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!