I had pretty much given up on “reality TV.” I’ve been over Project Runway for a very long time, and all of the “old stuff” shopping shows I’ve seen are seriously flawed. Vintage seller Doris Raymond’s L.A. Frock Stars was actually quite good, but it was on the Smithsonian Channel, which isn’t included in most cable packages, and each 20-something minute show costs $2 on pay-per-view or Amazon instant video.
But then I discovered the latest from BBC2 – The Great British Sewing Bee. It is everything a reality contest type show ought to be.
There are eight contestants who were picked from over a thousand entrants. All are experienced sewers (sew-ers) who come from differing backgrounds in relation to the process of sewing. How completely wonderful it is to have a show where being older is not a liability! Unlike US shows where there is an age limit, or where producing something mature is the kiss of death, the older sewers actually have the advantage of experience.
The lack of catty drama is refreshing. The contestants hang out with each other over a cup of tea when they are between challenges. They seem to actually like each other, with a sense that they are each rooting for the other. There are no instances of contestants throwing another “under the bus” on this show.
Another strength is the experience of the judges. There are only two: May Martin, a sewing teacher with 40 years experience, and Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant. There are no actresses here who were picked to judge clothing merely because they know how to wear pretty clothes. No, these two really know their craft, and the comments they make while observing the contestants sew add a great deal to the program.
But what has been the deal maker for me is how the program weaves in bits of history. In episode three we get a look at how Queen Elizabeth inspired a legion of women sewers to sew for the war effort. And if it could not get any better, the oldest contestant related her own experience with make do and mend during the 1940s.
For those of you who have never sewn a stitch, this is a great introduction to the craft. For each challenge, they require certain skills and construction techniques which are then explained to the viewer. You can actually learn a great deal about how a garment is constructed.
And for people like me who already sew, it is fun to sort of play along in one’s mind, to think how I might attempt the challenges.
Usually we here in the States have to wait months to see new British programs, if we can see them at all, but the first three episodes of Great British Sewing Bee are on YouTube, and I imagine that next week the last installment will be posted. ( One Two Three) For people in the UK, the show can be watched on the BBC2 site. The finale will air next Tuesday.
Photo copyright BBC2