was and what she stood for – we the viewers were treated to a really good and brief summary of who Frida was by Circe Henestrosa

it was a really well made and thoughtful history bit and I would encourage the BBC to give Circe a full Lucy Worsley style history series to showcase Frida’s life.
I’m not going to belittle Damien for not knowing who Frida was, that accomplishes nothing, but it was a little bit Yikes that after his, however long, Google search about her was that his biggest take away about her seemed to be her eyebrows – which are a defining physical characteristic, I understand, but (and this isn’t necessarily even his fault) there was no contextualisation about them, what they meant to her and why they’ve become a symbol of rebellion against Westernised beauty standards and so Damien giving his dress a lacy monobrow became a joke – which is the opposite of what this challenge should have been.
He was drawing his inspiration from one of her many self-portraits – utilising her prominent use of orange, red and a sort of olive green

The orange and red are fine but that olive-brown satin that shifts to blue is one of the weirdest fabrics I have ever seen and I hate vehemently – the top two thirds of the dress, I can take – it’s really well sewn and his model looks incredible in it but I will drag that bottom tier to Hell myself if I have to.

It was interesting that Rebecca was focusing on the same picture as Damien (it just happens to be the third picture that comes up when you Google “Frida Kahlo Paintings”) and she had a very different approach, going with a very hot pink layered with more pink netting and some floral mesh

I can very much see the Mexican influence in the shapes and volume of the skirt, the colours aren’t personally for me, I find that very artificial pink hard to stomach on the best of outfits and this one just had a few errors here and there that she just couldn’t fix in time due to a slight misordering of skirt layers.

Adeena was also having to worry about wrangling metre upon metre of netting

I really loved Adeena’s approach to the challenge of taking Frida’s ethos, love and regard for the traditional, indigenous garb of Mexico and focusing it on her own South Asian background, making the most incredible floral dress largely inspired by the Indian lehenga

It’s just a WOW outfit (a wowtfit?). It very much falls into the category of Murder and/or Revenge Dress – I would love to wear this while I destroy my enemies and watch their kingdoms burn while I stand on my balcony sipping a goblet of wine. Give me the full Cersei Lannister fantasy. Patrick and Esme both aren’t happy with the fact it drags on the floor so much, which admittedly it wasn’t intended to, but I feel like that gives it all of the drama that I love so much. I could leave the chains and glitz on the back if I had to lose anything

I think something a little darker in colour would maybe look better, but overall it’s a thoroughly good, enviable dress.

The Huipil was a popular source of inspiration because it’s one of Mexico’s most recognisable garments and Frida wears them in a lot of her portraits and photographs of her. Andrew was being the most literal in his huipil construction, going as far as to have the embroidery machine significantly eat into his design

is it the new overlocker? I hope so!
His outfit was very well matched in its colours, the top pairs beautifully with his skirt – there is something slightly dated and fussy about it all though

The top isn’t entirely successful in its construction, as you can probably tell by the fact it’s a whole funhouse mirror of lumps and bumps – he made the strange choice to line his quite stiff satin with an admittedly beautiful jacquard

which did look nice when you saw it through the sleeves but was maybe the wrong garment to use that particular technique for.

Raph’s was a much more modern and slightly pared back take on the huipil with the embroidering being focused on the cute cap sleeves and a simple yellow bib on the front

the real attraction though is the back of the top with its swooped opening

It really is swoon-worthy.
I’m not as keen on the culottes as Patrick and Esme were, I think the corduroy was a little too thick and stiff which made them look a bit like the legs of an Elmo mascot costume

You weren’t expecting a Frida Kahlo x Sesame Street collaboration, were you?

The last of the Huipiliers was Adam who was making a playsuit that featured floral colour blocking on an otherwise white outfit

It’s really cute and simultaneously reminds me of Dolce and Gabbana’s Spring 2013 collection that had a lot of this silhouette and similar negative spacing. It also really reminds me of Gigi’s outfit from the Ball Ball on Drag Race season 12

Just so everyone is absolutely clear, Gigi is the one that isn’t dressed as a mutant pineapple.
The front of the outfit is beautiful but there are a few technical issues in the back with it somehow being simultaneously too long and much too short creating the dreaded Hump and Hungry Bum combination

It’s quite the feat and if his model just stands with her back to the wall at all times we’ll just forget the mistake.

Serena wasn’t going to let the boys be the only ones to make trousers – no she and her feminist palazzo pants meant business!

Sadly there were no statement pockets on display but the trousers are impeccably made and in a very good choice of fabric but the pure flash of the pants means that the kind of ordinary top pales into insignificance making it about half an outfit.

Cathryn took us on her own brief history of Frida Kahlo, detailing her affair with Leon Trotsky – the best part of which she told in a very hushed whisper as though it was still some big secret that she wasn’t meant to be telling. She then got very eager GCSE art student about it and dreamt up a dress that involved a matryoshka doll print being covered in lace to symbolise the secret affair. Someone please put Cathryn in charge of the costume design for every film and/or theatre production going forward.
As you can probably imagine the layering of a busy lace over a busy print resulted in a fairly unreadable outfit

it’s not particularly flattering but I really love the flower details on the neck, which does make the whole thing look very festive and Christmassy which I think is what we all need now.
There are a few errors here and there but she does get bonus points for attempting the French seams that caused many an upset in last year’s series so at least there’s that high!

Lastly we have Farie who was, once again, very much teetering on the edge of elimination. She was drawing inspiration from The Broken Column

which is my second favourite Frida Kahlo painting, my first being The Wounded Deer

I am very upset that nobody made an outfit based on it, what more could you possibly want?
I had worried about the outfit when Farie was describing it, it sounded very literal and like it might look a little gimmicky. I could not have been more wrong

It’s honestly one of the best things that’s ever been made on the show – I could see any number of celebrities wearing it on a red carpet. I could see it in the pages of Vogue. It’s just got so much attitude, flare and style to it – look at her model stomping the runway in it

I would follow her into war.
And I can’t not mention the bow on the back

perfect Esme proportions.

An Unofficial Frida Kahlo Dress Ranking

  1. Farie’s Little Badass Dress
  2. Adeena’s Murder Dress
  3. The Good Side of Adam’s Romper
  4. Raph’s Top and Elmo Legs
  5. Serena’s Feminist Palazzo Pants
  6. Two Thirds of Damien’s Dress
  7. Rebecca’s Magenta Kahlo
  8. The Bad Side of Adam’s Romper
  9. Andrew’s Funhouse Mirror Huipil
  10. Cathryn’s Communist Christmas
  11. The Bottom Third of Damien’s Dress

For the second time in a row Farie gets Garment of the Week for her Frida Kahlo inspired dress

Do we think someone can ride all the way to the finals by winning the Made to Measure Challenges alone or will we get the impossible of someone being awarded Garment of the Week and being eliminated in the same week? I would maybe like to see the confusion of that happening.

It is however not Farie’s time and the eliminated sewer is unfortunately Cathryn

she’ll be a much missed source of joy but at least we’ll always have her armchair dancing

boogie on!

And so 8 sewers remain

Leave a Reply