The Great British Sewing Bee – People Who Care


So, it’s four days since the first episode went live of The Great British Sewing Bee. I know this, because I also know that it is three full days until I can sit down and watch the next one. Obsessed, moi?

Did any of you watch it? Did you manage not to scream, yelp, swoon, cringe or give the side eye to anyone who dared speak in your vicinity? I definitely did all of the above! I loved watching the programme. Not only because of the obvious excitement of seeing Tilly on there, but also because I was really keen to see the other contestants. I was thrilled beyond words that the producers had chosen people from a range of ages, regional locations and social classes. Yes, the more cynical amongst us could call out ‘Tokenism!’. But if tokenism means that I get to watch the MAGNIFICENT 81-year-old Ann sewing calmly in the face of terrifying pressure, then bring it on. (You can see a run down of all the contestants here.) Could you sew anything decent in the face of that pressure? I couldn’t!


I was also really keen to see how sewing translated on the telly, compared to The Great British Bake Off. Now, I’m gonna say – I think baking is more universally transparent. I can’t bake a pavlova, but I’ve seen an egg and I know how to beat it! Sewing vocabulary and experience is something else altogether. Bias binding? What’s that, then? I heard several questions around me during the first episode and it reminded me afresh how alien sewing is when you have no or little knowledge.

Has The Great British Sewing Bee been good for any of us? Will it be kind to the contestants in their futures? Too soon to say. Or is it? Let’s be vulgar for a moment – I’ve seen my blog stats shoot up since that first episode. My Apronalong blog post on making bias binding became suddenly popular. I couldn’t work this out, until I remembered how Lauren had used bias binding in the programme. Hmmm. Someone out there is interested, I thought. And they’re Googling.

Now, on one level who gives a fig about blog statistics or randomly popular posts? But let’s scratch that surface, shall we? The world around us just became incrementally more friendly and open to sewing. Good for them, because they’re about to enter a community that is the benchmark of friendly and open. If I had to choose someone to care for me in my dotage, I’d ask if they’d ever picked up a needle. Tells you a lot about a person.

The one thing that both baking and sewing have in common is heart. You’ve gotta care to sit there, hand sewing some flipping wool bias binding to the edge of a jacket. No one with a dead soul ever made a dress from lobster print cotton. And certainly, no one poured hours and hours of their spare time into an educational and inspirational blog without really wanting to do something for other people.

The Great British Sewing Bee has ticked all the boxes in my book and I couldn’t care less what the ratings are, who wins or if it’s re-commissioned. I care deeply that the rest of the UK and, hopefully the world, receives a glimpse into the world of creativity and caring that we all get to take for granted. Lucky, lucky us.

Oh. And I really want to snog Patrick.

STOP PRESS! For a Great British Sewing Bee giveaway of giveaways, come back here on Friday 12 April…

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74 Responses to The Great British Sewing Bee – People Who Care

  1. Sally says:

    Yup! I loved the Sewing Bee and can’t wait for the next one…. and as you say if more folks are encouraged to sew so much the better. I wonder how many tuned in? It seems to have been well received on the various forums I visit. I’m hoping they’ll do trousers next time.. I haven’t tried trousers yet and want inspiration. πŸ™‚

  2. Here, here. I count myself as one of the lucky people – My Mother taught me to sew at the age of about 11 and I have never looked back. I think there will be a sudden increased interest in tailoring. I look forward to the Saturday Sewing Room – Live programme.

  3. Miriana says:

    Does Patrick snog girls?

  4. Carolyn says:

    Ummm I’m sorry but March 12th has passed…maybe you mean Friday, April 12th?

  5. Stevie says:

    Oh man I have massive love for Patrick. I don’t care which team he bats for! πŸ˜› I really enjoyed it but I wasn’t sure about the location. I thought a tent in a National Trust Style Estate would have been better than the location they chose but still x

  6. Sassy T says:

    Like I said on twitter I have just watched the repeat whilst creating some bias binding. Think I will do this on a regular basis, felt like I was in a sewing group lol.

  7. Charlie says:

    I loved it too! I’ve just watched it for the second time whilst hand sewing binding on to a quilt. Perfect Saturday afternoon!

  8. joanfrankham says:

    Have to watch it, after reading your blog and the comments..

  9. Liz says:

    I had a lovely chat with a colleague about the existence of bias binding makers on Wednesday morning πŸ™‚

  10. Sewingjen says:

    Yes bias binding really has started something, I have a technique to make bias froma very small straight strip which I learned from a lovely patchwork lady years ago, who has sadly now died . I do still credit her with the technique when I teach it, and if I ever learn or dare to start a blog I will share it. You are really getting giddy knot knowing your March from your April Karen!!

