A couple of weeks ago I picked up a needle and thread and tried my hand at sewing for the first time since studying A Level textiles (which is too many years ago to mention) so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that a new Great British Bake Off-style sewing series was about to hit BBC2. Judged by no-nonsense sewing expert and WI Institute member May Martin and dashing Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant, the show features eight competitors battling it out to be crowned the country’s best home sewer. Cue frantic seam-finishing, bungled buttonholes and sweaty-palmed stitching galore.
The contestants have been cherry-picked to include both more stereotypical at-home dressmakers, like 82-year-old contestant Ann (who I would quite like to be my grandma) and unlikely candidates like Mark, a mechanic who creates outfits for steampunk events in his spare time. The young, hip, fashion-led home sewers of the line-up are 27-year-old Lauren and 32-year-old Tilly, who has only been dressmaking for two years and has her own fabulous sewing blog, which you can check out here – with her eyeliner, red lippy and natty French-inspired style, could we have the Rachel Khoo of the sewing world on our hands?
With sewing machines at the ready and stacks of fabrics to choose from (what a dream!) the hopefuls were asked to complete three timed challenges. The first, to make an A-line skirt, sounded simple – but when the clock is ticking and Claudia Winkleman is interviewing you while you’re putting in that all-important invisible zip, even the most experienced sewer might not be on top form. Cleaner Sandra’s pretty floral skirt clinched first place – although I was also pretty impressed by retired school photographer Jane’s choice of ultra-cool retro car-print fabric.
The second task sounded simpler still – to adapt the neckline of a ready-made tee. Yet Sandra, who did so well in the first round, made the costly mistake of sewing her floral neckline on the wrong side, while Tilly was a bit over-ambitious with her collar and it didn’t quite hit the mark. Ann’s simply stunning broderie anglaise and ribbon trim won the judges’ (and viewers’) hearts in the end – you can tell she grew up in an era when the dressmaking basics were taught well.
The final and trickiest task of the lot was to create a dress. No mannequins involved here – they had real ladies to work with, and the dress had to fit them perfectly. Tilly’s could have been gorgeous, but she didn’t quite get the right fit around the model’s ample bosom – such a shame. Sales manager Stuart came under fire for the ‘flow’ of the patterned material on his (although I would’ve been happy to wear it) and 35-year-old working mum Michelle’s reversable dress was a bit of a disaster: had she not chosen to work with silk, it may have been a different story. Mark’s was the biggest surprise of the day – despite a shaky start, he managed to pull a beautifully fitted, polka-dot panelled number out of the bag, which for a mechanic who has never made a dress before is no mean achievement.
I’d perhaps like to have seen more instructions for the lay sewer – for example, much was said about sewing invisible zips correctly, but we were still left a bit in the dark about how such a feat is achieved (but that’s what YouTube is for, right?). The show is doing a great job of demystifying sewing and, hopefully, will encourage a few would-be home dressmakers to take the plunge and have a go. And, as getting more people sewing and fewer folk buying fast fashion can only be a good thing, I’m all for DIY dressmakers getting a prime-time slot. After all, at least us lot at home won’t have the formidable May and Patrick judging their every stitch. I almost don’t even care who wins – I just can’t wait to see what sartorial delights they’ll make next week.