The Great British Sewing Bee

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I am not a huge fan of The Great British Sewing Bee, mainly because it seems to revolve around speed sewing and making things from other things – ad nauseum. The characters – May Martin, the woman with the bangs and too much eye make up and Patrick are not that interesting. Of course the contestants are plucky, and generally great at making clothes, but I feel sorry for them. The pressure is relentless and it is hard to keep on churning out clothes, new ideas and perfect seams with the clock ticking. I have watched some episodes but I wouldn’t stay in for it.

So I was interested to get an email last week.

Hi Kate,

We are filming a short history film about the YSL Mondrian dress next week, as part of The Great British Sewing Bee for BBC.

I was wondering whether we might be able to borrow your YSL Mondrian pattern to film with! We would be filming in London Bridge on Monday.

Is this something you would consider? Any help you could give would be hugely appreciated.

Best wishes,


Researcher, The Great British Sewing Bee, Love Productions

Regular readers will know I made a dress, using YSL dress pattern V1556. This simple shift featured as part of YSL’s Mondrian collection, and three patterns appeared as Vogue Paris Originals; 1556 with sleeves, 1557 with a red half yoke, and 1567 – a  short sleeved black and white dress and coat. The catwalk collection included all these dresses, and a range of coats too, and the iconic five colour Mondrian dress. But the most famous of the lot was never released as a Vogue home sewing pattern.

When I decided to make my Mondrian dress I used V1556 (which I bought on the internet – V1557 wasn’t available). As you can above both V1556 and V1557 are based on the same shift dress block, with a yoke. The bust dart is cleverly concealed into the yoke seam. Simples. So I used this pattern to create my own “iconic” five colour dress by creating some style lines and working out the proportions.

I assumed that Helena was asking to borrow my dress.

I had been asked to lend it out before. I was flattered that Threads magazine wanted to feature it (after all Claire Shaeffer had admired it!) but I decided against sending my favourite dress to America. That summer I was wearing it frequently as I had made it to help celebrate Notting Hill’s 50th anniversary. Also I didn’t want to risk losing it in the post, despite promises to insure it and take it to the cleaners….

As the GBSB were making their film locally I agreed to help. I imagined Helena wearing my dress, skipping along London Bridge, as the cameras rolled. I responded:

Hi Helena

Yes. I assume mean the dress I made. If you look after it, that would be fine.

Best wishes


Helena came back

Thank you – but I did actually mean the actual pattern! Do you have one? And if you do, would we be able to film with it?

Thanks again, Helena

I began to wonder why Helena would want to film my V1556 pattern. So I responded.

You just mean Vogue 1556? This is not a pattern for the classic dress.

GBSB Researcher Helena clearly hadn’t done much research.

Ah no, I meant the pattern for the original YSL Mondrian dress from ’65. Thank you anyway, Helena

I believe the programme will be broadcast in May. Now we know that YSL’s iconic dress is being featured it will be interesting to see how it is dealt with.  So far all I have learned is that TV researchers use lots of exclamation marks in the hope of getting ordinary people to make an effort for them. In the meantime I continue to wear my unique and lovely dress, especially when I speak at events. It always makes an impact – whatever I have to say.


32 Responses

  1. Esme

    The shame… Ouch! Lawd ‘a mercy on this ‘researcher’!

    I also find the programme extremely boring. Additionally – Patrick is really not as suave as he reckons.

    More like this, please X

  2. Ruth Wilson

    I love your Mondrian dress! I think the sewing bee has run its course now, and should be stopped. It was good for raising the profile and general awareness of sewing. But like a lot of programmes on arts and crafts, gave a false impression of the time and effort that’s needed.

  3. Annieloveslinen

    Your dress would be my favourite of all the posts I’ve ever read, I think it’s the marriage of colour proportion, design and styling, it looks better on you than the model.

    Poor Helena, I bet she’s been scouring the Internet looking for a non- existent pattern. I have mixed feelings about GBSB, in its favour it has encouraged people to have a go at sewing, but I haven’t met any experienced sewers that like it, probably because people like Helena want a finished product rather than good execution. Style over substance, a bit like Patrick really.