  11. ellecsews says:

    This sounds like so much fun. Has anyone in Canada been able to watch it? Anyone? If you can figure out a way around the BBC blocking viewers from outside the UK, I would be eternally grateful for instructions. Please…….

  12. Tilly says:

    What an awesome post, Karen! The show is certainly doing wonders for sewing. I’ve had loads of emails from people saying that their fabric shop/sewing machine shop/sewing classes got a sudden spurt of interest. I even got an email from a lady saying that my mention of “Swedish tracing paper” led to her selling out! How cool is that?? x

  13. Gjeometry says:

    I watched the first episode and loved it! I like how they explained sewing terms and techniques and had various challenges for the participants. Makes your own hobby / interest seem more important, when people are discussing it on screen! Can’t wait for the next episode. πŸ™‚

  14. franceparijs says:

    Brilliant post! Alas, I do not live in the UK so no Sewing Bees for me…

    Your post left me pondering… Consumption society has it that things are meant to disposable and easily replaceable. And it has cut that special link that men has when s/he makes its own tools and materials. Is is too far to assume that this absence of link with things influences the way we relate and behave towards each other? I wonder. Anyway, I do agree with Stanley Kunitz when he says “The universe is a continuous web. Touch it at any point and the whole web quivers.”

    But there is hope… the sewing community is here and it is thriving!

  15. Ruth says:

    I agree with all you say, apart from the snogging! But I do really, really appreciate the polite, constructive feedbackand the camaraderie. I absolutely hate the nasty, snarky, bootcamp approach of most reality TV, and it would be so inappropriate to our art! I do hope it stays like this – friendly and well-mannered.

  16. Jenny says:

    I am loving the show too. I love that it is real people and real clothes and not star sewers with weird fashion clothes. I would never be able to sew under that pressure and I’d be afraid to never want to sew againg after being critisized and eliminated. After only 1 episode I will say that Ann should win. She seemed very calm and has tons of experience.

  17. Becky says:

    Since I am in the States I will have to watch the first episode on youtube (hooray), and I hope that someone keeps uploading them. Who wouldn’t want to snog Patrick?! I mean, come on! I think it is so cool that sewing is beginning to catch on with greater numbers of people. Maybe it will improve the accessibility of quality fabric and notions.

  18. Petra says:

    Lovely post! It’s the most exciting times. My boss is bringing me newspaper cuttings about how to sew on buttons. People ask how I’ve inserted zips on my clothes, they’ve actually become curious. Bee is such a perfect name, it sure is creating a buzz!

  19. alexandracuckoo says:

    Yeah, I made the Mister turn off the Xbox so I could watch it! I was so excited! My HOBBY was on telly! SO excited! Patrick was cute, and Tilly was.. well TILLY! But I thought Ann was so amazing! I only hope that I can one day be as amazing as her!

  20. Marianne says:

    Such a lot of lessons to be learned from that first show! My daughter, who started sewing recently, was excited when she called me on Wednesday to share her new sewing insights. “Stay calm, choose your fabrics right and don’t be over ambitious. It’s better to keep it simple and make your project a success.” Yup, just what I was telling her again and again. It took only one episode of the Sewing Bee to bring all these messages across. Hallelujah!

  21. Teri says:

    I just watched it on Youtube. So glad someone uploaded it for those of us across the pond. I really enjoyed it and want to be Ann when I grow up!

  22. liza jane says:

    “If I had to choose someone to care for me in my dotage, I’d ask if they’d ever picked up a needle.”

    Love this quote. And so true! I think I’ll have to remember this in my old age!!

  23. Gaylene says:

    I have never loved facial hair more…..Patrick, obvs!

  24. Alice says:

    oh my goodness I LOVED the programme, can’t wait for episode two. I’d like to do more than snog Patrick, I have never seen such an impeccable tweed suit/facial hair combination ha! πŸ™‚

  25. Joanne says:

    absolutely loved it to although I’d love to know how much it has inspired non sewers to pick up a needle. I guess your blog stats tell us something about that! I had an hour long conversation with my mum about it {who doesn’t sew at all} and she adored it, especially the glorious 81 year old.

  26. Oh no! I just tried to view this series but can’t because I live in Australia! I was sooo fired up after reading your post. Hopefully we’ll get to see it out here before too long. Meantime, I’ll view vicariously……you will keep posting about it, won’t you? Please?

    • Vicki says:

      Hi pomegranateandchintz – not sure if you will come back here and see this but I watched it yesterday on Youtube (i’m in Australia)- just search The Great British Sewing Bee

    • Julia Bobbin posted this and I’ve watched it, which is amazing (for some reason, even videos that are meant to play here Down Under rarely do for me, so this was a treasure in more ways than one). Fantastic. And, yeah, I add to the chorus regarding the desirability of finding Patrick in one’s fabric stash. πŸ˜‰

  27. Vicki says:

    Watched it yesterday on Youtube all on my own uninterrupted! Loved it. I was cheering for Ann as I have “met” her via Stitches Guild. Great show, can’t wait till the next episode.

