GBSB6 – Exclusive chat with the 7th Bee to leave the workroom
Patrick Grant and Esme Young challenged the sewers to get down to business with the trickiest pattern so far, a woman’s power jacket. Creating the perfect jacket involves grappling with tailoring fabrics and taking on such daunting technical hurdles as lapel construction and inserting shoulder pads, hopefully without getting in a flap. For the transformation challenge, it was party time as the sewers let rip with their imagination, turning high-vis work clothes into party outfits. In the made-to-measure challenge, the sewers take on their final icon of eighties fashion, the cocktail dress. Working with bold, shiny fabrics, they had to create a knee-length-or-above dress that embodies the excess of the 1980s.
— Sewing Bee (@sewingbee) June 3, 2020
Sadly this week Therese sadly had to leave the show after she failed to finish her power jacket and struggled with her transformation. Although her dramatic black and gold peplum dress was well received by the judges, it wasn’t enough to save her.
GBSB6 – Exclusive interview with week 7’s eliminated Bee!
When did you first start sewing and why do you love it so much?
I started sewing when I was at primary school. The first things I remember sewing were a green gingham apron with my name embroidered on it with backstitch and a rag doll. One of the first things I sewed at home was replacing a zip in my favourite denim skirt. I could only find a pink zip in my mother’s sewing box, so I hand-stitched it in and then coloured it blue with a felt pen. My mother was so impressed with my efforts that she bought me my first sewing machine – an old hand-cranked Singer. I loved making my own clothes as a teenager; it was cheaper than clothes in the shops, and I could make and wear whatever I wanted, and it would fit (I was tall for my age and had long arms and legs so shop bought clothes often did not fit properly).
Who was your mentor?
At primary school my mentors were Mrs Lovely and Mrs Alison. Their teaching ignited my lifelong fascination with sewing and fabrics. At secondary school girls did O Levels in Needlework and Domestic Science. My sewing teachers inspired me to experiment with smocking, designing trousers and coatigan suits, and making cotton lawn and lace baby clothes. My oldest friends Issy and Jackie are also lifelong sewers. Their sense of unfussy design and natural colours always inspires me. Watching The Great British Sewing Bee has always had me rushing back to my sewing machine from the very first series. I hang on the judges’ every word: the programme provides a valuable opportunity to be taught by The Experts. I particularly love Esme; she is my sewing icon. I love her necklaces, dresses and vast knowledge of all things sewing related.
What is your favourite garment to sew/or your speciality?
I love sewing shirt-waister dresses as they hide a multitude of sins figure-wise. I make mine with very long, full skirts (I do love a swirly skirt) and usually out of floral cotton fabrics. That is why my children tease me by saying I dress like a sofa and talk like the queen! I love colourful floral fabrics and also combinations of shades of blue and white.
Why did you want to be a Great British Sewing Bee and who did you want to most impress of the Judges, or both?
I applied for The Great British Sewing Bee on impulse having been sent a text from a friend who organises various sewing groups locally. I had made a New Year’s resolution to say “yes” to more things, so I applied, never expecting to get through the various interview and sewing stages. I did not do it to impress anyone; in fact being filmed and judged turned out to be far more daunting and uncomfortable than I realised ! I discovered that despite being a teacher for over 40 years, I did not relish standing in front of a group having discussions with the judges; public praise and criticism was embarrassing, which was why I probably developed such a variation of weird facial expressions, in order to hide my nervousness. Joe was a complete joy, both on set and afterwards, and provided all of us with light relief after being judged by Patrick and Esme, with his gentle humour and kind remarks. We all felt that he was always on our side and our biggest fan! He still takes the time to text our group most weeks.
Which challenge were you fearing the most?
Most of the Pattern Challenges were a struggle because I am not good at reading and following instructions: they did not always make sense to me. I know I have poor language processing skills (I can’t follow a recipe either) and I could not get away with using sewing techniques I have known and used for years; I had to cut and sew exactly as stated in the instructions. It was not long before I had to resort to using a highlighter pen on the key words, and reading the tricky bits out loud to myself repeatedly.
What were your best and worst moments?
The best moments were when Patrick or Esme said they liked the way you had sewn something. Praise from the experts was such a morale booster; however criticism from the judges could feel devastating.
How did you try and stay calm when things were going badly wrong or you ran out of time?
To be honest I did not remain calm; when something went wrong I’d groan audibly and then have to move on quickly to put it right. Sewing under such tight time constraints is not a normal way to make garments. I am a perfectionist and will redo a sewing process, like putting in an invisible zip or attaching a collar three or four times until it is right. There’s very little margin for error when you are sewing against the clock; you have to get it right first time, most of the time, or end up sewing frantically in the last few seconds, which was what I ended up doing. Also sewing and being interviewed at the same time proved very challenging; I could either sew or talk- it seemed rude to be talking to someone while your eyes were on your sewing, so I would stop and talk to the interviewer, while precious sewing seconds ticked by.
Do you have a special attachment to a sewing tool?
I really like all things haberdashery which is why I loved working in a sewing shop on Saturdays. I particularly love my sharp-ended tweezers; they are really useful for pulling out unpicked threads quickly, and also for holding edges of fabric or zip ends in the right place while you are starting or finishing some machine stitching.
In your sewing life: What has been your biggest triumph?
