Will Kay: The Breezy “Great British Sewing Bee”

Posted on April 10, 2013


The Great British Sewing Bee is most certainly both great and very British. It takes a little of the self-deprecating British humour and combines it with the archness of British critiques to produce what is a light and entertaining TV program.

The Sewing Bee is a competition based reality TV where home-sewers from all around Britain compete through sewing challenges to be crowned Britain’s best home-sewer.  The Sewing Bee follows the precedent set by the unexpected hit series Great British Bake Off (the Australian iteration is about to show on Channel Nine). This precedent takes the competition reality format dials down the competition aspect and increases the educational aspect, while filling the cast with hobbyist rather than aspirant individuals. .  When compared with the likes of Project Runway, the Sewing Bee is less about taste or designer aspirations, it is more about technical prowess and knowing your capabilities.

What makes the Sewing Bee worth watching is the contestants. It seems that the producers have deliberately selected a cast of lovely normal people whose passion is sewing. There is a self-possessed octogenarian, Ann, whose main bio note, apart from sewing, is her biweekly yoga classes. Ann is just one of the many very normal contestant whose slight eccentricity is a passion for sewing. There is a collegiate atmosphere of mutual respect that is evident when the contestants go to a cafe for tea between challenges. Unlike most reality TV, the contestant are interesting civilized people. It is so refreshing.

Ann, “yoga nut” and Great British Sewing Bee contestant.

The educational aspect of the program looks at the history of home sewing (for example the development of sewing patterns in magazines) and sewing tricks and tips. The inclusion of these aspects is so deft and seamless (pun intended) that you barely even notice them until you realise how enriching the overall experience of the show was.

Though, the introductions to the judges were slightly lacking which leaves you wondering from what basis are they approach their roles. The two judges are May Martin, a sewing teacher with 40 years of experience, and Patrick Grant, the dashing owner of a Saville Row tailor. What the show doesn’t provide is a feel for their personal zest for sewing. If they even have zest for sewing, they might sew with an iron clad set of rules; you just don’t know.

The Judges: Patrick Grant and May Martin.

The Judges: Patrick Grant and May Martin.

Ultimately, the Great British Sewing Bee gives a great platform for humble sewing and craft and in this case the especially humble home-sewers. It is a light breath of fresh air among the thick air of the general cabal of reality TV competitions.

Will Kay is You’re Dripping Egg’s co-creator. His column, Nothing Unnecessary bar the Unnecessary, in which he looks a little to hard at things that just don’t matter, is released every second Wednesday. 

Are you a fan of sewing shows? Voice your concerns/support in the comments.