Claudia Winkleman: Saying yes to The Great British Sewing Bee was the fastest decision of my life

Claudia jumped at the chance to host the BBC2 show - but admits her own sewing skills leave a lot to be desired


“Hello, we’re the people who make Bake Off and we’ve got a programme we would like you…”


“I’m in.”

“I’m sorry? Normally we meet with people and, you know, tell them the idea. We discuss stuff. We, um, have biscuits.”

“You said you were responsible for Bake Off?”

“That’s correct.”

“Then it doesn’t matter what the show’s about. I’m there.”

That’s how it began. It was the fastest decision of my life. I’ve spent longer (much longer) choosing soup. Singing up to The Great British Sewing Bee was easy-peasy as I love Bake Off so much.

I know we all do but you should know I plan my life round the show. On the day of the final in 2010 I got so excited getting the sitting room ready (cakes, Mary and Paul cut-out masks, bunting etc) that I forgot to pick up one of the kids from school (I am not proud of this fact).

Now, on the subject of sewing I should explain that I worship clothes – I can talk about the upside of a long sleeved black T-shirt until your ears bleed. I can explain why I don’t believe in the colour orange (for fabric – it is obviously the colour of choice for my face) and I can make you cry with boredom on the subject of smocking (worth getting pregnant for) but before the show I couldn’t have told you how these things were actually made.

Day one was an eye-opener. The judges and the production team started talking very quickly about things I’d never heard of” “Yup, the facing has got to be both level and sturdy” and “Right then, in this challenge I’d really like to see someone use the overlocker” and “They will certainly be marked down if they don’t sort out the fly with dexterity and poise.”

Uh. What? Excuse me? We’re talking about making clothes, right? Don’t you just get some cotton and sort of sew it and then stick it on someone? I assumed that making anything was just creating seams and sticking it over somebody’s head. I had sewn on name tapes (wonkily) and I’d attempted buttons (managed to either make them too loose or too tight) and had thought it was all quite straightforward.

Well, the big news is that it turns out creating a garment is a lot more complicated. In series one the contestants made dresses and tops, and in the new series they do the same, except they have to make even more.

A few times the cameramen had to shout at me to close my mouth as I stood in the middle of the sewing room, slightly shell-shocked with my chin on the floor, watching these extraordinary amateur sewers create extraordinary clothes – actual 3D outfits from just a roll of wool.

Since the Sewing Bee I’ve attempted to make things at home. We made a top for my daughter (it had three armholes) and a pair of shorts for the baby (would possibly work if he was a tortoise – enormous waist and miniature legs) and we also worked together as a team and made a tea cloth. This was more successful, although you should know it’s not an exact rectangle. We’ll keep at it until I can actually make something from scratch. And we’ve gone slightly bananas for trim.

Trim is vital for new sewers as it makes you feel like Karl Lagerfeld (minus the ponytail and sunglasses) and all you have to do is get some velvet and sew it to the bottom of a cardigan. My daughter’s old and slightly tatty (but favourite) sweater is now her favourite again after we sewed little white sequins in the shape of flowers onto the front. This sounds disgusting and that’s because it sort of is. But she’s seven and nothing can be too sparkly.

The Sewing Bee is back. We have a new room, a haberdashery that makes grown men weep (in a good way) and a whole bunch of new challenges. I hope you like it and if, like me, you’re going to have a go at home, my only advice is that three armholes in a top is one too many.

The Great British Sewing Bee, Tuesdays 8:00pm, BBC2