Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Great British Sewing Bee


I've been mostly working on Squeebles-related things for the last week or so, but I did fit in a quick fabric-buying trip to London one day. I went to the shops on Goldhawk Road, where fabric is only a few pounds per metre, and then on to the Cloth House on Berwick Street, which is far more expensive, but does have an amazing selection. Some photos of my haul will punctuate this post.


The Great British Sewing Bee has somehow come and gone without my managing to blog about it in between, but wasn't it wonderful (I think you can still see it on iPlayer if you missed it)? I watched it with my children and we loved it just as much as we had the Bake-off series (although I loved it a little more, obviously), from the same production company.


I haven't heard of anyone who didn't enjoy the Sewing Bee* and I wonder if it's because it has the same successful formula as the bake-off: the fascination of reality-style television, but with the welcome twist of it containing genuinely nice, normal people being filmed in a way that isn't concentrated on stripping them of their dignity. Anne was an obvious winner right from the start, but that didn't stop it being hugely enjoyable to watch, perhaps because as with sewing, it's more about the process than the result. I felt slightly pained by some of the time constraints though: four hours to make a man's shirt! Even with the cuffs being omitted this seemed like an incredibly pressured task, so the results were fairly amazing.


I was fascinated by how the programme may be perceived by those who don't sew though. One friend said that it didn't inspire her to sew clothing as it looked so stressful, while others were baffled by the terminology. There are some things that, as a seamstress immersed in an online world where everyone sews, you assume are part of common language.


There has been much hilarity from my children over some of the terms learnt while watching the programme, as well as some teasing over what I only now see is my rather predictable solution for styling any garment when asked 'what would you do?'. One morning I was pinning a collar onto a Laurel blouse that I was making and my eight-year old son came in and asked if it was a 'Peter Pan collar' that I was creating. I was fairly stunned, but apparently he is familiar with this term because, in his words, 'you think it would be best to put a Peter Pan collar on everything, even trousers'. Warming to impressing me with his technical sewing knowledge, he then enquired if the collar would be attached 'above the bust' or 'below the bust', chortling to himself wildly as he asked this non-sensical question. He was an alarmingly good mimic of Patrick Grant (the judge from Savile Row) and swept his hands over the garment while commenting on whether my placement of the darts around 'the bust' was quite correct. Both children were fascinated as to why Patrick would never simply say that the fit wasn't right over a person's breasts and were disbelieving when I told them that 'the bust' was more polite and that in dressmaking you'd never refer to someones breasts. But I can still hear them impersonating Patrick and May while they brush their teeth before bed some evenings asking one other if they put their toothpaste onto the toothbrush while holding it above the bust or below the bust.



Anyway, Love Productions have asked if I'll share their request for entrants for the second series which will be made in the coming autumn and winter. If you're interested in applying, then do go and visit here. I'm so looking forward to watching the second series.



What did you think of the Sewing Bee? Did you love it? Could you sew under that kind of pressure? Are you considering entering?

Florence x

 * Apart from sometimes in the online commenting section beneath newspaper articles about the Sewing Bee. I've noticed that these comment sections often seem to contain the thoughts of people seemingly angry at the entire world. They scare me slightly.

Ps. I've been shortlisted for a BritMums award. If you'd like to vote for me you can go here, where you'll find me in the craft section. x

48 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed the Sewing Bee too, partly just for the novelty of having sewing on TV and partly because it was filmed around the corner from where I grew up. Boyfriend watched it all with me and thoroughly enjoyed it despite being a non-sewer (he's also now scrutinising everything I sew in a Patrickish manner). My 12-yr-old cousin in Canada is watching it on Youtube and loves it. My main criticism would be that it's set up much more for entertainment than for learning - I'd prefer it to be a bit more like Masterchef where you see the contestants getting taught something before they're tested on it. And the time constraints were just silly! But oh Florence, please please be the pioneer of Peter Pan collared trousers! x

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    1. Yes, I'd imagined Patrick and May doing masterclasses on things too, but I'm guessing that with it being only four episodes long, they may have been testing the water with how well it would be received and so may not have been able to invest the time in doing more in-depth things like that? Who knows, but I'm very pleased there's a second on its way!