  4. Anne

    I do enjoy GBSB though I am concerned that it gives a false impression of the time and effort required, as Ruth said, and I agree with you that there is too much remodelling for my taste. I will watch it, though I won’t stay in for it – glad we can record things and of course skip through… Patrick (whom I don’t like) is still there but there is a new presenter in May Martin’s place, so that might shake things up a little.
    I do feel a little sorry for Helena as that could have been my Helen – though I hope Helen would have done a bit more research!

  5. Zeddie

    Your version of the YSL Mondrian dress is lovely. I have always wondered where the darts in your dress are located. In your original post about the construction of the dress, you had referred to transferring the darts and the fact that your version is different from St. Laurent’s as yours has darts whereas his has the shaping built into the seams. I’ve looked closely and I don’t see any darts. Is it just the angle of the photos or the colour of the fabric which camouflages the darts? Are they french darts?

  6. Lizzie

    I appreciate your points but I think it is unfair to criticise Helena so openly. You have even added her photograph – is this neccessary? Perhaps there are too many exclamation marks but the tone of her emails is friendly and I don’t think she deserves to be ridiculed in this way.

    • fabrickated

      Yes you have a point too Lizzie – you may be right.

      I follow Helena on Twitter and she is fun, irreverent, stylish girl, with a great sense of humour who is was prepared to dress up as a squirrel on the Junior Great British Bake Off. Her picture in this post is from her LinkedIn profile.

  7. Wendy Ward

    Oh dear, poor Helena. Quite an amusing story though!! Maybe it gave her a little insight into the reality and “non immediacy” of our little world; you worked hard to create that dress, it didn’t just come out of a packet.
    Thanks for sharing and entertaining us. I was screen-tested for the new judge role and your account here has a lot of similarities to that experience.

  8. Linde

    I would not give them a second thought and I am sorry to say that any more of my comments about them are not printable. I absolutely love your dress and doubt if I would attempt do achieve to sew it as well as you have done.

  9. Linde

    I forgot to say that if the presenters of this silly programme are so great why doesn’t one of them ‘throw’ a pattern together for this frock surely it would only take them an hour???

  10. Kristy

    I love your reply and this post! Clearly they thought that you would be so awe struck by the OMG Sewing Bee that you would do anything for them!

  11. jay

    Great story! There is to be a different presenter, instead of May, I believe. I have watched The Sewing Bee, probably most of it. It has been the only sewing related tv. I share the dislike of the rush rush rush. I feel like something of a dinosaur, being out of sympathy with so much produced for television.( Not really interested in seeing people being driven to the edge, having disputes, airing dirty linen in public, or competing for silly, unrealistic challenges.) I like my entertainment either amusing, or informative, or at least relaxing. An unflashy, non gimmicky series on sewing techniques would be nice – no I’m dreaming, it wouldn’t get the ratings.

  12. Mary Funt

    I also watch GBSB here in the US via Internet. I agree with the rest of you that the emphasis is on working fast with little regard for the quality; not something I’m interested in. I think Helena was just trying to track down sources and that’s her job. I don’t know if those living in the UK watch Project Runway but I dislike it for the same reasons. Also some of the projects are ridiculous like making a dress from supplies at the pet or hardware store.
    Your Mondrian dress looks fabulous. I wouldn’t risk losing it either!

  13. Hélène

    While I dislike reality shows in general, this one is special and I really enjoy watching it. I enjoy the sense of humour of the witty lady with too much eyeliner. Patrick is handsome and the master sewist reminds me of my mother. I see the whole thing as a game/challenge. The participants are nice and get to become friends as the episodes go on. I love that friendly feel that reflects the internet sewing community.

  14. SunGold

    I’m the odd woman out here, but I love the GBSB! (yes, with an exclamation point!) Sure, there’s a rush on, and I don’t aspire to create a new look in a day, but – unlike the many Project Runway shows – people are sewing. It’s not about the drama, it’s not about the hair, makeup and styling, it’s about the entire process from selecting fabric to completing a garment.

