Review - A seamlessly brilliant stitch-up
Hurrah! Into the gap left by The Great British Bake Off comes Great British Sewing Bee. It is different for two reasons: the lack of the definite article and the use of needles in place of icing nozzles.
It also involves more teachers. May Martin, one of the judges, has been one for 40 years, teaching sewing at secondary schools and, more recently, to adults. And contestant Ann was also a teacher, albeit a long time ago. Ann is 81 and gave up work as a domestic science teacher in order to marry and raise children. And also to sew.
That, after all, is the point of the new BBC Two series: to showcase the needle skills of talented amateurs. In each episode they face three challenges over the course of 48 hours. Just like Bake Off, but less edible.
The first challenge of the second episode is to make a pair of men's trousers. Instead of soggy bottoms, the judges will be looking for saggy bottoms.
"Can I make red trousers for a man?" asks Ann. "Men can wear red trousers these days, can't they?" Ann is very good: unlike most of the other contestants, she gives her trousers a fly. When the sewers are ranked for their trouser-work, she comes top. "It's a real morale boost, I must admit," she says.
Such quiet modesty is the real charm of Sewing Bee. Contestant Stuart talks about the "amazing opportunity" the programme has given him. He is not a teacher, but I like him anyway.
Stuart comes into his own in the next challenge, which involves adding pockets to an A-line skirt. While Ann goes for a safe option, Stuart comes up with an elaborate design involving flower stems that blossom into a pair of tulip pockets. "Quirky and fun," the judges say, before naming his skirt Garment of the Week. Yes. This programme has a garment of the week. It really does get better and better.
Finally, contestants are given six hours to make a blouse out of silk or satin. "The fabric, rather than the pattern, is the challenge today," Ann says. She is making a cerise blouse, from a new pattern. "I never, ever make the same thing twice," she says. "I find it boring."
It is Stuart's blouse, however, that divides the judges. "I just think he's an amazing improver," May says, wanting to give him full marks for effort. "For me, it's not about choosing the best improver," Patrick, the other judge, says. He is not a teacher.
Ultimately, however, both Stuart and Ann are safe for another week. "It's a big shock that it wasn't me," Stuart says. Bless him. Ann has not taught for a very long time. Would it be very disloyal to hope that Stuart wins instead?
Great British Sewing Bee, BBC Two, Tuesdays at 8pm.