The Great British Sewing Bee 2020 winner interview
Meet last year's winner of The Great British Sewing Bee! We interview them about their best bits on the show, tips and what it's like to be on the Bee.
*Warning this post contains spoilers
Tonight in the final episode of The Great British Sewing Bee, the judges had made their decision, and Clare, 38, a hospital doctor from Winchester emerged triumphant as the winner of this year’s series.
Clare made it through ten weeks of tough sewing challenges and became Britain’s Best Amateur Sewer of 2020. Throughout the series 12 talented home sewers created beautiful garments (you can see all the garments they made in our episode guide) under the scrutiny of judges Esme Young and Patrick Grant, but it was Clare who won the coveted title.
On winning the coveted trophy, Clare said: “I feel really surprised. Crikey! I do hold myself to high standards and because other things I have gone in for are things I have trained for like exams and more exams – this was something I did for fun. I signed up just to have some fun and to do interesting things. Well, I have definitely done that!”
Here Clare talks about winning The Great British Sewing Bee 2020 and her experience on the show.
Images by Love Productions - Photographer: Mark Bourdillon
How does it feel to be the winner?
“At first I just felt gobsmacked! Since the first surprise and shock have sunk in, I have felt very lucky and honoured to have been given the prize over such a group of talented and creative sewers.”
Where do you keep the trophy?
“Until the showing of the final, I have kept it hidden in my fabric stash cupboard. Now I’m allowed to show it off, I will put it on the shelf in my sewing room with my hat blocks. I will also have to take it into the hospital to show my colleagues, or they won’t let me hear the last of it.”
What about your fellow finalists?
“I think we were all within a hair’s breadth of each other to win, and for very different reasons. I think I am more of a traditional sewer and good at the technical stuff whereas Nicole has an amazing eye for embellishment and colour, and Matt has such sewing imagination and his drag costumes are just brilliant.”
Did you ever imagine you could get to this stage?
“I tried not to let myself think that far ahead. To be honest I prepared for the first few weeks but once filming started I only thought one round ahead, I just wanted to try my best to stay in the competition but didn’t think I would actually get to the final.”
What went wrong in the final and what were the best bits?
“In the pattern challenge, I certainly didn’t make life easy for myself by making zillions of pleats. The other ‘hairy’ moment was choosing a made-to-measure 1930s dress pattern with a complicated bodice, and only having about an hour to finish the skirt. I was very relieved I didn’t have to send my friend Alex out half-clothed onto the catwalk. At the end, when Alex pulled her best modelling poses on the catwalk all the tension was gone and we dissolved into laughter.”
Where does your love for vintage stem from?
“I started wearing vintage-style clothes about 10 years ago when I struggled to find clothes –particularly trousers – that fitted my proportions. I settled on a mid 20th-century clothing look, particularly the 1940s, because I think they are a good combination of fit and smartness but also practical: you can move around easily in them.”
Have you been recognised at work?
“I have been recognised at work, both by staff and patients and their families. Chatting with patients on the ward about the show has revealed hidden talents among many of my patients: knitting, sewing, quilting, which has been a lovely insight into their personalities and histories. I’ve been surprised by who’s watching it – my friend and model Alex tells me she’s got all the intensive care consultants watching the show.”
Is there anyone you would like to thank?
“I need to thank all my colleagues who helped me take leave at short notice for filming: consultant colleagues covering ward rounds, my secretary Kirsty making sure I didn’t have to cancel a single clinic, our lung cancer Nurse Specialists and support workers who helped me keep tabs on my patients (and acted as cheerleaders too). My mum and my Winchester friends have all been very enthusiastic and encouraging all along the way, not to give up even when it got a bit hectic.”
How was it sharing the experience of winning with the other Bees?
“It was a special moment and I was a bit dazed. The other finalists were really gracious and – despite my reputation as a non-hugger – there were a lot of hugs. We have all shared each other’s triumphs and disasters throughout the whole series, and I wouldn’t have got to the final without them!”
Was it difficult keeping the winner a secret for a long time?
“My closest colleagues knew I had got to the final as they could count how many days I’d had off work, but I think I managed to keep it a secret that I’d won by pulling my best ‘patient confidentiality’ straight face.”
How did you watch the series and the final?
“I watched a lot of the series on my own during lockdown, but my phone was constantly pinging throughout the episode from friends and fellow Bees, so I felt I was sharing it with them. For the final episode, I borrowed a projector so that I could watch with a couple of friends in their garden, with a little bit of champagne!”
What’s next for you in the sewing world?
“I still plan to just sew for pleasure, no plans to be the Next Big Sewing Thing. I’ve started work on an 1890s ballgown for a Victorian ball that I’m going to with fellow Bee, Liz, which has been postponed until next year. The delay means we have longer to work on our frocks. So far, though, all I have made is the incredibly unflattering giant Victorian pants to wear underneath it…”
Will you keep in touch with the other Sewing Bees?
“Absolutely – we have a messaging group which has been very active, particularly in the lockdown when we were unable to meet up, I can’t wait to be able to see them all again sometime soon”
More sewing questions with Clare!
When did you first start sewing and why do you love it so much?
“My mother taught me to sew as a child, but I only started sewing regularly in the last seven or eight years. I enjoy all the different parts of the process of making a garment (except maybe the careful cutting-out bit) – thinking about what style I want, choosing the fabric, seeing the garment coming together and then wearing something that is my individual style. I find sewing at my own pace (not under time pressure!) relaxing.”
If you want to start sewing check out our sewing guide for beginners and get all your essentials ticked off with our sewing kits for beginners round up. We even teach you how to use a sewing machine so you can become a pro!
Who was your mentor?
