15 minutes with Sewing Bee judges Patrick and Esme
After such a big boom thanks to the show, do you think sewing is staying in the public consciousness?
P: I get some really nice letters. There was a lady from Essex whose father had started a haberdashery and they were struggling, but since The Sewing Bee the shop had grown massively. No one sews out of economic necessity anymore, so people are sewing for very different reasons and that feels positive to me.
E: When people sew they get a big sense of achievement. I still make clothes for myself. Even when I go on holiday I take sewing with me. I go to Greece every year and take hand sewing. I’ve made things completely by hand and I still wear them. I LOVE SEWING!
P: There’s evidence supporting that manual work as a career and creating something with your hands is an enhancement for people’s physical and mental health.
What kind of projects are you working on right now?
E: At the moment I’m working on something for a film called The Little Stranger. I’m also cutting patterns for a former student called Ashish. I cut his patterns twice a year and it’s so intense. In about a month I cut 60 patterns in a little workshop. I have someone else cutting out the fabric and another making the toiles and I create shape for him. I don’t do facings or pockets or any of that, I’m just creating the shape. I’m also doing some teaching; firstly on a course called Innovative Pattern Cutting and another on Swimwear and Lingerie, both at Central Saint Martins.
P: I’ve been busy with Community Clothing. There’s the issue of seasonality in fashion, where suppliers are busy for two parts of the year (that’s when the fabric and patterns are ready and the orders are needed) and suffer the rest of the time. People want to buy good-quality British clothes but they are usually rather expensive. So now we design, market and sell really simple stuff like T-shirts, chinos, jumpers all made during the quiet periods and sold with a tiny markup to make sure a large portion of people can afford to buy them. It’s taking a lot of my time but it’s working; we started with four products and now we’re at 65. I also still design for E. Tautz and for Hammond & Co – that’s a collection of 1,100 items a season – and I still run Norton & Sons!
So quality is becoming more important to people for their clothing?
P: After the first season a lot of people confessed to looking inside clothes at seams for the first time. And now by showing them how it works on the Sewing Bee people have started asking questions about their own clothing. And we talk about how fabric should feel and they get the sense for that too. That’s why I’m so pleased some of my fabric suppliers are going to be at the show.
E: Fabric for me is a really important part of making. I buy fabric wherever I go, in fact I’ve got boxes and boxes of fabric – vintage and new but I will never buy fabric online unless I have a swatch as I HAVE to feel it. When you get the fabric, it can inspire you into what you make with the colours, the feel and so on.
Does fabric inspire you first over garment design?
E: Not necessarily. It could be a button or something in my head. But sometimes it’s the fabric. Oh I have a stash. If I see fabric I like I have to buy it. I was in Greece and I was buying fabric. Wherever I am I buy fabric.
P: That’s why she doesn’t take clothes on holiday! Just an empty suitcase! I’m also very inspired by fabric. But as a starting point we have a photographic archive, and it’s a mental and physical rummage for ideas. We use moodboards, and then start cutting patterns and making toiles but then we start to design our fabric, unless we have pre-ordered fabric, like we recently did with a Shibori. We develop boucle and tweed and worsted and so on, from scratch and it takes a long time so you have to be certain about your design and colours and you need to be on schedule.
E: And colleges can help you find your voice. Saint Martins is probably the only college in the world that focuses on the student and what they want to express.
P: Many of us are creative and haven’t had the chance to get that out. Making clothes is a lovely way for people to express themselves and their personality, whether you’re a designer or someone sewing at home…
With the home sewist and those following the fashion route, what can be learnt from each discipline?
E: At fashion college it’s more to do with design than sewing. They do cross over because if you can sew and cut and make something it will inform your design. I mean Galliano was a fantastic cutter and designer and maker, and Alexander McQueen as well. If you understand how things are made and how they are cut and go together, it informs designs.
P: Cut is the big difference between the two. Everything that goes on our catwalks for E. Tautz has been cut by us. It has been tested and remade and sewn again and again until it’s right. Sometimes we will toile things two or three times…
E: You know I sometimes try 10 times.
P: I suppose if it needs it! And with a new season we will look at where we left off and manipulate that and change things after seeing it in real life – how high a pant is cut or how a sleeve on a coat flows. Someone who works in fashion spends more time on the patterns than someone in home sewing. You buy a commercial pattern that’s graded for size and not everyone is confident in reshaping and recutting into something else. Though people are getting braver.
E: I have blocks that I will use again and again. Whether it’s for a certain lock or a person and I have a certain dress called the Sharon Stone and I will adapt that into what I need.
So should everyone draft their own block?
E: I think if you have a pattern that fits, then that’s fine! It’s quite good if you do make a block to have someone else help you fit as it’s so hard on yourself but since the end result is the same, I don’t see why you shouldn’t use a bought pattern and adapt it to fit.
With so many past seasons, which of the contestants are would you be most keen to see again?
P: I can’t single anyone out. They are all loved equally. I mean I don’t think anyone went home from the show too soon. There were some who were more talented than their exit point would have suggested but the challenges are what they are and if you didn’t do that particular one well you’re out. We don’t judge it on the best sewist, it’s about who did the best sewing. And so they’re all lovely people.
E: On my first series I thought it was amazing how helpful they were to each other.
P: We had to tell them not to help each other. And I have to spend a lot of time telling Esme not to help them.
E: It’s so hard not to tell them tips, especially as a teacher!
What did you learn from working with each other?
P: I’m not sure you know exactly how things influence you? I mean I love the way Esme dresses and I love her style and somehow that will have seeped into my subconscious somewhere
E: Giant necklaces everywhere at E. Tautz! Well I have to say when I first started Sewing Bee I was so nervous and Patrick was fantastic. He and the others were great and I feel a connection to him for being kind and supportive and nice.
So let’s clear this up Patrick, can you sew?
P: A little bit…
E: Hang on a minute! He made a fancy dress costume.
P: Oh well backstage I made a PVC ra-ra skirt for drag night. It’s still in one piece, it held up! It’s in the bag of fancy dress stuff I have at home. And yes, I learnt to sew while I worked at Nortons. I worked full time in the workshop for six months as an under cutter but my background is engineering. Now I design clothes; I employ some of the best tailors in the world so I let them do what they do.