I did it, I watched it, here's a hint at my feelings:
Queen Victorian and John Brown, Balmoral, 1863
I have had never watched The Great British Sewing Bee before last night, the whole of the first couple of series always clashed with other things I wanted to watch and the general premise always came off like a half baked Project Catwalk, but this episode was about corsets and seemed to have caused quite the uproar amongst my corset making friends so I thought I had better give it a go.
The whole thing gets off to a great start when the voiceover, presenter and judges insist on calling the contestants "Sew-ers", I realise none of them are professional tailors, but sew-ers? Really? This is uncomfortably close to "sewers" and sets the tone for the corset challenge really.
I shit you not...
There's a glimpse of a "corset" in the introduction to the challenge.., Oh Singer what the hell am I looking at?
"This week's challenge is structure, we'd like you to make a boned corset."
In four hours.
With no instruction.
I see where all the faceplanting came from now.
"Have any of you ever made a corset before?" asks one of the judges, one of the contestants blushes scarlet and mentions he once made a leather corset, there is much giggling.
One of the judges correctly mentions that a corset needs to be able to change the shape of a wearers body, so knowing that they know this I am utterly mystified as to why they thought it would be a good idea to challenge a group of hobbiests to make a corset in four hours, without proper instruction, without coutil, without any flat steels (yes this was my favourite part of the car crash, the only boning they were given were pre-cut spirals), and with only a single layer of a fashion fabric?
My face when (via Cyddiad)
The demonstration model (which presumably WAS made by someone claiming to be a professional) managed the impossible... It actually made Corsets UK/ Corset Story/ Punk69 look pretty damn good in comparison.
I begin to question life itself.
A couple of the contestants decided to go for some brocades that seem to be recycled curtains, I can't get over the curtain-yness but I decide they'll probably end up being the best looking bodices (I refuse to say corset) as they'll at least hold a little bit of structure.
One of the contestants ended up making something that looked eerily like that knock off of the What Katie Did corset that pops up all over ebay and Ali Baba.
The What Katie Did Corset appears in the above video from 4:07
Unsurprisingly once the bodices were finished, much like I predicted they're all pretty wrinkly, with the brocade ones being the least wrinkled. I'm really trying very hard not to be too hard on the contestants as it's not their fault that whoever set the challenge is a complete imbecile.
Highlight of the judging for me was "It's sitting nice and flat." RUNS HANDS OVER WOBBLES.
Next up... The history segment!
Presented by Rosemary Hawthorne!
Who I have since googled!
And who seems to call herself a historian but doesn't seem to actually have any history qualifications!
Well done BBC you've really pulled out all the stops there!
I know I already used this photo in this post but this is the face I made whilst googling Rosemary Hawthorne.
"The corset" begins the voiceover whilst images of 18th century stays, which whilst related to corsetry ARE NOT CORSETS, flash up on the screen, "The only garment that could kill!"
Oh Janome, here we go...
I cannot find a source for any deaths caused by corsets, not one. I have found a few reports by very biased seeming doctors of the time that theorised that corsets could cause internal damage, but I can also find various doctors reports on how masturbation caused all sorts of problems ranging from blindness to death, that women's uteruses floated around the body at will and that homosexuality was a mental illness and yet we no longer peddle these around as fact, so why exactly is a self appointed historian on my television in 2015 trying to claim corsets could kill?
I have however found several accounts of women who survived attempted stabbings because their corsets protected them:
And it is theorised that perhaps if Empress Elizabeth of Austria might have made it long enough to get to a doctor had her corset not been loosened after she was stabbed.
Another mention of Mollie in Brothels, Bordellos and Bad Girls by Jan McKell.
A scan of the Urbana Daily Courier from 1913 that features yet another woman saved from a bullet.
"They crushed ribs, they lead to problems with breathing. asphyxia, miscarriages, it became more and more difficult to move"
Up pops my favourite completely false drawing
Sweetheart, if corsets caused miscarriages then there would be way less people in the world. Do we look like an empty world to you?
She then waffled on for a while about how cycling lead to the end of corsetting because it was so hard to cycle with a corset (really because I'm thinking the skirts would have been more of a problem).
Next they moved on to a mention of The Rational Dress Society and newer underwear that "still held women in but it meant they could breathe so it meant getting out for the home, out of domestic drudgery."
Pictured: Hester Street in 1903, notice the lack of women *eyeroll*
Clearly this of course means that I have been mistaken for the last 25 years of my life. I am able to breathe and function in my corsets and my life is the very opposite of domestic drudgery. I regularly load musical equipment in and out of venues whilst corsetted.
Therefore I must not be a woman.
The other two challenges seemed a lot more like it, I really liked the 80's reconstruction challenge, I thought they all did pretty well on that, and I would wear the hell out of most of the things they made if they weren't in neon colours, and I liked the kilt challenge, kilts are hard, but not impossible and you don't have to cut 6 billion corners to get something wearable, and I was very impressed with the guy that handstitched all his pleats.
I really don't think I'm going to bother with The Great British Sewing Bee again, it just seems like a weird concept expecting people who don't sew professionally to be able to make something with no instruction and even more weirded out by their choice to use a historian who doesn't seem to understand history.