The Great British Sewing Bee, final review: 'I find myself filled with admiration as the threesome cheerfully impress'
I’d recruit a third judge, who would be fashion’s answer to Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay, says Sean O'Grady
If you’re not familiar with BBC2’s The Great British Sewing Bee just think of it as The Great British Bake Off, but with people making clothes rather than cakes. If you’re not familiar with the great British institution that is The Great British Bake Off, then I am afraid you no longer qualify for British citizenship and you are officially stateless: Or "The Great British Sod Off" as the Home Office terms it.
The other significant difference between The Great British Bake Off and Sewing Bee (I don’t suppose they could have got away with calling it “The Great British Clothes Off”) is that the host, Joe Lycett, the judges, Patrick Grant and Esme Young, and the contestants are even sweeter than their counterparts on Bake Off. I’d like to imagine this co-operative, friendly, caring world is what the rag trade is like for real, rather than, as we all know, it being a nexus of prima donna designers, developing world sweat shops and rapacious rob dog retailers. But I digress.
Juliet, Riccardo and Leah are the surviving finalists after some six weeks of knock-out frocking and shocking, and very stylish they are too. OK, Joe’s sequinned, multi-coloured cardigan and lilac nail polish leave everyone in the shade, so much so that his Bake Off rival Noel Fielding can’t rival Joe’s fashion statements. In a sense, then, Joe is a bit of a winner, taking over successfully from Claudia Winkleman, who presented the first four series of the show.
Being the final, the challenges were extraordinarily daunting, and, as someone who has trouble darning their socks neatly (a disappearing skill, I fear), I find myself filled with admiration as the threesome cheerfully went about impressing the judges and viewers alike.
They are invited to craft a traditional fully-lined shawl-collared double-breasted waistcoat from a pattern, a garment that might look at home on a “camp snooker player” as Joe remarks. This complicated technical challenge involves choosing appropriately matching and tasteful wool and silk, cutting 10 pieces of the cloth, 10 pieces of lining, adding faux pockets, and a whole load of darting, bagging out, interfacing and blocking, whatever those are.
Predictably, for anyone who has watched her progress from the start, Juliet won this round – and the series – for the simple reason that she is by far the best at the actual business of stitching the stuff. It was especially touching to learn that she had got into making clothes after she lost three stone in weight, which gave her the confidence in herself to experiment with her own styles. It shouldn’t be that way, of course, and the fashion industry guilt-shames women about their bodies, but Juliet’s journey is heart-warming, all the same.
Though Juliet was clearly the favourite, there was tension, as each of the three won a round. I don’t think that was a stitch-up, but it was certainly a convenient turn of events for the programme’s producers.
Leah and Riccardo could have been winners too, and we see that they can be even more creative than Juliet, but they lack her unflappable cool, and find themselves a little too prone to silly mistakes.
Riccardo does open his scissors and shows his class when he manages to make a jellyfish-themed gown from some old net curtains (an oblique protest about climate change, you see). He even bypassed the show’s well-stocked haberdashery store and nipped out to a plumbers’ merchants to get some cabling to give his gown that essential hydrozoan quality. It wasn’t quite enough though.
Leah was just too scatty. She cannot believe she is in the final having suffered “a couple of brain farts along the way”, and, sorry to say, her mental flatulence continued in this round. When Leah forgot what she was doing in the waistcoat round, Patrick, master tailor of Savile Row, kindly put her right before it was too late, and all the way through we see the contestants help each other from their fashion faux pas.
I wonder, though, the friendly atmosphere is being taken a little too far. If I were commissioning another series of Sewing Bee I’d recruit a third judge, who would be fashion’s answer to Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay, the sort of screaming potty-mouthed monster who’d rip any lame creations to shreds, literally and metaphorically. Basically I’d like to see a bit more mental cruelty. Sew a button that.