      I can actually visualise what the Peter Pan collared trousers would look like - they would be awful, but also quite avant garde. I'm having problems getting my head around constructing the zip fly and the Peter Pan collar to make the collar sit perfectly centrally though...happily, I think it may be a problem I never quite fathom so the world will be spared from this peculiar fashion. x

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  2. I've just watched it all in one go over the bank holiday weekend - I think I have a lesser reaction to too much caffeine! It was amazing, I loved it. My only query was though - where is Florence? When I realised that I hadn't seen a blog post from you about it, I did wonder if perhaps you hadn't liked it. I'm so inspired now, although my current aspiration to make my own tweed suit (rather than spending £500 on one) might be a step too far bearing in mind I've barely made anything for the past couple of years. I could always start with a toile though.... I love that you children enjoyed it, if only for the new terms they learned. No mention of crotch though......

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    1. Goodness! Somehow I think the crotch references must have passed them by. That's a treat for the viewing of the second series though, I'm sure.

      Yes, it's so lovely to be able to make things that you could never afford - I often feel that glow when I look at the Tana lawn tops in Liberty knowing that I can make the same thing for under £15 (when buying the Tana lawn from somewhere other than Liberty!)

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  3. i loved watching it, but was thinking the whole time that YOU should go on it, why don't you next year??! you'd be so good!

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  4. As a quilter rather than a dressmaker, I did find the show quite interesting and I enjoyed watching it but I found the "how to make" sections intensely irritating! The only one that made any sense at all to me was the last one, the curtain panel. Although it didn't inspire me to start making clothes, I'll be interested to see the next series, but it would be nice to include different kinds of sewing, not just dressmaking.

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    1. Yes, the 'how to make' sections didn't really translate, did they, although I think some of them appear in the GBSB book as full patterns. I did wonder what a non-sewer would make of those - they must have been quite intimidating!

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  5. I loved this post (especially your son's comments) and I adored the show. I just wish there were more of it - and more sewing on TV generally!

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    1. Thank you, Suki - his comments actually made my stomach ache I laughed so much!

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  6. I loved watching the Sewing Bee but it did make me realise that sewing is quite a complex task to film, with all the terminologies that need explaining, and for anyone that hasn't done any dress-making before the time-scales were so short that I wonder how many people maybe tried sewing and were then disappointed at how long it actually took! The only section that I think could maybe be improved was the how-to section - they were done at such record speed that it really did feel a bit 'blink and you'll miss it'!!!! Love all the sneaky fabric peaks that you've included - one day I think I"m going to have to visit Goldhawk Road!!!

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    1. You should - it's fantastic and may not be there in its current form for too much longer as they're considering turning the shops into new-build flats.

      I agree that the how-to section was too speedy, although in some ways that felt quite a good thing as I often find the bits in the bake-off where they go and tell you the history of a particular baking technique, however interesting, detracts from my just wanting to watch the contestants actually baking.

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  7. Now the only complaint I have about the GBSB, (and it isn't really a complaint more of a po-faced Guardian reader observation), is that whilst so much was made of the essential skills involved in garment making there was no acknowledgement of the skills and working conditions of millions of garment workers around the world. It just seems a shame to point out how tricky it is to make clothes and miss the opportunity make people more aware of how their own clothes are produced. Possibly the horrors of Dhaka have brought this into sharper focus for me, but I feel it would've been a worthwhile acknowledgement.

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    1. I think that that's something that hits you quite strongly the first time you make a garment yourself: the sudden realisation that its production couldn't possibly be done by an automated machine, but must be being done by an individual person and that their work is incredibly skilled and time-consuming. I know it was for me. But I'm not sure how that would have gelled in with that particular programme and the time constraints it had. I think if it inspires people to sew then a natural consequence of that will be that people will start thinking about how a dress can be made for under £10 and whether they feel comfortable with buying it.

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  8. I didn't think I would like it as I don't like competitions at all in the main - I see no need as many things in life like sewing and especially cooking are not competitive and I find it irritating. I don't find the need to get hung up on 'perfection' when it is all subjective anyway. (I can't stand most cooking programs for that reason, and can't bare to watch, so I don't watch the Bake Off version.) I nearly didn't watch the Great British Sewing Bee because I thought I would hate it. I was wrong as I loved it.

    The time constraints were a bit silly and ultimately obstructive and I believe that other sewers were as good as Ann if not as experienced but I think she was the rightful winner. Sandra I believe is the most adaptable sewer and Tilly is a marvel and Lauren is lovely but she certainly needed more time but the quality was often really lovely. I loved all the competitors and I liked Patrick, the other judge not so much but she was OK. Claudia Winkleman was great.

