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.

Inspiration, Activation, … Frustration…

I love to create something from nothing. In fact I love to create something from something else, something that was not intended to be what I would like it to become! Re-purposing fabric from clothing has been a small passion of mine for some time now. I could never be a serious patchworker so making quilts etc.. does not excite me however, creating an item of clothing or an accessory from something that had a different purpose is really fun. I am not patient enough to make sure all seams are the accurate and precise – I want to see the finished item!

If fabric is a little frayed or worn then it can bring a little character to your project. If you don’t have the correct thread – then contrast and compliment – make a feature of of the differences. It is lovely to add some embellishment using the buttons or belt loops of a pair of trousers or jeans. Use the old zips to make flowers or a top stitched feature. I am not patient enough to be careful to match completely the colours or patterns of fabrics – I just cannot wait to see the finished item!

Recently a friend of mine brought me a challenge. Her mum had been given a lovely tea-towel for Christmas but didn’t want to use it as it might spoil. It was a Fortnum & Mason linen tea-towel in a gorgeous green colour and just too nice to leave in a drawer. What to do…. what to do….IMG_20150122_132905

Action time, this tea-towel is going to regenerate into an apron! I had some similar colour fabric in my stash of used fabrics. I think it was part of a bedding set that never got used. I could add panels to the sides of the tea-towel and also across the top so that the correct shape could be achieved. I could also use some herringbone tape to create the ties and the neck strap. Here we go… remember – I am not that patient….

I set off with my scissors, seam ripper and pins. the bobbin was wound with thread that was pretty close to matching the fabric, in fact it couldn’t be better to be honest. Halfway through winding the bobbin it looked like I might run out of that colour, it was getting a bit thin on the spool (rummages desperately through the sewing box – unsuccessfully). Ah well,  I think there will be enough to finish the project (eternal optimist takes over the thought process at this point). IMG_20150122_132932

The seams of the tea-towel are taken apart using the seam ripper… oh dear. The print on the tea-towel is clearly not going to look good if I just do a normal seam, it is going to need to be a sealed seam, after all it is a Fortnum & Mason tea-towel! Slight change of plan coming on… French seams to be used. Will the thread last? Of course… optimism wobbles a little!

I plough through the task now – pinning, tacking, sewing. Shape the bib of the apron by removing a small amount of fabric from the edges of the tea-towel.

Things are looking really good – the apron is taking shape… I am getting very excited and cannot wait to see the finished item! Remember… I am not patient!IMG_20150122_132830

Alas the anticipation cascades into frustration as I drive the sewing machine down the final seam triumphantly, only to come crashing down when I realise that I have run out of thread… I cast a quick glance up at the bobbin on the top of the machine and see that it is dangerously close to being empty as well! What to do… what to do… then I realise that I have a shade of thread that is a little paler than the one I am using. Think…. well it is being used on the seam that is at the back. In fact it is being used on the ties! Actually – if anyone notices this is a different shade then they must be on their knees peering around the back of the wearer! Perspective returns – and breathe…

Job complete – very happy customer! IMG_20150122_133419

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