A home economics lesson too far: Can 'The Great British Sewing Bee' live up to 'Bake Off'?


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The Independent Culture

The recession has made domestic gods and goddesses of us all. In the past five years television has produced Kirstie’s Homemade Home, Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas, The Great British Bake Off and now The Great British Sewing Bee, which airs tonight. 

Has having less disposable income made us want to go back to basics? It is something presenter Claudia Winkleman implies at the beginning of tonight’s episode.

“A quiet revolution is happening. We’re buying sewing machines again, we’re going to needlework classes, and sewing circles are popping up all across the country,” she says.

From the makers of The Great British Bake Off, its sewing equivalent The Great British Sewing Bee offers a similar format.

The two judges were chosen for their Mary Berry/ Paul Hollywood chemistry. The former is May Martin, a 61-year-old WI dressmaking teacher. She is joined by the suave Patrick Grant, 41, who runs Savile Row tailors Norton & Sons- a likely contender to rival Paul Hollywood in the domestic pin-up stakes.

The show follows eight hopeful seamstresses (and seamsters) as they compete to be crowned the best home-sewer in the land. Like Bake Off, there are also little pieces on the history of British sewing thrown into the mix.

The contestants are a varied bunch with mixed ability, despite having been whittled down from thousands of applicants. Their first task tonight is to make an A-line skirt with an invisible zip in three and a half hours.

Stuart, a 42-year-old fitness instructor from North Yorkshire, reveals he has never made an A-line skirt before. He first took up sewing aged 22 after buying his first house and wanting to furnish it with quilts, curtains and cushion covers.

Mark, a 41-year-old HGV mechanic from Derby, has only sewn three zips in his life. Most of the clothes he makes have no zips because he is a Steampunk, someone who enjoys dressing as a futuristic Victorian. He is more at home sewing waistcoats, breeches and 17th century smock coats.

Maybe Anne from Birmingham will be a safer bet to win the A-line skirt challenge? The 82-year-old has been sewing every day since she was seven, but she runs out of time to add a lining to her skirt.

The Great British Sewing Bee is gentle, enjoyable viewing that celebrates British social history while looking at a hobby in revival. It might not have the same huge appeal as Bake Off, but it has the recipe for success.