Friday, 5 April 2013

Tick Tock

This week on BBC we were all treated to the Great British Sewing Bee (Tuesday 8.00pm) - an elimination contest of sewing your own clothes - not designing like Project Runway - but picking a pattern, fabric, notions and making something within a time limit. Then the public scrutiny of your work either on a mannequin or a real live model. And every week one or two contestants are sent home.

BBC iplayer link here. I don't know if this works beyond the boundaries of the UK so I've added a Youtube link here.

There's also a great article in the Telegraph here, that tells you a bit more about the contestants and the judges.

In typical British style the show is not flashy, it's made on a budget but there is something homely and comforting about The Sewing Room and the poor contestants have to have their coffee in the Cafe across the road - like the BBC couldn't provide food and drink! The British contestants have all become friends and there's no bitchiness or slyness, no off-camera comments about each other. Each one is modest about their sewing abilities - refreshing after the narcissism of Project Runway.

You may recognise one or two of the contestants too:
Tilly, from Tilly and buttons,
Ann Rowley from Stitchers Guild

First challenge was to make an A-line skirt in 3 and half hours: everyone had the same pattern but they had to choose fabric from an astounding built-in haberdashery wall, cut and sew, included the insertion of the dreaded invisible zip. If there was any time left, they could then 'personalise' their skirt.

They then had one hour in which to re-fashion the neckline of a white cotton top.

Finally, the biggy of the week was to make a day dress, perfectly fitted to a real live size 12 person in 7 hours. Each contestant choose their own pattern and fabric and had time to practice at home first, but the model was only available on the day.

Sitting on my sofa watching the show, I began to think about how long things take to do.

I've never worked to a deadline in sewing - to me that's the kiss of death. Making something for an upcoming event or occasion puts undue pressure on the completion inevitably leading to mistakes and poor construction. Sewing is about taking your time and doing a bit now and again for the pleasure and fun of it. If the dress is finished in time to wear to the theatre, then that's a bonus, but not a pre-requisite in my sewing world. This may explain my growing disillusionment with SWAP, as the deadline of end of April is fast approaching.

But, if faced with the challenge of 'doing' something within a time frame, how many of you know how long things take?

There are some things I do know about my sewing.....

This takes me one hour, from cutting out to wearing.

This takes 100+ hours ( I only know this because I've documented it before)

Sometimes, it takes me days just to pick a fabric........and then I change my mind about the pattern......
Just selecting buttons is a Herculean task for me.

But we all know that one mistake can hold up the whole process by hours - ripping out, picking out all the little thread ends, re-cutting, re-sewing, pressing. Also sewing at home has all sorts of other distractions and rarely do we get 7 straight hours to only sew. One of the judges Patrick Grant is a Saville Row tailor (and lovely to look at BTW) who produces bespoke suits - but only 300 a year!  

Part of sewing for yourself is the pleasure of slip-stitching a hem - not machining it; to change your mind as you go along - add a lining, different buttons, shorten etc; and there is design involved too. Choosing fabric and notions to match a pattern and your body shape are all part of the process. Being forced to work within a time limit obviously restricts all this.

It's easy to sit at home, watch this show and shout at the TV -
"That zip is way worse than my efforts!",
"Look at the state of that hemline!",
"Awful fabric - it'll never work!"
"Cut the threads off that would you?"
"Why didn't anyone just make a jersey wrap dress?"
"Don't do that - it's too complicated!"

Watch the show and all these will make sense to you.

But if you had to....

How long does it take you to insert a zip?
Previously bad examples of my zip insertion , without time pressure!

How long would you need to sew an A-line skirt, hemmed and ready to wear? (and lined!)

What could you produce in a glorious seven dedicated hours from the sewing room?


  1. I too loved the programme.... and watched it again with my daughters. We all have more ideas to try as a result too.

    As for sewing to a deadline.. well I'd need months not hours to complete a project! My dress is a case in point! - but I hope to have a post up TODAY announcing it's completion!

    We will definitely be tuning in next week.... but I'll not try any deadlines for myself! ;)

  2. I was able to watch the first episode Down Under via You Tube! It takes me 7 hours to google and blog stalk for ideas, let alone grabbing fabric, trims and producing a garment ...

  3. Hi, yes I agree, time pressure is a killer for sewing - perhaps because there are enough time pressures from other activities, and sewing is my way of enjoying myself. I guess anything that becomes more of a have to or a job with deadlines starts raising anxiety, especially when making something - different doing essays, or accounts or many other things where you don't have expectations of perfection, or a good result in mind. Mind you, for an experienced person, with the right equipment, 3 hours is all you need for a skirt. Most of us don't have that sort of experience under our belt and also have to keep relearning things because we don't have enough practice.

