Tonight in the final episode of The Great British Sewing Bee, the judges had made their decision, and Serena, a medical student from Edinburgh emerged triumphant as the winner of this year’s series.
Serena made it through ten weeks of tough sewing challenges and became Britain’s Best Amateur Sewer of 2021. Throughout the series 12 talented home sewers [Adam, Adeena, Andrew, Cathryn, Damien, Farie, Jean, Julie, Lawratu, – together with the other two finalists Raphael and Rebecca] created beautiful garments under the scrutiny of judges Esme Young and Patrick Grant, but it was Serena who won the coveted title.
Amongst the challenges, the sewers made a buffet dress, paper bag shorts, a button down sundress, a baker boy cap, unisex kids raincoat, a baby romper, waistcoats, oxford bags, a disco dress; and transformed T Shirts, men’s suits and men’s swimwear into garments; sarongs and army surplus into something to wear for women, and then scarves, curtains, and parachute silks into outfits. Catch up on the highs and lows of series 7 with our Sewing Bee episode guide.
“When they announced that I was the winner I could hardly believe it. I was totally overwhelmed and it was so much to take in. It had been an intense 10 weeks, but mostly I felt just really happy and proud of myself. There were a few tears, but they were happy tears. I was high on happiness!” Serena said.
“I am so proud of everything that I have done. I made things that I never thought I would ever be able to make and learn things about myself. It’s been life changing basically, it’s just been amazing.”
At 21, Serena was the youngest sewer this year. She is originally from Glasgow but has moved to Edinburgh to study medicine. She is now in her fourth year and has recently started ward placements. Serena’s passion for sewing goes hand in hand with her love of sustainable style. She began teaching herself basic skills from YouTube in her teens, and now creates her own designs as well as ‘refreshing’ charity shop garments, giving them a new lease of life.
Killing Eve’s iconic character Villanelle is her style icon: “She’s a bit androgynous and I’ve always been into wearing brogues and high waisted trousers.” Serena’s eventual aim is to create a completely unique, ‘me-made’ wardrobe. Outside of studying and sewing, Serena enjoys keeping active and often runs around the picturesque landscape of Edinburgh.
Rebecca and Raph were both worthy finalists in one of the closest Sewing Bee finales. Rebecca said: “I feel absolutely over the moon for Serena to actually win it, I feel she has deserved it so much, she has just been unbeatable to be honest. I am happy to be runner up, I feel really really lucky that I made it to this stage – I never thought I would.”
Raph added: “I am so happy for Serena. I remember thinking on Week 1 after the first Pattern Challenge, I think she will go all the way.”
The Judges were also thrilled for Serena and Esme said: “I have this thing about really really talented sewers. They have fairy dust that they throw over the garment and it doesn’t look like it has been touched by a human hand. And that’s what your sewing is like.”
Patrick concluded: “We have never seen a final at such a standard – It’s been phenomenally good.”
We asked Serena some questions about her time on the Sewing Bee and the surreal experience of watching the show on TV…
How does it feel to be the Sewing Bee 2021 winner?
I thought it had sunk in, but then when it started transmitting on TV and to be reliving it with so many people, family and friends, I realised it hadn’t sunk in. You are all watching it and experiencing it at the same time, because I hadn’t seen any of the episodes. So the emotions felt all new again.”
What about being the youngest Bee ever to win, and the first Scottish winner?
I have had a lot of support from Scotland, and I feel so excited to bring the trophy home to Scotland, I hope I have made the country proud.
Also, I hope it proves that sewing can be a hobby for everyone, it used to be associated with older ladies, so I hope I have inspired younger people to start sewing. Rebecca is young too so that’s another inspiration – and Raph will definitely inspire men to sew!
Where do you keep the trophy?
It has been hidden in a box on top of the wardrobe but now it will be in pride of place. I am moving flats soon, so location to be confirmed!
What about your fellow finalists – Raphael and Rebecca?
I think all of the Bees were amazing sewers and all of the garments in the final were fabulous that Raph and Rebecca made. We were all very supportive of each other, even up to the Final. We genuinely wanted each other to do well, and there was no harsh competitiveness all the way through, there really wasn’t!