  28. I’m so glad I’m a member of Artisan’s Square and had the benefit of Ann Rowley’s wonderful advice there. The site pointed out Sewing Bee just before it aired and gave us all the links!

  29. Bec Stitches says:

    Hmm interesting, I didn’t really think about a tv show causing an impact like that:) its true that the community is friendly/lovely souls tho.. I don’t think I’m come across a nasty/critical person yet!

  30. Suzanne says:

    I just watched it here in the States on YouTube. Love Ann and Tilly!

  31. sewamysew says:

    I think Patrick might be the most handsome man I HAVE EVER SEEN!! I couldn’t get over it! Must start listening to what he says instead of just watching his mouth moving and day dreaming about being with him on an island holiday somewhere.

  32. Anne-Marie says:

    Thank you for this lovely post Karen! And thank you for the person who posted episode 1 on youtube so that I could watch it here in New Zealand – I loved it; such a change from all the cooking and baking contests (which I also like but there are so many of those). I look forward to episode 2.

  33. Nikki says:

    I really enjoyed it and so did my mum, who is now thinking about uncovering her sewing machine after years of non use (her first job was making kids clothes for Ladybird and she used to make our summer clothes when we were young). I’m with the majority on Patrick and when it comes to sewing, Mark is on my wave length. I did consider for all of a few seconds about applying, but I didn’t want my love of sewing to be dampened by pressure and tbh there is no way I could meet their sewing deadlines, I’m just too slow.

  34. Debi says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one counting down days to the next episode….I’ve already gone online and watched all the extra clips on the bbc2 page (lots of fun!). And I couldn’t agree with you more about our community!!!

  35. ginny says:

    love your post and i couldn’t agree more! i have been lucky to sew as a job thorough all my adult working life, firstly making coitumes now teaching others to sew. Through it i have met so many caring, sharing & amazing people.I thought the program got it just right. Plenty to inspire those new to sewing and with great attention to technical detail & explanation too.
    Ann is inspirational on so many levels… a real advert for the benefits of yoga too, now where is my yoga mat?!
    Ginny x

  36. Marie says:

    Join the queue for snogging Patrick, Karen! And you’re spot on with your review – no matter how successful the programme ends up being it’s still giving a lot of people a glimpse into our world! Interestingly, I was at my last of four pattern drafting classes yesterday and the shop associated with the school has never been busier. It was bustling all day because people had watched the programme and now wanted to learn how to show. Fantastic, eh!!!

  37. AnotherKaren says:

    I popped into a craft shop for some machine needles and there were a mother and teenage daughter gathered around a sewing machine as the proprietor scratched his head. The machine was a old Bernina that had been dusted off after the Sewing Bee, but it was making a right old dog’s dinner of a seam and the customers wanted him to fix it. God only knows what his qualifications were, but from his analysis of the problem I thought he should not be allowed anywhere near this lovely old lady.

    I hovered – as you do – and winced as he said that he would adjust the bobbin tension. When he left to look up the manual online (eek!) I sidled up to the women, eaxamined the seam in more detail, and whispered that it needed a service, a change of needle, and appropriate thread – that’s all. Forty five quid would be well spent and there were quite a few Bernina specialists in the area. I made a quick exit (after paying for my needles) as the women were packing away the old lady and your man appeared wielding a couple of screwdrivers. The point is ………. how did I know all that stuff? This time 18 months ago I just about knew what a bobbin was – and now I’m a know all? I hope that Bernina is given a makeover and put to good use.

  38. sewmanju says:

    Here here Karen. I, like you, and apparently a couple of other million people was glued to the tv on Tuesday. All the contestants were great but Ann was brill! This week I met up with an old friend and she said I had inspired her to buy a sewing machine and start sewing!!!! Wow. Hopefully the sewing bee will do likewise for others…

  39. I was able to catch it on BBC online, before Hola unblocker stopped working. It was SO inspirational! I love that the contestants are real people, not, as we call them here in the US, “fame whores” who are more interested in stabbing each other in the back than in producing a good result (I’m looking at YOU, Project Runway). The whole idea is wonderful, and I hope it catches on beyond the wildest hopes of its producers. And yes, Patrick is definitely snog-worthy, even to this old married lady!

  40. Thanks for the link, Karen, and what a lovely write-up of the show! It’s good to see sewing being showcased on the TV but my reservation is that the timed challenges, while introducing tension and everything, are pretty stressful. I have had people telling me it’s inspired them to sew, but a few others telling me that it put them off! Still though, it is good to see sewing getting some exposure that’s not ridiculously twee territory!

