Getting a nasty sting from The Great British Sewing Bee

Lynne graphic, EADT, 3/3/14

Lynne graphic, EADT, 3/3/14 - Credit: Archant

What was I thinking? A couple of episodes into The Great British Sewing Bee and suddenly I’m the world’s leading seamstress.

All this domestic deity stuff has deluded me into thinking I can turn my hand to all manner of household crafts. This week sewing, next week foraging, the week after it will be b****y cupcakes.... or, as we used to call them in the old days, b*****f*y buns.

None of the domestic skills usually assumed to be part of the female genome manifest themselves in me. And there is now an international television conspiracy to make me feel inadequate. First it was amateur cooks, then dressmakers and, last week, they brought on the amateur hairdressers.

As a budget-conscious young mum, I cut my own children’s hair. The shameful evidence of my incompetence is recorded in a series of school photographs in which my poor daughter and son look like Midwich cuckoos.

When, at last, I did the decent thing and introduced them to a professional hairdresser, she took one look at them, and accused: “Did you do this?” If it hadn’t been the 80s, and thus the decade the stylish barnet went mullet, I’m convinced she would have turned me in to the hair police.


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No such gauntlet had to be run when we took our 17 month old grandson to the hairdresser last week. It was his third hair cut and George was enchanted by his reflection in the mirror... in all the mirrors, in fact. He sat on grandpa’s lap while g... gr... gr... while I attracted his attention to his shoes so the hairdresser could trim the hair at the nape of his neck.

George is very entertaining and extremely busy. He has mastered most cupboard doors, the stairs, the kitchen bin and drawers. He knows where the bananas are. If you say “no” sternly, he desists, gives you a beaming smile, and does it again. He sleeps through the night, if you deem 5.30am to be morning.

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Why does the CBeebies not start until 6am? For 30 minutes, I read and re-read the predictable but mercifully short board books relating the adventures of Bizzy Bear. In one exciting tale, he nearly misses his train because of the traffic but gets there just in time. Oh, abundant joy.

But at least reading out loud is within my small skill set unlike hairdressing and, as I recently rediscovered, sewing. But I forgot my limitations when I set out to make, from scratch, a set of neck ruffs to adorn the pierette (is that the female version of a pierrot?) costumes for a production of Oh What a Lovely War.

I forgot I nearly made my needlework teacher, Miss Freeman, cry when I failed to grasp how to set a sleeve into an armhole. In 1967, my attempt to attach long, cuffed sleeves on to my bright yellow shirt dress ended with the arms pointing backwards and upwards. It looked like a medieval garment of torture. “No, not the yellow shirt dress. I’ll tell you everything.”

But did this painful memory stop me from buying three metres of white cotton fabric, white net, satin ribbon and dressmaker’s pins? No, it did not.

But it was only a frilled collar, not rocket science. What could possibly go wrong?

The idea was, and this is where I get a little bit technical so I’ll write slowly, to gather a strip of white cotton fabric on to a neckline of satin ribbon.

I sense that all the experience needlepeople out there are wondering what I used for a pattern. A pattern? Why would I need a pattern? I had a pair of scissors, a steel tape measure and overconfidence.

I cut an eight-inch strip of fabric. So far, so good... it was a bit like the scene in the film of The Railway Children when Bobbie (Jenny Agutter) rips her petticoat, except nothing like as erotic.

Now for the sewing. Within half an hour, I looked like the victim of a frenzied acupuncture attack. I had stuck pins through my jeans into my legs, through my pullover into my tummy (fortunately it didn’t pierce my tyres) and, worse, into my fingers.

Then with shredded fingertips I began to sew. I don’t have a machine so it was all stitched painfully by hand.

Hopefully, the blood won’t show under stage lighting.

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