Did you ever imagine you could get to this stage?
I was amazed to get to the semi-final and then it was just incredible to know I would be in the final. You have no idea how you are going to do as a sewer within the time constraints. You face difficult moments and sometimes it gets quite hard, so at those times you don’t expect to get to the Final. It was a completely surreal point for me to know I had made it to the end.
What went wrong in the Final for you and what were your best bits?
I struggled to get the dress on my model at the end, as I am quite small, and my model Sarah was 6ft 2ins with 3 ins heels on. To be honest I was quite lucky as not much else went wrong. The best bit ever was hearing my name announced as the winner, and also feeling that I had achieved what I had hoped for with my final dress. I wanted my model to feel confident in the dress and be happy with it. I was able to reclaim my pattern challenge ‘crown’ , especially after Raph winning it in the Semi-Final.
How tense was the atmosphere at the final and what about the challenges?
It was similar to the semi final, the same nerves and excitement. My favourite challenge in the Final was weirdly the Pattern Challenge as I like being exact and precise. At the start of the series I found the Transformation Challenge really difficult, but by the final I really enjoyed it. Maybe because I knew it would be the last time I would ever have to do one!
What is your favourite outfit overall?
One of my favourites was the Dior inspired outfit in the Semi Final, when I won Garment of the Week, and I might add for the very first time. Raph and Farie had won Garment of the Week each on 3 different episodes. I felt it was the one where my design, sewing and fit finally came together for me and I was so unbelievably proud of seeing this outfit finished on my model. I worked really hard on it before and during the challenge and it more than paid off, and my model loved it.
My next favourite garment would be on Week 7, a green satin tuxedo dress, I was proud of the design, although the fabric didn’t go my way. It felt a bit more out there than my usual style.
What did you learn from this series of Sewing Bee?
I liked being able to experiment more on Sewing Bee, and make different outfits than I would normally make. Being a student I have to keep to a budget, but I now like to make more unique and wearable items since being on the show. I feel like the experience has given me much more sewing confidence. I did find a new style that I liked. At the start of the competition I made more floral and patterned garments perhaps on a safer level, but towards the end I would go for more bolder colours, shape and volume which were a bit more of a dramatic look than I would normally go for.
What will you take away from your experience of being on The Great British Sewing Bee?
A new sense of confidence and empowerment in myself and my sewing. Plus, lots of new sewing tips!
Best and worst moment for you during the whole series?
My best moment had to be hearing my name called as the winner, of course! And then Esme told me my garments looked like they had fairy dust sprinkled on them, so that wasn’t bad either! My worst moment of the series had to be coming last in the transformation challenge in International Week [Episode 4]. I was just so unhappy and disappointed with my transformation – but it acted as a motivation to push myself in future ones!
Favourite challenge overall and why?
My favourite challenge had to be the parachute transformation on 40s week, in Episode 9. Not during the challenge (that was awful), but afterwards, seeing what we all created was amazing! . Plus it was the closest I ever came to not finishing, and I was convinced my finished garment was really not great, so to see my dress on the mannequin, stepping back and discovering it looked good was quite funny!
What has it been like on the university campus?
To be honest I have had exams so not been out much, a couple of times I have been recognised but mainly I have been keeping my head down and studying. Everyone on my course at University has been so supportive.
Anyone you want to thank?
My parents and my whole family who have put up with my sewing machine for so long. I have sewn in shared spaces and it can be noisy. And my current flatmate for putting up with that too!
What was it like sharing the experience of winning with the other Bees?
All the Sewing Bees were on Zoom for the Final and heard me being announced. We have Zoomed every month since, so although they weren’t there in person they were all excited and supportive of my win.
How did you watch the series and the final?
Throughout the series I have watched mainly at University, but when I was at home for a couple of weeks I did manage to watch with some of the family. For the Final it was the family and also Sarah my model [as she is my brother George’s girlfriend]. We had some bubbles as I had kept a bottle of champagne that my dad bought me for my 21st . Because of Covid I hadn’t been able to use it, so we had that and it was a sweet little party.
What’s next for you?
