It’s time to switch off your sewing machine and put the wine in the fridge. Tonight a nation settles down to watch the third series of The Great British Sewing Bee. Who will be our underdog this year, will Patrick still be sporting a moustache, how deep will Claudia’s tan be and who shall get knocked to the ground during the stampede to the haberdashery shelves?
I hope to find out the answers to these and other burning questions this evening when I watch with good sewing friends. I’ll be gripping a champagne flute, biting my nails nervously as someone cuts into … Well, what is going to happen?
Alex of Sewrendipity has commented on this blog … and she also happens to be one of the contestants. I asked if Alex would consider being interviewed about her role on The Great British Sewing Bee, and she agreed!
So settle back, readers, and enjoy this sneak preview of TV – and sewing! –gold.
Hi, Alex. Thank you so much for joining us today of all days. First of all, I’d love to ask about the selection process. How did you become one of the contestants on The Great British Sewing Bee?
Alex: Thanks, Karen! I have been an avid viewer of the series from the beginning. I did think about applying for series two, but ended up missing the deadline. So, as I kept talking about it, my fiancé really encouraged me to apply, proof reading my application form and helping me take pictures of my projects. I hadn’t been sewing for very long and never thought I was good enough, but I really wanted to meet other sewers and share my love for making things with loads of other people.
So yes, it all started with an application form. And then one day I got a phone call (I almost fell down, I was so shocked) during which I chatted to a lovely lady (the casting producer) for over an hour about sewing. Heaven, isn’t it? It was followed by a series of really hard auditions (sorry, that’s as much as I can divulge about that), which whittled the group down to the final ten. I never believed I would end up on the programme, but I think my absolute mad passion for sewing convinced the team to give me a spot. I also think they were swayed by the crazy lengths I would go to sew the absolute best garments I can, when my fiancé told them about the insane adventure of making my own custom sewing dummy. It involved being wrapped in plaster of Paris, fainting twice, raiding a boat supplies shop, hours of polishing the resulting cast by hand and saw hacking a lamp stand for the base. All the gory details available on my blog, if you’re curious.
The judges, Patrick and May, have become the Sonny and Cher of sewing! How did you find each of them and who did you want to please most?
A: I’m really not a nervous person, but being in front of them both for the first time was really scary! And it wasn’t because they were scary, but I really wanted to impress them, I really wanted them to like what I made. It was a bit like being in school again. I think we all felt like that about them. Especially May, she very much reminded me of my favourite teachers in school, the ones that really rooted for you, wanted you to do well, but were also stern when they needed to be, and you really did not want to disappoint them. Patrick is imposing; you can tell he always strives for perfection and would never settle for second best. But both of them could also make a joke and have a laugh, which made us feel less stressed.
TGBSB is known for its challenges against the clock. Are you able to share some insights about how you coped with sewing under pressure?
A: I think this was definitely my weak point. I work in a corporate environment and I never imagined that inserting an invisible zipper would make me lose my head worse than speaking in front of large audiences or delivering events for hundreds of people. But it did! Suddenly, those tasks you think you can do in your sleep, disappear from your head. I swear I felt I could no longer read English because of the stress. One thing I learnt is that if it takes you one hour to complete a task at home, it will take two hours in the sewing room.
Taking part in TGBSB always appears to be life-changing. What did you learn about yourself during filming? Did the experience inspire you to take your sewing further?
A: I surprised myself, both in a positive and a negative way. Things I thought I would be good at (time and stress management, pattern reading) were very hard under the pressure. And what I thought I would not be good at (spontaneity, thinking on my feet), went very well.
As you can see from my blog, since the Bee, I have delved more and more into sustainable fashion, upcycling and refashioning. And if there is one thing I regret it’s that I did not talk about those things enough during the programme. We, home sewers, can work incredible magic. To save clothes from landfill, to breathe new life into an old thing at the back of the wardrobe. And hopefully, the alteration challenge can inspire people to think outside of the box and give it a go. I know that sewing gave me the courage and inspiration to look at what I already have in a new light and not buy so many new clothes. In fact, I have challenged myself not buy any clothes at all this entire year, but sew and remake as much as I can.
Are you able to give us some small clues about a favourite make from the programme – either yours of something someone else created?
A: Oh, we made some craaazy stuff, believe me! But unfortunately, my lips are totally sealed on this one, you will just have to watch it all!
Final question! Would you recommend applying for the show to any of my readers? If so, how could they best prepare themselves?
A: Yes, yes, yes! I would love to see passionate sewing people on the telly every year for many many years to come! Even if you doubt your skills, try it. Because passion for sewing and the desire to share it with other people, to inspire them to take up this incredibly satisfying hobby can take you far! In terms of preparation, there is not much you can do. I practiced all sorts of crazy stuff that never came up and then simple things I thought I could do with my eyes closed really tripped me up! I think mental prep is more important, to enable you to relax, enjoy it and share your love with the viewers.
It was an incredible experience and there are so many good things I’ve taken from it. The most important is the friendship of my fellow bees! I LOVE them all; I feel I have made friends for life! Sewing in a room full of friends, helping each other, cracking jokes, it was one of my favourite things! The Bee also brings people together and it gave me the courage to reach out to the sewing community and start my blog, which I absolutely love writing.
So even if you spend your day in an office like me, are a stay at home mum, or retired, this series proves more than any before that anyone can do it, so fill in the application to the next Bee and don’t hesitate to send it!
Thanks for such a fun interview, Alex. I am intrigued by the picture of you fainting twice for the sake of a bespoke dressmaker’s dummy! I can’t wait to see you on the programme and, like yourself, I hope that this latest series inspires a whole new generation of Sewists.
Readers – what are you looking forward to from this new series? And would you ever follow Alex’s advice and enter yourself?
The Great British Sewing Bee airs on BBC2 at 8pm, from Thursday 5 February for six weeks.