Currently Viewing – The Great British Sewing Bee

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


Filed under Currently Viewing

26 responses to “Currently Viewing – The Great British Sewing Bee

  1. I agree – it’s so nice to see a programme where people are really supportive of one another (and make amazing items of clothing to boot)

    Looking forward to the final next week *squeeeee* 😀


  2. I have been enjoying the show on YouTube too. My husband even watches it with me! =)

    My two main thoughts about it: I really dislike how the word “sew-er” sounds – even with a British accent (I wish they would say contestants or something else). And it’s A.MAZE.ING how much they accomplish in the time frame they are given! I would not want to have to make a tailored jacket in such a short time – and that’s coming from someone who’s experienced and not exactly slow.

    It’s a great show & format! Educational, entertaining, and inspiring! (And no drama or cat-fights – hooray!)


    • It’s hard to know what work to use for modern day sewing people. Seamstress has sexual and cultural connotations, sewist sounds a bit… pretentious, and sewer just sounds like sewer.

      I’m really, really slow at sewing. I’d never be able to finish anything in the time they are allotted.


      • Yes, a person who sews is hard to label in today’s world. I prefer “stitcher”, as it’s what I use on my resume, but it’s so hard to explain to people that I usually just use seamstress in conversation with people outside my business life. And I like sewist in print.

        There’s actually a whole discussion about what people like being called among a bunch of us sewing bloggers. Mari of Disparate Disciplines even did a podcast about it.


  3. I agree, I’m madly inspired by this program. I don’t sew at all at the moment, but I’m definitely going to give it a try. Sad that it’s just 4 episodes!


  4. Sounds like one to check out… I’m off..


  5. Loving it! All the tips and ideas and talk of sewing. I would never be able to finish anything in the time allotted either. I like to ‘think’ about the project a long while. What fabric, what colour, what alterations, what version,? etc. And, i think the pressure of sewing something in a time frame would REALLY freak me out! Lol.


  6. I’m so glad you are watching and enjoying this. I’ve found the whole series so enjoyable and inspiring. Can’t wait for the final – I want all of them to win!


  7. I never gave much thought to what to call a person who sews.
    A sewist is NEW to ME…a tailor used to mean you made men’s clothes, then there’s a seamstress and a dressmaker, or a sewer…..and then again, a rose by any other name yada yada yada.

    I would love to see the program to see the short-cuts that have been created since I learned to sew. I did click on the “One, Two, Three and found it interesting…I think I would enjoy it. Thanks for the tips.


  8. Teresa

    I’ve heard this show is amazing and I want to see it even more now.

    I never knew US shows had age limits. So weird and wrong!


  9. So pleased you’re able to view the show so quickly in the US Lizzie. It’s my favourite TV show by far. I simply adore Ann (hope she wins it!!). I agree that it’s sooooo refreshing to see a wide range of ages, and all getting along so famously too.

    And if that wasnt’ enough, the host, Claudia Winkleman, is SUPERB. She’s perfect for this show, although I’ve always been a fan. Such a lovely girl!

    Find out more about the contenstants here


  10. This sounds fantastic–thanks so much for posting about it, Lizzie!


    • Karen, it’s worth watching just to see Patrick Grant. You probably remember him from that series on Harris Tweed.

      And anyone who wants to see how a man’s suit is supposed to fit, take a look at Patrick and his Savile Row suits.


  11. I had heard about this show from Tilly’s blog (I’m a bad sewer who spends more time on sewing blogs than actually improving my sewing skills). What a great idea to get more people enthused about sewing. I thought I read that there is a book that accompanies the series, with detailed instructions on the how-to projects they feature on the episodes, but I didn’t see mention of it on the BBC site.
    I liked Mark and his steampunk ensembles. I wished he was able to get further along in the competition. I’m also rooting for Ann.


  12. I love how many sewing fans there are! and the sense of community is just fantastic, thank you all so much! 🙂 Cheers!


  13. Pingback: Simplicity 4945 – Early 1960s Separates | The Vintage Traveler

  14. Pingback: The Great British Sewing Bee on Youtube | The Vintage Traveler

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