The BBC has launched another competition show, à la The Great British Bake Off, this time aiming to crown Britain’s best amateur sewer. Certainly The Great British Sewing Bee should appeal to the growing interest in vintage and home crafts among many of the younger generation today, this author included but how exactly does GBSB perform, and is this the beginning of a renewed interest in homemade clothing?

Claudia Winkleman is not, alas, the Sue and Mel that I have come to know and love, and to view as the ideal presenters of any television programme. Indeed I’m not entirely sure why Winkleman was selected, she’s fine and everything (and I’m not suggesting that Sue and Mel showed any in-depth knowledge of baking), it’s just that her particular brand of enthusiasm isn’t sufficient to interest me in some serious sewing. It is perhaps possible that she needs to behave a little more like her quirky self to really make this format really work but during the first episode she was surprisingly low key.


Look at her… she’s great isn’t she?

Yet this did mean that the presenter was not an active source of irritation, which is always a plus. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the judges. I would have much rather seen Lady Berry and Lord Hollywood installed as judges content in the knowledge that they were in no way qualified to do so. It wouldn’t have mattered, because those two have the perfect onscreen chemistry replete with comedy moments that remind you of a mother trying to prevent her starving child from eating the mix. Our sewing judges have nothing of this; in fact I barely remember them. One, the man I think, is from Savile Row whilst the woman has a lot of experience of teaching people to sew… That is genuinely all I can remember. Ah, no wait, I tell a lie. The man irritated me with some quip about a piece, which I can’t remember either…

I should say that I will watch and enjoy every episode, and if they run another series of GBSB next year I’m sure I’ll do so again. I love the sort of pointless tension that forms around what ought to be a useful and enjoyable task however there are several reasons why I can’t see sewing becoming the new baking. GBSB did make me want to try my hand at the craft but there are some inescapable problems. For a start baking is cheaper, and easier to do at an amateur level; after all most people have some baking equipment lying around somewhere. Secondly I feel like GBSB was aimed at people with some previous knowledge of sewing, whereas the Bake Off was targeted explicitly at all comers, young and old. In particular the discussion of a pattern for a laundry bag, to follow at home, left out a considerable amount of detail that a complete beginner would require. Coupled with the lack of a smiling, reassuring Berry to guide you through each stage I almost felt like I didn’t know enough to watch this show. I never had that with the Bake Off, never. Also GBSB made sewing look hard and stressful; Berry makes baking look fun 🙂


You don’t get these smiles in a haberdashers… because the products aren’t edible

In short I miss baking but sewing will do in the meantime and I shouldn’t really complain because there’s no shortage of Paul and Mary in the media at the moment, thank God. GBSB is a novel idea and a valiant attempt, although only time will tell if it really inspires a resurgence in sewing. Although I can’t wait for a challenge that requires the contestants to make men’s clothes because the first episode seemed a tad biased against the poor boys.