The Great British Sewing Bee Effect…

I remember the first series of the Great British Sewing Bee with mixed emotions. I had spent all summer doing extensive market research in my local town and in other places across Britain with regard to setting up my dream business – Oh Sew Crafty was moving from being a tiny little thought seed into a whacking great big business venture! Well that is how it seemed when the roller coaster started.

At the time we had been enticed back into the ‘make do and mend’ attitudes by the lack of disposable cash and the throwback to the glorious vintage era that made it trendy to be crafty. The lovely Kirsty Allsopp had shown us that being thrifty or crafty was achievable by any one of us… that we could create, mend, adapt and re-use items that were previously discarded recklessly as we shopped relentlessly for the next fashion piece. My research showed that people were starting to miss having easy access to sewing essentials and good knitting yarns. This was a re-assuring aspect to my plan.

We opened in October 2012, and by the following spring we had started to feel our feet, just in time for the pilot series of the Great British Sewing Bee. I was new to running a business and knew that I would need to be guided by my customers where stock was concerned. I was not prepared however for the mad rush that ensued when in the first episode the ‘bias binding’ machine, demonstrated and positioned perfectly, encouraged people to dash to the nearest haberdashery to purchase one of their own! We sold out in 2 days… the tool famine that followed lasted for weeks! Other items to take us by surprise that season included invisible thread (thank you Ms Allsopp), hessian and ribbon.

And so we were hooked – all summer the customers chatted about this lovely mini series of craft. “would there be another series?” was the most asked question. “Did you see that lovely dress that Ann made?”. Everyone saw something different in the series. Some people were dismayed at the way the stitchers created their garments, preferring the security of traditional working with its regimented and sometimes soul-destroying perfection, whilst others saw the breath of fresh air that was being demonstrated with relaxed techniques and a definite smile on the contestants faces as they proudly completed their tasks.

buntingWhen the announcement came that there would be another series my customers were so excited! I had 3 customers that applied to go on the show. One of them got through to the 3rd round and she was very pleased with herself. The second series did not disappoint… once again there was a great effect on the buying trends. This time however there was another, deeper, effect that was starting to emerge. Many of my customers had repeatedly voiced their opinion that sewing, crafting and knitting were dying skills and that the ‘young people’ were not interested. Well, that certainly changed in 2014. Many of those young people emerged from the shadows and showed that actually they had been having a go for quite some time but had not been admitting it. Suddenly my shop was being visited by timid and nervous young mums and teenagers that braved the doorstep and came along to learn better sewing and knitting techniques. My workshops filled with new blood – those ‘young people’ have gained confidence and produced some fantastic projects.

Over the year the interest has gained momentum. My husband works with me at the weekend and he is a very useful asset when it comes to engaging with the menfolk as they accompany their partners into this ‘stash’ containing emporium. Once they see him, there is a distinct relaxation of shoulders! Often the conversation turns to the ‘Great British Sewing Bee’ and surprise surprise… the menfolk quite like this programme…fabric

And so to series 3 – so far we have run out of rotary cutters, princess seamed dress patterns and some vintage style fabrics. In fact the reach now includes children and more openly the men – thanks to great contestants! The Children in Need celebrity specials were very entertaining and the challenges are discussed at every possible moment in the shop. It is lovely to hear the conversations with my customers and their opinions about who is good and who is not.

This week has been filled with ideas for costumes for the World Book Day that the schools take an active part in each year. The ideas have proved to be more adventurous this year. What started 2 years ago with a bit of felt in a mask format has now bloomed into a full costume with embellishments as people have allowed their imaginations to be supported by their growing confidence. I love that there is a rise in those revisiting their sewing and knitting skills so that they can create better garments for what is essentially fancy dress. Well done everyone!

Thank you to the BBC for trusting the nation and providing us with a fantastic opportunity to revive some of these creative skills. What will series 3 bring to us? Who will win? Who will provide us with the ‘memorable’ garment that we will talk about for months to come? One thing is for sure – it is all good. The craft business is benefiting from a raised interest, and confidence, from the nation.

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