    I didn't expect to learn from the programme and I didn't really, but I didn't find it confusing either. I enjoyed the tasks and thought they were exacting - which was good! It was a good natured show and entertaining.

    I would never in a million years volunteer myself for this kind of catapulting in the headlights. Anyone who does is rather brave!

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    1. Yes, I think in many ways I would rather the contestants had been given longer, so that you could see their skill - not everyone works well under that kind of time pressure, particularly perfectionists!

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  9. It was great I just wish there had been more episodes. It will be interesting to see if they change anything next time around.
    I agree with Jen that you would be great you should apply for the next one.
    I recognised Ann from http://artisanssquare.com/sg/index.php/topic,20443.0.html
    she had been a great help to me last year when I was making my daughters wedding dress.
    I also realised that I had been following Tilly and Laurens blogs for ages so that made it all the more exciting.

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    1. I didn't know (until you mentioned it here) that Lauren has a blog and I hadn't heard of Artisan Square either - thank you for the link. How lovely that Ann was able to help with your daughter's dress.

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  10. My mother (in her 80s) watched the series and thought it as very interesting especially when an octogenarian won but I couldn't go near it. The thought of watching people sew against the clock was just too stressful to contemplate!

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  11. I was absolutely hooked on watching the series! I'm excited that there will be another season coming out. I hope that (as you put it so well) the "welcome twist of it containing genuinely nice, normal people being filmed in a way that isn't concentrated on stripping them of their dignity" continues.

    I found myself with twitching fingers burning to sew after watching even short bits (I watched each episode in segments while I had lunch with my 17-mo old daughter. I'm starting her young ;-)).

    It would be fabulous if they brought it to the US! I'd LOVE to participate, though that probably means that I would need to do a bit more sewing than I'm currently doing. ;-)

    ~Natalie

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  12. I too absolutely loved the sewing bee, although i can see how people might be afraid to start because of it looking stressful! Can't wait for the next series although there is no way i would apply.
    PS. I voted for you so good luck x

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  13. I had a little chuckle to myself about how your children saw Sewing Bee - mine are still a bit young but I can so see them making comments about busts too!
    As for the 2nd series - I really could not do the time pressure! I could certainly be relied upon to sew my waistband on the wrong way round as I think poor Sandra was chastised for.
    Your new fabrics look gorgeous, can't wait to see what you make with them :-)

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  14. I was totally hoping you would tell us that you'd applied for next season's Sewing Bee.

    I just discovered the show and have watched only the first episode. Can't wait to see more!

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  15. I really enjoyed the Sewing Bee. Loving the fabric, especially the pink, brown and red one.

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  16. I loved it, as did my 14 year old daughter, but my husband and other children didn't watch. They love the bake off, but this just didn't appeal to them.
    My 17 year old daughter was put off by the non fashion focus, as I think were quite a few reviewers. I love fashion, but for me this was all about the process and it was fab!
    I had been encouraged to enter the first series, but had my doubts, so didn't. a decision I regret now because all of the contestants seemed to have such a wonderful time.

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  17. I live in America and just by accident discovered British Sewing Bee on the Internet - we don't get it on PBS - yet? - anyway it was terrific - I just loved it and was instantly drawn to the seamstresses. They were delightful - Had to watch every episode as you guys say "straightaway"! I love British TV on PBS. Love your blog too

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  18. I absolutely loved it, but I am in no way brave enough to even consider entering!! My children were as enthralled as yours were. And I am determined that this year will be the one when I get to grips with a full bust adjustment. It is ridiculous that I used to make ballgowns and cocktail dresses but these days don't even dare to attempt more for myself than skirts and PJ bottoms. Madness.

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  19. I loved the sewing bee but then I love sewing but I think you said some really good things there in your post - I would not enter because of the time pressure, I think I would just burst into tears! I agree that the competition style of the programme is done well without being mean to genuine people. My 5 year old daughter has been watching it over and over again and shouted upstairs last week - Anne is making some more red wool trousers!! I had to enlighten her that they were the same ones.. She has made a clothkits dress with me since and we have really enjoyed the process. I made an evening bag this week too. Jo x

    http://joeveryday19.blogspot.co.uk/

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  20. I loved, loved, loved it! And I think I would not be nearly good enough to enter, especially because of short time there is for the tasks.

    I loved your son's comments on your sewing. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall.