  4. I can make a Renfrew top in an afternoon, and trousers in a day ( not counting fitting! HA!!) Neither of those is counting choosing the fabric, buttons matching lining etc.
    I am under time pressure at the moment as I have to make a Mother of the Groom outfit for 8th June. I have been dealing with this by making irrelevant garments and taking two months to choose the pattern and another two months to find the fabric. Finally I may cut into fabric this afternoon.

    I agree about relearning things every time.

  5. I can't make a lot in 7 hours, thats for sure... especially because I can get restless and need tea breaks!!

    I am an hour on, half an hour off sewer!

    Bundana @

  6. I think the time restraints are the most unnerving part of the show, even more so than the eliminations!

  7. I loved the programme and really felt for the contestants sewing to a deadline - I would be hopeless and make more mistakes. I can take a couple of hours picking a pattern much less anything else. And often (OK - always!) have several things on the go because I might be in the mood for cutting out or quilting etc and then only finish several things at once when I'm in the right frame of mind for hemming. I rarely work on one project from start to finish - although it's very satisfying when I manage it! :)

  8. Loved the show. Although it doesn't air in the US, it is on YouTube. I couldn't work in that environment, in a time frame with people watching over me and all the distractions in the room. So glad to see AnnRowley holding her own among the younger contestants.

  9. Thanks for posting this! I had no idea this was on...and I'm delighted that Ann is in the group! I would not want to be in any kind of competition with her...but I sure would love to hang around and watch her sew! I may have to go You Tubeing... ;-)

  10. I know the answer to this! The skirt - 3 pots of coffee. Seven hours in the sewing room - one cut out dress or pants or blouse, new bobbin and machine thread in place, and 2 1/2 movies viewed on the Loft tube!

    I so wish we got this program in the states...thks for the links, will give them a go.

  11. I loved the show and sympathize with everyone on the show because I am experiencing my own deadline at the moment and I don't really like it - it does put you under so much pressure. Still hopefully I will have approximately 5 weeks (2 of which I'll be off work) to ensure I finish my project (fingers crossed). Because we are able to change things alter things to match ideas or concepts it does add to the problem. I wish for my dress I was just copying something straight from the envelope and the only problems was a fitting one. But then that wouldn't be me!

  12. I loved the show! Watched it on YouTube and the quality was perfect. But I have to admit that I was shouting at the computer about sewing the skirt in 3.5 hours. I definitely do that now because I have limited time to sew especially since there was no fitting involved. I loved how invisible everything was in Ann's skirt, she really picked THE perfect fabric and if she had lined it, she would have beat the actual winner of the challenge. As you can tell Ann is my favorite but that's because I have so much respect for her talent!

    I could write a book because I truly loved the episode and hope the additional ones will show up on YouTube. I loved that it was ALL about sewing and the home sewist. I loved the challenges. They were real, everyday issues sewists feature. I have my personal top 3 and can't wait to see who the actual top three are...which of course means I'm dying to see more episodes!

    BTW, I have to hand it to all the contestants because as much as I like to sew, I would never have tried out for that kind of program!!!

  13. I hate doing anything under pressure or when anybody is watching! Can't imagine a more uncomfortable way to sew. I much prefer to take my time and do a good job, especially with the fitting which for me is the most time-consuming part of sewing anything. (Commercial patterns are nowhere near my personal body shape.) As an "oldie-but-goodie" myself I'm glad to see Ann in the lineup anyway! And men as well which creates a nice cross-section of participants. Maybe it will help gain a higher profile for home sewing and a better appreciation for how much work and skill goes into making your own clothes.

  14. Thank you so very, very much for posting the link to YouTube! When I first read about this brand new actual sewing show I was bummed since I live in the US. I was so thrilled today reading your blog and am in the middle of the episode right now. Please keep those links to the show going!


  15. I am slow at everything, and sewing is no exception, so I also thought time pressure was a killer for my sewing mojo. But then I made my Christopher Kane knock-off in a short week and I was so surprised that I've been pushing myself lately to see how quickly I can sew other things. I'm getting to know myself a little more and realizing that I can have "multiple modes". But my favorite mode is still what you describe: taking my time and enjoying the process.

  16. First of all, I have got to watch this show. From all that I've read, it sounds wonderful. I participated in a Project Runway type competition called Passion For Fashion. It is very easy to be critical when you are not under the gun. I now understand why it is so easy to make mistakes of all sorts when you are in this type of situation.

  17. AlaskapsychApril 06, 2013

    What could I produce in 7 glorious hours in the sewing room? Probably not that much, but I'd enjoy it.

  18. Oh gawd, I LOVE this! Thanks so much for the YouTube link. So very nerdish, the breaking down of the minutiae is each construction step - just up my alley. While I think I could do the lined A-line skirt in three hours, I know I couldn't either with someone watching over my shoulder or on camera. I'm skittish enough as it is!