20 Sep 2021

Being on the Great British Sewing Bee: Patrick Grant

From Afternoons, 3:10 pm on 20 September 2021

The Great British Sewing Bee judge and Savile Row designer Patrick Grant talks to Jesse Mulligan about the resurgence in the popularity of sewing.

The show, which has started filming its eighth series, aims to find Britain’s best amateur sewer through a series of challenges and themes each week for contestants.

Patrick Grant (R) on the Great British Sewing Bee

Patrick Grant (R) on the Great British Sewing Bee Photo: bbc.co.uk

"We test their ability to follow up a pattern we give them that they don't know anything about. We test their ability to turn something old to something new ... and in the final challenge, they have to make a garment for a live model," Grant says.

"Every week, somebody is awarded the garment of week and sadly, every week, somebody gets evicted.

"At the end of the series, we end up with three fantastic finalists, one of whom will take home the exceptionally valuable prize that we make backstage using a bit of old cloth and a tiny mannequin, this being the BBC, it's worth about £10.50, but highly coveted nonetheless."

So many have loved the show because there's a growing interest in sustainable clothes, he says.

"Esme [Young] and I love working on the show, we have a great time making it, we have amazing contestants who inspire us and make us laugh and sometimes make us cry."

Despite it being a competition, the show has such a warm atmosphere that some contestants will stop working on their own projects to help others, he says.

"We went out during lockdown ... when everybody was stuck indoors, and actually I think everybody watching it enjoyed it.

"It's very child-friendly despite some of the smutty puns that occasionally come up. There's a warmth to it that I think people particularly responded to during Covid."

Sewing bees have a long history of bringing people together in crisis, with Queen Elizabeth holding one during World War II, where Buckingham Palace staff got together to sew for the Red Cross.

Grant says that community bond is something we miss dearly as the world has advanced but even more so during the pandemic.

"In our industry, there was a long tradition of communities getting together to harvest flax to make linen from, there long traditions of people finishing the cloth together.

"I think we miss a lot of these opportunities to get together as communities and be with one another and engage in some sort of meaningful work.

"It's a very bonding activity and I think anybody who watches the show will see how much the contestants enjoy spending time together, all from different backgrounds ... they all share this love of the craft and it brings them together in a lovely way."

Grant also ran a big community sewing project to make reusable face masks, due to the shortage, which he says gave many a sense of purpose during the pandemic.

"We got literally hundreds of thousands of volunteers all across the UK. Some in big groups, some in little groups, some individuals living at home, anyone with a sewing machine was encouraged to cut up some pillowcases or old duvet covers and make reusable masks for their friends and neighbours.

"Again, it was a lovely opportunity for people to make some new friends and create connections during the pandemic, particularly for a lot of elderly people who were stuck at home alone."

His father died from Covid-19 earlier in the pandemic, but Grant says he still feels connected with him from the collection of clothes he has kept and occasionally wears.

"Old clothes collect stories as you wear them, and as other people wear them ... and they become more valuable with time, and the more you repair them the more valuable it becomes.

"I think a lot of people today have never enjoyed that feeling of wearing something that has meaning to them because so many clothes these days are disposable and just don't get better with age."

The Great British Sewing Bee screens on Fridays at 8.30pm on TVNZ1, episodes are also available on OnDemand.