Charity shop visit for the ‘great sewing bees’

Wednesday: The Great British Sewing Bee; (BBC One, 9pm)

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 5:00 pm
Joe Lycett

Are TV companies in danger of over-using the Great British format?

We love a craft-based competition as much as anybody, but we now have The Great Pottery Throw Down, The Great British Interior Design Challenge, All That Glitters, Glow Up, Sewing Bee and, of course, the grandaddy of them all, The Great British Bake Off. What’s more, a photography version is in the offing, although The Big Painting Challenge seems to have fallen by the wayside.

There are probably a few we’ve forgotten too, and while all of them have their merits, it does make you wonder if TV companies are bothering to think of any other ideas when this one seems largely foolproof. The only problem will come when they can’t find a topic to shoehorn into it.

Not that we’re complaining really. Each show has brought viewers a lot of joy, with millions tuning in each week, admiring various skills and commiserating with the competitors when something goes wrong. You don’t even have to be an expert or plucky amateur to enjoy them either – and in some cases, the programmes have inspired people to take up a new hobby.

While Bake Off is the original and undoubtedly the most popular member of the family, Sewing Bee is certainly, at the very least, a favourite uncle, and yet it’s had a somewhat chequered history.

The first run took place in 2013, was presented by Claudia Winkleman and introduced the viewing public to WI tutor May Martin and Savile Row’s Patrick Grant, who served as judges. The line-up remained that way for the following two series, but a slightly longer break between series three and four made fans a little nervous – they worried it may have been axed. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, although when it returned, Martin had been replaced by Esme Young, co-founder of fashion label Swanky Modes and a tutor in pattern-cutting at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins art school.

In the years since, she’s turned out to be a real star. Funky and effortlessly cool, she has a razor-sharp wit and every now and then drops into conversation a revelation about her life, including an anecdote involving once watching the Notting Hill carnival alongside none other than David Bowie.

In 2019, Winkleman decided to quit, with Joe Lycett taking over presenting duties, leaving only Grant from the original presenting team. Thanks to his well-groomed looks and ability to run up a skirt (oo-er missus), he’s become something of a heartthrob, and the show just wouldn’t be the same without him.

Previous weeks have seen the sewers undertake challenges involving wardrobe staples, summer garments, menswear, global outfits and children’s clothes, but this time, as we reach the halfway stage, the emphasis is on recycling – or perhaps upcycling would be a better term.

All the haberdashery fabric is replaced with charity shop clothes and soft furnishings from which the competitors must make a gentleman’s waistcoat, change army surplus into a stylish woman’s garment and create a dress using old jeans.

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