    I have tremendous respect and admiration for the participants and I love their diversity. Experience wins over flash, and I was joyful that 81-year-old Ann Rowley won the first round. 75 years of sewing – who doesn’t love that?

    So, yes, a funny story about the pattern, but I’ll be watching and cheering as Great Britain sews!

  15. Sew2pro

    I’m really enjoying the GBSB backlash here (finally)! I can imagine how builders, painters and decorators must ‘ave felt when a decade or two ago there was a spate of makeover programmes all promising almost instant transformations of homes. I wonder if these trades felt it devalued their experience and craft.

    Your dress is wonderful and I’ve never even asked you about it. How I wonder did you capture the colours so well in your fabric search? I should imagine it’s something that would be easy to get slightly off.

    • fabrickated

      The original dress is made in double wool jersey which is very expensive and I rejected it as the white was too yellowy for me. I decided to make the dress in linen instead and found a good weighty French linen in white, dark navy (which I chose rather than black), red and blue at Misan in Berwick Street. The colours were effectively primary colours, and therefore easy to match with the original Mondrian painting. The linen was not stocked in primary yellow. However they did have a slightly heavier linen available with some stretch in it, which actually worked fine for the hem section.

      The photograph of the YSL dress above is a remake and I think they did get the blue slightly off – it’s a bit too light I think.

  16. SJ Kurtz

    I think the first pattern I drafted was for a Mondrian dress.
    I hadn’t thought of the GBSB as a clone of the home remodeling programs, but it does follow something I have noticed in my world: more elaborate alteration requests.
    When we were getting our house remodeled, my contractor commented that the remodeling shows had made his clients ask for more stuff than they used to. A process they hadn’t thought about had made them micromanage his (and yet inflate their receipts with requests and amendments they thought would save them money). The result was, each one of his jobs always billed 20% over the original worse case budget. “The more you think you know, the more expensive this gets”. Which shut me right up.
    Say Yes to the Dress, Project Runway, and online the Refashioners are driving more alteration business my way. Thanks! My contractor was right!

  17. mrsmole

    So glad you got to keep your dress as garments do get mangled when given to even reputable people/judges. I have seen coffee spilled on samples, ball point pen marks and broken zippers when someone decided they might just fit into your dress and no-one-would-notice. I watch the Sewing Bee just to see Claudia Winkleman and her bangs/fringe covering her eyes asking the most stupid questions of each contestant and then being gobsmacked at their serious answers…she knows nothing about sewing and should be replaced. If racing through sewing techniques and shoddy results is what they think the viewing audience is tuned in for…well that is what they get. The same for Project Runway…rush rush and no need to finish the insides…slap it on a mannequin or skinny model and hope her boobs don’t escape. It’s entertainment, not real sewing.

  18. Aileen

    I have to say I agree with Lizzie. Your comments were a bit personal and came across as very snooty about what is basically a bit of entertainment which I happen to thoroughly enjoy.

    • fabrickated

      Of course Aileen! I appreciate why it is popular, and sewing on TV is a good thing, right?, although I understand the programme is evolving as hobby sewing evolves in the UK. Thank you for commenting.

  19. Chris

    I have mixed feelings about the GBSB -I was glad when Ann Rowley won the first series, and that it showed sewing a dress took longer than an hour or two,and requires skill. I also like that it introduced sewing to new people….but it introduced people like Tilly to the unsuspecting public. New sewers are now just another demographic to be marketed to.

  20. Kim Hood

    Perhaps a bit more research would have saved Helena some embarrassment. It wouldn’t have taken too much time to read your original post and find out that you had adapted another pattern. It would have been good for more people to have been able to see just what is possible when you put the time and effort into a special garment – but not enough to risk damage to your dress or create a pattern just for them (unless they want to pay for your services at a sensible rate).

  21. talliswoman

    So pleased to see that your Mondrian dress predated the GBSB! I share your reservations about the show, but I watched it anyway, and I was very pleased that Ann won.

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