As a teenager I made black hot pants out of a pair of old tracksuit bottoms and smock tops out of my mother’s old cotton sheets ( I also experimented with dyes, much to my mother’s dismay, as I went round with multicoloured hands and stained her tea towels and washing bowl!). I often raided the dressing up box which contained lots of my parents’ and brothers’ old clothes, and reused the material to make skirts and tops. ‘Make do and mend’ was very much the ethos in our house in the 60s, and that has remained with me all my life. I have always recycled, reused and repaired clothes and soft furnishings which stood me in good stead as a student and then a young, poverty-stricken teacher. I started shopping in charity shops in the 70s out of sheer financial necessity, and have continued to do so ever since. Re-purposing my parents’ old clothes taught me to appreciate the difference between the quality of fabrics and construction, so my criteria when I buy garments at charity shops is quality of material and size: I look for natural fabrics ( cotton, wool and linen) and large garments so I have plenty of fabric to sew with (you can make a garment smaller more easily than making it larger.)
Do you make for family and friends as presents?
I’m always happy to sew for my children and for friends, and friends of friends; it gives me the greatest pleasure when I see them wearing garments I have made for them. To me it is the ultimate form of flattery when I’m asked to repeat a piece of clothing I have sewn for them in the past, because it is their favourite and they want another one.
The most asked for garment ? “Another swirly skirt please Grandma, but this time I want…” My five-year-old granddaughter has a very good eye for colour and style, and knows exactly what she wants. We make clothes together: she chooses the material and describes the shape and style she wants. I had the temerity to put a pair of gather pockets on one of the swirly skirts we were making, and was very firmly told: “No Grandma! Take them off! I hate pockets on swirly skirts!” She has very definite design opinions, and actually she was probably right about the pockets, as the skirt was much more swirly without them!
Describe your style, and how much of your own clothes do you make?
I do not follow fashion trends, but sometimes pick out elements I like and incorporate them into what I wear. For example I like to wear white or coloured plimsolls with my floral dresses; they are timeless and so comfortable.
Can you give a tip for amateur sewers who have been enjoying the show?
Challenge yourself by trying new and different sews. Embrace your mistakes, as we all make them and learn by them, and verbally congratulate yourself out loud when you can see you’ve managed a sewing process well. I still say to myself: “Well done Therese!” when an invisible zip or a bound neckline go in neatly.
Was it hard to keep a secret that you were going to be on the show?
YES! Almost impossibly hard, especially when friends’ conversations unexpectedly drifted into talking about the new series of The Great British Sewing Bee when the trailers started and the media announced the new series. It was also very uncomfortable having to make up stories as to where I was for about three months last year, when the programme was being filmed. My friends know me very well, and of course they knew I was telling fibs, so eventually I had to say to some of them, “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you at the moment”. I’m sure one or two thought I was up to some sort of shenanigans with a new partner or something!
What will you take away from your experience of being on The Great British Sewing Bee?
It was one of the most incredible experiences of my whole life (and mine has been a rich and varied one!) The whole process taught me so much about garment design, patterns, fitting and extended my sewing skill into whole new areas. It pushed me to try new techniques and fabrics. In fact I would say, three months preparing and sewing on The Great British Sewing Bee probably taught me more than a lifetime of sewing at home. What else have I taken away from being on the programme? So many happy memories; laughing and joking with my Sewing Bee Family; the kindness and endless patience of the production team; sharing the ups and downs with the other sewing bees and dear Monty who looked after us all day.
Next for you in the sewing world?
I love to share my sewing with others, whether it is making scrubs or face coverings or decorative hearts, or helping other sewers with their projects. I also love to help other sewers improve and gain more confidence in their sewing skills, so I’d like to do more of the same!
Most of all, I really want to use the unique experience of being on The Great British Sewing Bee to do more to encourage recycling, remaking and reusing garments and second hand fabric. During Lockdown so many more people are sewing, knitting, crocheting, painting and crafting, but we had to look around our own homes for material to reuse. Everyone becomes even more aware of sustainability as our quieter lives at home created less negative impacts on our planet.
I would like to increase the awareness of sustainable sewing by organising sewing swaps, workshops where sewers and non sewers can bring their second-hand clothes to swap and then be refitted, transformed or remade into a ‘new-to-me’ garment. I’d like to start ‘caring for our clothes’ workshops or classes for non sewers to learn how to mend their clothes, take up hems, repair zips and renew old clothes. Learning to look after a few special clothes means loved clothes last, which helps to reduce clothing waste ending up in landfill sites.
So more sewing sharing, more sewing teaching and more sewing recycling, reusing, remaking.
What is the best way to describe the relationship between this year’s Bees?
Most of us ended up in tears at one time or another, but the kind and generous support from the other Sewing Bees always helped restore our confidence and determination to do better. We are still very good friends and group text every week, and recently every day. We are there to share sewing ideas and help each other. Meeting and becoming firm friends with the other Sewing Bees has added so much to my sewing life. I love to ‘talk sewing’ with other people, especially with such a talented group of sewers. I consider them to be my sewing family.
As a little girl Therese was taught to sew by her primary school teacher, her first make was a gingham apron which ignited a love for sewing that she’s carried with her throughout her life.
Therese trained as a primary school teacher in England but her family relocated to Abu Dhabi where they spent nine years. After 40 years she has retired from teaching but now tutors privately in East Sussex.
Therese is an advocate of reduce, reuse, recycle; she upcycles clothes for her grandchildren and updates her own clothes instead of buying new. If she does create a new outfit it will be made from a natural fabric and most likely in a floral print.
Follow Therese on Instagram at sewingsundays1