“I definitely owe most of my sewing knowledge to my mum, who taught me how to use a sewing machine, how to follow a pattern, and lots of techniques like inserting zips. She made several party dresses or bridesmaids’ dresses for me when I was a child, and even then I enjoyed the process of going out and poring over the pattern catalogues and fabrics with her.”
What is your favourite garment to sew?
“I have a particular pattern for a set of late 1930s blouse and wide-legged trousers which I have made at least four times in different fabrics. They’re really easy to make, but in the right fabric can see me through from linen trousers in summer to tweedy in winter. Although they are based on an original vintage pattern they are so classic they fit in fine in a modern setting.”
Why did you want to be on The Great British Sewing Bee and which of the judges did you most want to impress? When the sewing got tough, was Joe a welcome ally?
“I wanted to be on the Sewing Bee more as a test for myself than anything else. It’s easy to sit at home wincing at basic mistakes people make under time pressure on TV, but I thought – if I didn’t go for it now, I’d always wonder whether I could have done it. With regards to the judges, while it was nice to get positive comments from them, I was a harsher judge on myself for not living up to my own standards. Joe, on the other hand, was a hilarious distraction, with various ridiculous comments and outfits. Just don’t ask him to find a matching button for you, unless you like a gamble!”
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 night before our first day in the sewing room I only slept about three-and-a-half hours, having woken up in a cold sweat with a nightmare about unfinished hems. I was most nervous about the transformation challenge – that I would get stage fright or brain freeze and present the judges with a pile of off-cuts. In the end it was all good fun, but having no chance to plan or prepare is not my usual style.”
What were your best and worst moments during the series?
“Best moment was walking into the sewing room in real life, that was the first time it properly hit me that this was really happening. Although it looks like a fun place on the TV, being able to rootle through whole racks of trimmings, buttons, zips and use whatever we wanted was fantastic. Another good moment was walking into the Sewing Room at the end and to see all the other sewers come back, that was joyful. I spent a long time hugging the other sewers and friends and family!
There were disappointments – I was really frustrated by my flapper dress in the made to measure challenge in the semi-final. I completely mucked up the fit and I wouldn’t have been surprised to have been sent home. It was a shame because I couldn’t create the dress the way I originally wanted to.”
How did you try and stay calm when things were going wrong or you ran out of time?
“Remembering that in the end it’s only sewing. It’s meant to be fun.”
Do you have a special attachment to a sewing tool?
“The tool I use most regularly is probably a thimble that was given to me as a baby as a christening present. I do love a gadget, though, and my most recent purchase is a magnetic wrist band for pins, which came in very handy on the show, particularly for picking up piles of pins when I dropped them all over the floor.”
In your sewing life, what has been your worst sewing disaster and your biggest triumph?
“I haven’t had any major disasters (yet), as I try not to sew to a deadline too much. The closest I’ve come is when I was making a ballgown at university out of very slippery silk satin, and the sewing machine sucked in and chewed up the fabric of the almost-finished bodice. Fortunately, I had enough fabric – and time – to remake it, though there were a few choice words had with the sewing machine before carrying on.
My biggest triumph, and the outfit I’m most proud of, is my complete late Victorian costume I made originally for the Chap Olympiad summer games, and embellished with cape and hat for the 2019 London Tweed Run bike ride (and won the ‘Most Dashing Dame’ prize!). Part of the triumph was also not getting the full-length skirt caught in the bike chain or pedals on the day.”
Do you make for family and friends as presents? And what’s the most asked for garment?
“I rarely sew for anyone other than myself, as most non-sewing people have no idea of the (sometimes literal) blood, sweat and tears that go into making a garment. I make an exception for babies, as they can’t complain if it doesn’t fit, so I usually make a little shirt or jacket if one of my friends has a baby.”
Describe your style, and how much of your own clothes do you make?
“My everyday style is vintage-ish, with honourable exceptions for modern hiking clothes. Most of my clothes are 1930s/40s/50s in style, though I don’t try and dress strictly like a particular period. I make about half my clothes. Both making and buying, for the last two-and-a-half years I’ve been limiting my purchasing of clothes and fabric, mainly for environmental reasons, by following 1940s rationing guidelines. I’m not obsessive about keeping to the rules, but it’s a good prompt to think whether or not I really need something or am just being greedy.”
Can you give a sewing tip for amateur sewers who have been enjoying the show?
“If you are using a precious or expensive fabric, always make a practice version (aka a toile or muslin) of at least part of the garment, out of some leftover material like an old sheet. A lot of major modern pattern companies allow huge amounts of extra room (‘ease’) in their patterns, which might mean you really need to cut out one or even two sizes smaller than the one they recommend on the packet.”
Was it hard to keep a secret that you were going to be on the show?
“I wasn’t able to keep it much of a secret that I was going on the show, because I had to recruit half our department to help me out with work swaps and cover. They’ve all been pretty good about keeping quiet though, as I would hope from medical and nursing professionals!”
What is the best way to describe the relationship between this year’s Bees?
“I think we’re a bit like one of those gangs of oddball superheroes, who all have some mysterious talent that comes in handy in a tight spot. We got on tremendously well, and have continued to message each other pretty much every day since filming ended.”
What will you take away from your experience of being on The Great British Sewing Bee?
“The knowledge that if I ever need to make a short-notice costume (literally anything – man, woman, child, smart, fancy-dress, made out of old crisp packets or something), I just need to raid the local charity shop and start a 90-minute timer with recordings of Joe shouting ‘five minutes remaining’. Also, some fantastic sewing friends whom I would never have met in any other situation, and who’ve taught me so much.”
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Simply Sewing Production Editor Emily loves trying new crafts. Her love of sewing started with making dresses for her nieces, but she quickly learnt that making things for adults who aren’t rapidly outgrowing everything is much easier.