I have two more years at University, then I have two foundation years training as a junior doctor, and after that I am not sure. I will still be sewing the whole time whenever I can. I am not sure where anything will take me, but I want to keep learning new things both as a student and a sewer.
Was it liberating to be filming this series?
It felt amazing to film this series after being in lockdown for so long. The whole process was so out of my comfort zone, but this is something that can only happen once so I knew I wanted to push myself and I am so glad I did.
When did you first start sewing and why do you love it so much?
I first started sewing when I was 15, because I wanted to try new hobbies and, as I was beginning to be interested in fashion, I wanted to look different to my peers and try out wearing different styles of clothes. I love sewing because it allows me to do this and let me express my creativity, but I can simultaneously learn new skills and develop others. Pushing myself to try new garments, techniques and fabrics is something I like doing too.
Who was your mentor?
I began sewing by following YouTube tutorials but my mum was the one who started teaching me how to use patterns and things such as bias binding!
What is your favourite garment to sew/or your speciality?
My favourite types of garments to make are evening wear, there is just something about them that I love, and it’s a chance to really go for it. I don’t make them very often but they’re probably my favourite. I also love sewing funky but functional and interchangeable clothes that I can wear every day.
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 to The Great British Sewing Bee because I have watched it for years and always thought it looked amazing fun to be on, and something that would challenge me to be more creative! Honestly, I wanted to impress both of the judges, I don’t believe in myself enough and needed that validation!
Describe your experience on first walking into the sewing room on this year’s Sewing Bee, and which challenge were you fearing the most the first week: Pattern challenge; Transformation challenge, or Made to Measure challenge?
Walking into the sewing room was absolutely surreal, it was very different to what I expected and we were in a new studio, so it was amazing! That was when it started to feel real. I was definitely fearing the transformation challenge the most as I love planning everything.
What was your best and worst moment that first week?
My best moment was when my model put on the finished dress at the end of the Made to Measure challenge, I had a chance to stand back and appreciate what I’d achieved in 5 hours, I was so proud of myself in that moment. My worst was when my transformation challenge didn’t go very well, it was kind of as I expected coming into the competition but I then realised I really had to up my game.
How did you try and stay calm when things were going badly wrong or you ran out of time in the first week?
I didn’t ever get good at staying calm during any challenge to be honest, I was a constant bag of nerves.
Do you have an attachment to a sewing tool, and why is it special to you?
Not particularly to be honest. I always brought my rainbow sausage dog pincushion with me onto set because he was a present from my Grandma. Apart from that, nothing really.
In your sewing life: What has been your worst sewing disaster – and your biggest triumph?
I’m lucky enough to not have had any “disasters”, yet… but I have definitely made lots of little mistakes like not cutting bias binding on the bias. My biggest triumph was making bridesmaid outfits for myself, my sister (who is very tall) and our step-sister (who was 6 at the time), since all three outfits had to be for very different bodies!
Do you make for family and friends as presents? And most asked for garment?
I’ve made quite a few presents for family over the years, my most requested garment is a cotton dressing gown which I love making and is easy as a present because it doesn’t need to be fitted!
Describe your style, and how much of your own clothes do you make?
I stopped buying new clothes two and a half years ago, and since then I have either made my clothes or bought them second-hand, so the proportion of my wardrobe that is me-made is quite high now! My style is a bit all over the place, a bit of everything, lots of colours, lots of types of garments, lots of layering in winter and I still want to explore it even more.
Can you give a sewing tip for amateur sewers who have been enjoying the show?
My main tip would be to start with small projects and work your way up, focussing on something different with each garment, whether it be to try out a new technique, tricky fabric, to fill a gap in your wardrobe or anything else. I find this gets the most out of my sewing time!
What is the best way to describe the relationship between this year’s Bees? I love having sewing friends!
It’s something new for me and I love having people to discuss projects with! Everyone is so encouraging and supportive, it has been amazing to meet them all.
Feeling inspired to get into sewing? Explore our sewing for beginners guide, best sewing machine for beginners guide and our how to use a sewing machine guide. Get started with these great sewing kits for beginners too.
Featured image (C) Love Productions – Photographer: Mark Bourdillon