Friday, 12 April 2013

The Great British Stitch Up

SPOILER ALERT –do not read this if you have yet to see the programme shown on Tuesday April 9th as it reveals who was eliminated!

I was SO looking forward to this programme


From the same company that did “The Great British Bake Off” a four part series “in which eight hopefuls are tested on their sewing and dressmaking skills as they compete to be crowned Britain's best amateur sewer”

But I have been a little disappointed thus far

The problem is, for me, it just does not match up to the GBBO. Judges May Martin [WI] and Patrick Grant [Savile Row] don’t have the same on-screen chemistry as National-Treasure-Mary, and Paul-The-Pilsbury-Doughboy. And the ubiquitous Claudia Winkleman doesn't quite have the wit of Mel’n’Sue. It’s all too earnest!

It is my own fault – I should have seen beyond the blurb and realised they were making a TV programme and it would be totally formulaic. According to The Rules of Good TV, our eight contestants must be

  • a mixture of ages from twenties to eighties
  • a mixture of races and gender
  • a mixture of newbies and experienced sewers
  • a mixture of different social backgrounds and interests


So we ended up with

  1. Traditional West Indian Young Mum, “channelling Grandma’s love in every stitch” Prone to anxiety
  2. Retro-style Newbie Needlewoman [drafts her own patterns]Not much experience or technical know-how, and lack of practice means she is slow to finish things.
  3. Merry Widow, loves classic cars, and looking different from everyone else. Very individual style
  4. Steam Punk Macho Guy – brilliant at effective, and economical costumes, which looks good [but has little or no experience of zip insertion] Trustworthy East Midlander.
  5. Conscientious Scottish Newlywed Head Girl, Lauren, sewing since she was in the Brownies [and a wizard with bias binding]
  6. Brummie Mummie Sandra, who has made the family clothes for thirty years, dressing daughters in cutesy matching outfits back in the 1980s [oh Liz, Steph, I am so sorry…it seemed OK at the time] Very competent, but panics under pressure
  7. Cheery Chappie – camp as a Boy Scout Jamboree – probably there to lighten the tension and entertain. Cannot topstitch, not good at working with pattern fabrics or fly-front zips.
  8. Ann-the-Gran – sewing since the days of WW2 clothes rationing, producing semi-professional couture garments. Traditional styling, immaculate zip placement and clothes-fitting. Works steadily and safely. Prefers to take her time and achieve perfect results.

The top four were eliminated by the end of Programme Two.

For me the problem is that Ann is far and away the most competent of the lot. That was obvious from the get-go. So what on earth are they going to do for two more shows? My family [who know far more about the making of TV programmes than I] tell me that I was wrong to expect a genuine ‘competition’. “It’s entertainment – don’t expect realistic ‘judging’” Sadly I realise they are dead right.

Patrick has repeatedly referred to Ann’s ‘safe’ style, and praised Stuart’s ‘quirkiness’. I am not surprised Sandra ‘made a bit of pork’ after he told her he didn’t like scalloped edges, the poor woman is a bag of nerves to start with. And he wasn’t very kind about Lauren’s trousers either! [I can’t do zips at all, I thought L did extremely well]

sewing bee3

My final gripe is that the weekly Programme Project [1- Laundry Bag, 2-Cushion Cover] is not explained clearly, and the instructions are rapid and hard to follow. I wanted to encourage my ‘sewing girls’ to watch it – but I am not sure how much they’d really learn. Lots of important details seemed to be ‘presumed’ and omitted.

I would not be surprised if Programme 3 shows Stuart falling at some complex technical hurdle, and Sandra panicking herself into a disaster. One of them will depart. And then in the final, Ann will somehow be judged too ‘trad’ and not sufficiently ‘cutting-edge’. So Lauren will be crowned Queen, and this will be just the boost she needs as she sets up her new haberdashery. [I suspect I am getting too cynical]

And I suspect that Ann will display her usual impeccably gracious behaviour and say what jolly good fun it has been to take part with these young people, and how she wants to encourage the next generation to pick up their needles and sew.

But if I needed someone to make an important garment [like a wedding dress] I would choose Ann out of this octet, no question. [Actually, my friend Susan is pretty good at bridal wear too…]

chartthrobI am sorry, you are all shocked now, because I have been so awfully negative. But I really did so want it to be about genuine sewing skills, and the best amateur needle-workers. I naïvely expected that the contestants would all be wearing clothes they had made themselves, and at least be able to insert zips, and topstitch properly, in order to get into the final eight. Bob is now insisting I should go and read Ben Elton’s “Chart Throb” and then I’d understand how such TV shows work!


  1. I've not seen this yet but heard others mention it. I didn't realise it was a competition I thought it was teach and encourage the nation to start sewing or improve on your existing skills. I don't think I will bother with it now.

    1. You are a very competent crafter yourself, Carol. You might enjoy it more than I did - I don't want to put you off watching!

  2. Hope this works, this is the link for the Sewing Bee laundry bag on the Prima website. Lauren and Ann are my favourites.
    Be warned once you have read Chart Throb some programmes lose their appeal!

  3. Oh Ang, I quite agree!

    I thought it would be fab as well and have been disappointed so far - I can't imagine how far they have looked to think that those are the eight best amateurs.


  4. You are saying exactly what I thought...only more succintly! It certainly has not the appeal of the Bake programme, and so much detail is omitted. I'd choose Ann any day, but I'm sure you are right, she may be too 'safe'.

  5. I know you are right but I love Claudia, am rather taken with Patrick, the room they are in is lovely and I love the cosiness of it all. Favourite programme of the week for me I'm afraid - saddo that I am :)

  6. I too lost interest in the programme after the first episode. I so wish you hadn't mentioned the Ben Elton book, I shall now have to buy it for my Kindle, lol.

  7. Agree agree agree, though all four of us are hooked! Those do it yourself slots are frustrating beyond imagination!

  8. I thought it was a lovely programme, so refreshing to have people getting along together and encouraging each other. I watched it on iplayer and have dusted off my sewing machine again ready to tackle some new projects! :)

  9. I think the main problem is Claudia Winkelmann - she is such a dolt - no idea what she's talking about and sadly lacking in any talent except smouldering through that eye liner from under that ridiculously long fringe - boy she get's up my nose - I had high hopes for this programme but feel the lack of flair and proper technical grounding on behalf of the competitors spoils it - shame as I like the contestants and the judges

  10. I've not seen the programme at all but have read Ben Elton's book.
    Love from Mum

  11. A brilliant post, you summed it up perfectly! Although I have to say I watch it not just for the sewing but the eye candy too! Nothing like a well dressed man ;-))

  12. I've enjoyed it so far, but for different reasons than the GBBO. When I watch the Bake Off I think, "With some practice I could produce something like that." When I watch the Sewing Bee it's a case of "My goodness, I could never do that!" However, I have finally gathered my courage and learnt how to thread my machine. I really hope Ann wins. Lesley x

  13. You always write with such sense!! I completely agree with all your comments. I have sewn forever and moved from dressmaking to quilting some years ago, so I was looking forward to watching this programme, but the judges have no charisma between them at all and I don't think I have seen the female judge smile yet, no, all very disappointing.
    A member of my quilt group was approached, some months ago, to audition for the programme, she was unable to, due to family committments, pity, boy, would she have shaken them all up!! She is delightful, but a force to be reckoned with!!!!

  14. You echo my thoughts on the series so far and like you I was really looking forward to this series. It would be so easy for them to incorportate things such as how to insert a zip which I always avoid! Simple how to, or even showing off some easy embroidery stitches would encourage the younger generation far more, and then it really could take off in the same way as GBBO.


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