Written by Cath Janes


Darn feminists

Want to see more ambitious, competitive, brilliant women on TV? Look no further than The Great British Sewing Bee, says Cath Janes, holding her thimble finger aloft.

Cath's thimble finger salute
Bugger me, I love The Great British Sewing Bee. The fourth series kicks off tonight on BBC 2 and I’m all but dancing naked around my sewing machine at the prospect of it. Why? Because it’s one of the most unrelentingly feminist shows on the telly. No, really. It is.

Unless you count the freakish world of high fashion, sewing has always been seen as woman’s work, with men insisting that they can find the Higgs Boson yet are unable to fathom how a button works. The result? That sewing is left to women as a domestic chore.

The Great British Sewing Bee, though, demonstrates that in all the centuries that women were forced to sew, what they were really doing was becoming ninjas, only with needles instead of nunchucks.

And have you any idea how much of a sewing superpower a woman needs to appear on GBSB? I’m not talking about a little light hem lifting here. I’m talking about being given three hours to knock up, say, a waterproof running jacket, all while the show’s presenter Claudia Winkleman hollers, “You’ve got one minute left!” and Patrick Grant, a judge, peers to check that every single slip stitch is 4mm long. In short, it’s recognition for the decades of women who sat by the fireside, quietly weaving utter magic, while their husbands farted and rustled The Times of London.

“This isn’t women gently chatting over kitten cross-stitch kits. It’s ambitious, competitive, brilliant women who can look a ludicrous deadline in the eye while cackling at it.”

So, instead of being dismissed as a household chore, GBSB helps some female viewers see the value in what they can do. How many times have you heard a woman say that, after years of being a mum or housewife, she has no basis for a future career? Well shows like GBSB help change all of that. I genuinely believe it makes women recognise as valuable the skills that men have repeatedly dismissed.

Actually, GBSB is a clarion call for women to rule the world with nothing but a pincushion.

Since I started my own sewing business two years ago (partly inspired to sew by GBSB) I’ve seen online crafting groups explode with women turning their sewing hobbies into businesses. And GBSB has led by example. Contestants from the previous years have gone on to write columns, author books, create their own patterns and fabrics and even teach sewing.

It shows that there is career-forging power in pins. Even John Lewis claims to have seen a 22 per cent increase in sewing machine sales in the year following the 2013 series and the Craft & Hobby Trade Association reckons that there are 3.5 million people in the UK sewing their own clothes.

More than that, the GBSB gives women power over their own bodies. Just look at what little diversity there is on the high street. If you’ve got pillowy hips and tits like me, you’ve got no chance. If you’ve got the power of sewing, though, you can bypass the ludicrous rules of fashion and create your own look, something GBSB encourages.

Purple not in fashion? Fuck it. Buy purple fabric, make an 80s-inspired jumpsuit and run through Zara hollering, “Shove THIS up your arse!” If I want a dress to wear to a special occasion, I’ll make one. It not only saves me from being pigeonholed but it bypasses the ritual of pouring myself into shop-bought adult clothes that have been cut to fit a 12-year-old.

Needles at the ready: the line-up for the new series of The Great British Sewing Bee. Photo: BBC.

Needles at the ready: the new series of The Great British Sewing Bee. Photo: BBC.

And yes, there are now male contestants on the show (the latest series has three men and seven women) but that’s another sign that women are being recognised. When men attempt to claim what has always been a female chore, you just know some form of equality is on the horizon.

I’m not saying that we need men to make sewing ‘acceptable’. I’m just saying that until the nation sees men weeping over badly stitched bias binding as new judge Esme Young barks at them, sewing will still be seen as female and, therefore, unimportant terrain. If recognising the power of women involves clambering over the bodies of male sewists to do it, I’m fetching my crampons.

All of which is why you need to tune into the new series of GBSB. This isn’t women gently chatting over kitten cross-stitch kits. It’s ambitious, competitive, brilliant women who can look a ludicrous deadline in the eye while cackling at it. It’s women who are proudly showing the world that their ability to sew gives them power over their careers, their finances and how they look. So stick your thimble on your middle finger and raise it. I like to call it the Great British Sewing Bee salute.

Series 4 of The Great British Sewing Bee starts tonight on BBC2.


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Written by Cath Janes

Cath Janes is the brains and stabbed fingers behind Kraken Kreations, which sells shouty, hand-sewn home decor and accessories for modern women. She also sews feminist and anatomical embroidery, dances in her sewing shed and once had a snapped sewing machine needle embedded in her right tit.