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  21. I didn't even know of the show's existence until I found the final episode linked on my favourite fabric store Sew Tessuti's blog. I sat there transfixed and was so happy to see the wide age range between the three finalists. Sewing is alive and well.

    Even though I sew my children's range of clothing most days, I would wilt under the pressure of the time constraints these wonderful contestants endured. I am hooked on the series and can't wait for the next season. It's far more exciting (and healthy!) than watching Master Chef or those horrible Biggest Loser programmes. My only hope is that an Australian TV station will pick up the series - it would be a hit.

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  22. Congrats on the BritMum nom - I went and voted for you, of course.

    Loved the Sewing Bee but wish the items they made had been a bit more diverse - cushion or bag.

    I'd love to take part but I'd need to do a lot of clothes making.

    Will you apply?

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  23. Congrats on the britmum nomination!

    I enjoyed watching GBSB, but was really surprised that (Ann and Sandra excepted) the contestants didn't seem to have a great deal of sewing experience! I think they represented the sort of people who apply for TV shows rather than actually representing the UK's wonderfully creative home sewers. Would love to see you there next year! I'd also love to see katy from IAGM.

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  25. I thought the programme was fantastic, I enjoyed it so much. As you say, the focus is on the lovely nature of the contestants, not making them look foolish like every other reality show. It really inspired me, I even made a simple skirt from a Mollie Makes pattern that I'd previously skipped past because I thought 'I can't do that'. I can imagine my children acting out those scenes when they're a bit older, they do love silly role play. That did make me laugh :-)

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  26. My children and I enjoyed watching it. It made me remember an old programme with Ann Ladbury in, she use to do sewing. I was only small and must have been ill because it was a lunchtime programme, I think, - oh nostalgia!

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  27. I adored the Sewing Bee and have put all my mostly non-sewing australian friends onto it. It was so gentle and down to earth and, oh, that gorgeous 'are you being served' sensibility. The double entendres were so quaint and funny, too. I don't sew but I am busting to get a machine since watching it. BTW i NEVER read comments on youtube or such. not even accidentally. I loved your story about your kids' responses to the show. Priceless! x

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  28. I picked up the GBSB from episode 2 and enjoyed it very much, it was good to see sewing on the TV, at the end when Anne was anounced the winner (quite right too!!) I casually mentioned to my partner I might apply for the next series - 'blimey you'll have to up your game' came the reply!!!! May be not then - but yes I agree Florence should apply as it was quite interesting watching Tilly and Lauren as I've folowed their blogs for a few months now.

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  29. I adored the series and found it wildly refreshing! Everyone was delightful and the way the whole thing was put together was simply lovely. And your kids are so cute for getting into it!

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  30. This made me laugh, your children sound really funny! Especially the bit about the toothpaste!
    I loved the program, I would not do well sewing under a time constraint though! I definitely take my sweet time over it, lol :)

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  33. AHAHAHAHAHA! Your son! That is too funny. :) I love that he noticed your love for Peter Pan collars!

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  34. Hi
    I'm a first time commenter on your blog, although I've been reading for a while and have even bought and used one or two of your patterns (which I love). My kids and I absolutely adored the Great British Sewing Bee. My youngest girl wants to be like Anne when she grows up...but I want to be like Anne when I grow up. Anyway, if I were to be a contestant I'd be more like Stewart, as even though I've an experienced quilter and crafter I'm a real novice when it comes to dress making. I loved all of the contestants - they were interesting, kindly and talented.
    Natalie

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  35. i loved it and so did my daughters (14 & 16). We wanted Ann to win, she reminded us of our grannies and great aunts. My 16 year old daughter was so inspired she managed to make herself a lined waistcoat including making the pattern herself and she had not used a sewing machine before (but can hand sew). I was on holiday and she used my sewing stuff while I was away with technical help from my husband who is a mechanic and good with machines in general. The program made her realise her talent for drawing and making things could be applied to making clothes.

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  36. i really like the yellow one with the floral print

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  37. We love your blog, Florence! Your blog looks amazing.

    We are currently running a giveaway,enter here http://charmeusecouture.com/blog to win your favourite dress. Good luck.

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  38. I enjoyed episodes on You tube since we don't get the British TV in North America. I loved all the contestants and wish they had kept everyone for all episodes, just because I wanted to see what each would have brought to the challenges.

    For example, with his costume making experience, I would LOVE to see what Mark would have done with the evening gown challenge.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x