  41. Karla says:

    This program has an enthusiastic following in the US. Most of us have had to watch it on youtube, but that just gives us the opportunity to replay it as many times as we want. Ann is a generous participant on and contributor to a sewing website called (Artisan’s Square/Stitcher’s Guild) and her lovely manner and incomparable expertise has made her a favorite there. Her celebrity status on that website (she will be too modest to agree) led many of us to watch this new show, and we’re hooked! Best wishes, thanks and congratulations to all the contestants. What a lovely group of people introducing and promoting sewing worldwide.

  42. Rochelle New says:

    I saw the first episode on youtube and LOVED it! I think the general exposure for sewing is awesome, and I especially love that (unlike Project Runway) they picked “normal” everyday people who just enjoy sewing. They’re not all fashion design majors from FIT. I also agree that’s it’s great they picked a wide range of ages, backgrounds, etc. I can’t wait to see more of the show! And of course, GO TILLY!!

  43. Rachel Pinheiro says:

    Ohh who doesn’t want snog Patrick… I’m next in the queue…

  44. Great post, cant wait for part 2 of the show. Love that the show is raising the profile of sewing!

  45. piakdy says:

    I wonder how Patrick feels about becoming the pin up boy (or is that center fold or pg 3 boy) for the home sewing community. Lol. Glad to see a couple of blokes amongst the contestants too. Wouldn’t have suspected a HGV mechanic to be sewing on the side. Looking forward to the next episode.

  46. Ok…I am so far the only one who doesn’t fancy Patrick (must be his beard…sorry!)…but I still loved the show and ‘meeting’ the contestants. I really hope this program will give sewing a boost…in other countries too!

  47. Kbenco says:

    The show is great. I think you are already an admirer of Ann Rowley’s work, as when I sent you a link to her Flickr photo tutorial on tailored sleeve insertion a few months ago, you replied with interest in her technique. If you look her up on Flickr – she posts under her name-, you can see a lot of her amazing garments and sewing tutorials. These tutorials and her posts at Artisian Square’s Stitchers Guild forum( as several people have mentioned in earlier comments) have been a great help to many people, she is a most generous lady.

  48. Paola says:

    I want to be Ann when I grow up. Not only does she sew beautifully, she does hanging Sirsasana.

  49. Oh I really loved watching it! It really made me want to get sewing afterwards (even though I sew all the time anyway!) so hopefully it’s working on non-sewers too!

  50. Leila says:

    I got to see it on YouTube. It’s so fun…and stressful but I do agree with other commenters that it’s nice to not have all the catty remarks you see on most reality shows. I’ve grown so tired of Project Runway because it’s not about the sewing, really. If it doesn’t show up on the runway, it’s okay apparently. But with the Sewing Bee, they inspect everything up close and…yeah, I couldn’t do that so I’m admiring those brave enough to be on the show.

  51. JanetB says:

    Anything that gets my 12 year old daughter interested in sewing is wonderful in my book. We both thoroughly enjoyed watching it and were off buying fabric for cushions for her room the next day – they’re on the way and we are now thinking pj’s. After seeing Ann hanging upside down, my dd has developed a disconcerting habit of sticking her legs up in the air to let some fresh blood get to her brain! Can’t wait for the next episode on Tuesday – shame anyone had to leave in the first episode.

  52. soisewedthis says:

    I really want to watch it (and the bake off series), just need to figure out where to watch it on the internet, guess i’ll have to check youtube! If they do a second season, you should be a contestant πŸ˜‰

  53. Totally agree that the range of contestants is a huge plus! I think the show challenges ideas about sewing as a musty, irrelevant skill, and if that’s all it does then that’s massive. Interesting to hear your comments and others about it already generating a buzz with extra hits/excursions to haberdashers.

  54. Lisa says:

    I LOOOOOVED it! I could only see it on YouTube, since we don’t get it here in the US (yet??), and I hope they have more episodes on youtube again! I’m addicted! THIS is why I like British TV better than American TV. In the US, they would NEVER have something like this–we just have STUPID Project Runway which has jumped the shark. And they would NEVER have actual SEWING challenges and have contestants from such varied backgrounds!! I LOVE IT!!

  55. Totally agree. Loved the GBSB – it has even inspired me to write a few posts to help get beginners started! x

  56. Pingback: Sewing for Grownups | flossie jamieson

  57. Nessa says:

    Oh Karen! Just wanted you to read the response Ann Rowley wrote about this post of yours!
    Someone sent her the link to this.
    She replied: “This is exactly the sort of response that I, and everyone involved with the programme, hoped to see. For all of us, as far as I can tell, it was the taking part that mattered – nothing to do with winning or losing.”
    Found it on aritsanssquare [,20443.210.html] at page 7 of the thread.

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