The Great British Sewing Bee


I know that the blogosphere has been awash with all sorts of opinions on the GBSB.  I didn’t want to jump in after just one episode, but we’re now 50% of the way through the four part series and I want to try and articulate my thoughts on the programme.

I’m sure most of you who read sewing blogs have also watched the programme if you can get access to it.  Outside of the UK, YouTube seems to be the weapon of choice!

May and Patrick

The show follows the familiar skill tests, assessment and elimination format of Masterchef and The Great British Bake Off.  Which means of course that we need some judges and these take the form of May Martin and Patrick Grant.  A WI Doyenne and a Saville Row Taylor (and new men’s wear designer for Debenhams).

At the end of each show, two contestant’s are eliminated.  So far we’ve lost:

Week One:     Michelle and Jane (through illness)
Week Two:     Tilly and Mark (I loved that Mark offered Tilly his arm as they left)

Now I enjoy watching this show, but I’m also already into sewing in a fairly obsessive way.  Outside of sewing circles though, I haven’t heard much discussion about it.  Not like Bake Off which every one could appreciate on some level; even if it was as simple as ‘I want to eat that’!

I worry that because sewing and garments are so tactile that the everyday person can’t immediately grasp the challenge of sewing a silk blouse.  The majority of bought clothing is poly-something-easy-care-no-iron.  How many people can begin to imagine how silk slips and moves when you work with it and therefore appreciate the technical challenges of constructing a garment with it.  It’s not as immediately understandable as a ‘soggy bottom’ on a tart although we all eat and we all wear clothes, so maybe it should be!

My other concern is the speed that some of the challenges are done at.  The refashion I think is about right and perfect to get someone interested.  A bit of lace and an hour is a manageable prospect.  Sewing a pair of tailored trousers in four hours when you have never done so; not so much.  I worry that this does nothing to re-educate people about the value of clothing or how difficult some of these things are to do.  There is an opportunity to really showcase and highlight the skills required to make a garment and I’m not convinced this is being made the most of.

Food traceability and quality is already in the mainstream, this has yet to happen for the clothes we wear.

And lets face it; the ingredients for a cake are a few pounds.  The yardage for a dress is anywhere from £5 if you have the wonders of ‘the man outside Sainsburys’ on Goldhawk Road, or £40 if you go for a quilting cotton and higher still if you go really fancy!  By extension, if a cake doesn’t work out, ah well, it was only a few quid and an hour.  A dress doesn’t work out and it’s £10 on the pattern, £30 on the fabric and all the time you’ve just put into it.  The potential to be put off on the first go is much much higher.

Each episode has a quick project that also seems to be covered in the accompanying book.  So far it’s been the laundry bag and a tie side cushion.  The construction of each has been massively glossed over and dealt with in two minutes.  For instance the laundry bag has a gusseted construction which is far more difficult that it was made to appear.  Thankfully the instructions in the book are much more comprehensive according to Jane’s review.

I guess I hoped for more.  Maybe some more explanation about why something is difficult to help develop the public’s appreciation for our clothing.  Definitely more signposting for people who may want to have a go so that they don’t become discouraged and know where to get the support they’re going to need.

Having said all of that, I know I’ll be watching the last two episodes.  And there was a slight rise in the ratings for week two so it is working, which I am really glad about.  As Miss P says, we really need this show to be a ratings success as without the numbers, the TV execs wont take the risk on comissioning any more sewing shows.

L to R: Lauren, Tilly, Jane, Mark, Stuart, Patrick, Claudia, May, Michelle, Sandra, Ann

I love Stuart’s incredulousness at what he’s managing to achieve each week and Ann’s cool, calm technical perfection.  And the relief that someone who has sewn for as long as Lauren still has complete moments of panic.  And Sandra’s cheekyness (I just need to look at your bottom Mr Grant).  At the moment, the only two contestants who blog are Tilly and Lauren, although I know Tilly is lining up some guest posts…

Next week involves sewing a child’s dress, altering a shop bought dress and finally fitting and sewing a tailored jacket for their model.  And then one more contestant will leave, leaving three contestants in the final on the 23rd April.

I don’t know who I want to win.  At the moment I think I’m team Stuart or Lauren.  Failing that, I’m team Patrick!

14 thoughts on “The Great British Sewing Bee

  1. During the bag “tutorial” I was shouting “press the seams” at the TV! Don’t get me started on the cushion! BUT, and it’s a big BUT, despite its flaws, it is fabulous to see sewing back on our screens, and we do need to support it. I’ve just posted today how our local BBC radio programme held a phone in about sewing and other domestic crafts, so it is creeping out into the mainstream…if only in a trickle. But with enough support, we can open the floodgates.

  2. Thing that got me….was the order of construction for the trousers. ..and the method of making the fly front…I was confused.nowhere have I ever made trousers like that….thought it was just me but a friend who’s a costumier made the same point

  3. Everyone I’ve spoken to says they love watching it, but it’s put them off sewing as it looks too difficult! Will be interesting to see how the book sells. Thank you for the link to Lauren’s blog.

  4. Well said Vicki. I couldn’t really articulate my thoughts as well as you did. I had mixed feelings…on the one hand excitement about sewing being on TV. As you say it’s challenging to give mainstream attraction to a craft that is perceived by many as old fashioned and that so many people don’t know anything about. As a seamstress (sorry I don’t like sewer as it makes me think of ‘sewage’) I would be happy with a super technical programme, like a craftsy course on TV…but it would certainly not get 2.5 million viewers…
    So, I guess what we have to keep in mind is that this programme is sewing for non-sewers :o) just to build excitement about it…and hopefully more people will join in.

    1. That’s a great description! Sewing for non-sewists. And I’m with you on the whole sewer sewage thing.

      Sent from my overzealous spell checking phone! Please excuse brevity and typos.

  5. I see your point. To be honest there were local sewers here who had no idea about GBSB until it came up in conversation with other sewers.
    Seasoned sewers aren’t social media savvy so word of mouth is their measure of excitement.

  6. i was so happy that someone pointed me to youtube so i could watch over here in canada. yay! i watched the first episode last night and really enjoyed it. it’s classier than most shows of its ilk. i appreciate how thoroughly the judges examine the makes. i did wonder if anyone who was new to sewing could follow the laundry bag bit – defo was glossed over! as you say, this show has great potential to get people thinking about how their clothes are made. and it has me totally smitten with patrick, too 🙂

  7. Great post! Sewing trousers in 4 hours seemed mad to me too, although interestingly if you read The Thrifty Stitcher’s blog she said that’s how long it took her (she developed the pattern) – but then she’s a professionally trained ex-theatre seamstress. I’d like to try speeding up my sewing a bit, I spend an awful lot of time faffing and draping partially made garments over myself…

  8. As the owner of a sewing supplies website in the UK I have seen an upsurge in sewing over the last 2 or 3 years, including schools putting it back into the curriculum. Long may it continue.
    Since the first programme we have been manically busy and I feel not only are people trying to sew for the first time, but there are a lot of people coming back to it.

    1. That is awesome and brilliant news! I hoped this would be the effect and I am so pleased its bringing more trade to your door! I wish I had a shop like you near me!

      Sent from my overzealous spell checking phone! Please excuse brevity and typos.

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