The Great British Sewing Bee 2020 was one of the best yet and we loved every second. Joe Lycett, Esme Young and Patrick Grant told us that series 6 was one of the most challenging yet and boy were they right! From outlandish made to measures to trickier-than-ever transformations, read our Great British Sewing Bee Episode Guide for all the highlights (contains spoilers), lowlights and challenges of each episode.
For all the information about this year’s Sewing Bee, keep reading! Make sure you also read our interview with the Sewing Bee winner and if you fancy applying for 2021’s show head to our how to apply post.
If you’re curious, check out our sister post, What sewing machines are used on sewing bee?
Words by Melanie Macleod and Emily Freer. Photos: BBC/Love Productions/Mark Bourdillon
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We go behind the scenes to chat to the team about how the show works, and what to expect from The Great British Sewing Bee series 6.
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When is the Great British Sewing Bee On?
Sewing Bee 2020 is on your screens every Wednesday.
What channel is The Great British Sewing Bee on?
The Show has moved to BBC 1 here in the UK and will also be available to watch on iPlayer.
Where is Sewing Bee filmed?
The show’s impressive warehouse setting is located in London’s Bermondsey, in the heart of the capital’s historical textiles quarter. For the truly geeky among you (we include ourselves in this category), the 2019 series was filmed at 47/49 Tanner Street (also the location of Dragon’s Den!), near Tower Bridge.
Who won this year’s Sewing Bee?
The Great British Sewing Bee’s 2020 was the best year yet and included 12 incredibly talented sewists. The winner was Clare, a hospital doctor from Winchester with an amazing eye for accuracy and all things vintage! Read our interview with Clare to get all the behind the scenes gossip.
Who won The Great British Sewing Bee 2019?
We fell head-over-heels for last seasons’s winner Juliet Uzor the second she revealed her not-so-secret scissor habit. She went on to coin the phrase “Just You-Tube it” and do previously unheard of things with a pair of net curtains.
Since she scooped the Sewing Bee crown last April, she’s grown her own following among the sewing community, appearing as a guest on sewing TV shows, posting regularly on her instagram @julietuzor_ or check out her You Tube Channel Sew So Natural where you can see her video tutorials.
Sewing Bee 2020 themes
Episode one: Wardrobe Staples
Episode two: Holiday attire
Episode three: Children’s week
Episode four: Sportswear
Episode five: Lingerie and sleepwear week
Episode six: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Episode seven: 80’s week
Episode eight: Continental week
Episode nine: Hollywood week
Episode ten: Celebration week
Sewing for good
A hot topic for this year’s show is sustainability. “We’ve always taken great pains to point out to people that textile has real value,” explains judge Patrick Grant. “Pieces of clothing ought to have as long a life as they possibly can. If that means they’re worn out but the textile still has life, take that textile and reuse that. That’s the most important thing we can all do. Keep our clothes for longer, and when they wear out, don’t throw it away, just find a new use for it.”
As well as increasing awareness about the work that goes into making garments, the show also motivates people to take up, or get back into, the hobby of dressmaking. “People who watch the show are encouraged to make things themselves rather than going to a cheap shop and going mad buying things they’re never ever going to wear,” says Esme. “When making things yourself, who you are comes out in them, so it’s expressing yourself as well, and things have a more sentimental value.”
As for themes, inspiration has been taken from some rather unexpected sources for the new season, ranging from movie week to sci-fi week. “The sewing room looked like Scrap Heap Challenge during sci-fi week,” jokes Patrick. “The floor was covered with old bits of space junk and circuit boards, but it resulted in one of the best transformations of the whole series.”
“All the junk was piled up in the corner, and the contestants walked in thinking ‘oh my god, what are we supposed to do’?”, adds host Joe Lycett.
It’s always exciting to see where the contestants’ imaginations take them during the transformation challenge, and for the judges the weird and wonderful end results are always a fun surprise. “The fantastic thing about the transformation challenge is we never know what they’re going to do because we’re not there when they’re making it,” says Esme. “I’m elsewhere making clothes, then we come up and we’re amazed by what they do in an hour and a half. I don’t think I could do it, it requires you to just go for it: it’s not overthought, you have to just embrace it.” And they certainly do embrace it!
The brilliant trio are back for more fun and games in the sewing room – and Joe’s brought plenty of glitter
What Sewing Bee is really like behind the scenes?
It’s always heart-warming to see the contestants form friendships and mentor and support each other as the show goes on. Never is the kind community spirit of crafters more evident than when contestants who are racing around the clock gather around their competitor to help them with a new technique or calm a crisis when a left arm’s been sewn to the right body piece.
“The friendships formed are one of the things about the Sewing Bee that are amazing,” Esme says. “The contestants are a bit like students at college. They bond, and are friends for life and they help each other so much.”
“There was somebody who on week one was great at the transformation task, and that raises everyone’s game and they all learn from each other,” adds Patrick. “Everyone shuffles over to each others’ station to learn. They get a real buzz out of being in the studio together, in the same way students do, with ideas circulating.”
Read more about The Great British Sewing Bee
This sort of support is much relied upon when emotions run high in the sewing room, and there are tears and wobbles aplenty from the contestants this year. “We try to remind them that it’s meant to be a fun, happy experience, but they all want to do themselves proud so I see why they get frustrated,” says Joe. “Being able to reassure people is one of the nicest parts of the show.”
Host Joe is just as much part of the sewing crew as the contestants and bidding farewell to the latest to leave is always tricky for him. “I hate saying goodbye to them, I really struggle with it and this year particularly I really loved them as a gang, and we filmed quickly so it felt like they were popping off very fast!” he shares. “We’d start the week with eight contestants and only have five by the end. Despite contrary advice I’m in a WhatsApp group with them all, so I’m still connected with them all and know what they’re up to all the time, and they do message a lot…”
Get your Sewing Bee fix
Love the bee? Good news, here are links to the series books including this year’s 2020 series release.
Who are the contestants on Great British Sewing Bee 2020?
Sewing for all
As always, the contestants come from all walks of life, with the youngest in their early twenties, and the oldest in their sixties. “They’re a real mixed bag this year,” says Joe. “We’ve got teachers, paramedics, doctors, a jewellery designer, a student who’s also a dancer, one who watches TV for a living, a broadcast engineer, a banker, a youth hostel manager, and a lung surgeon who particularly excelled in neat stitching!”
As ever, the show proves how accessible sewing is to people of all backgrounds, with the judges lamenting how positive the reaction from the public always is. “I’ve never seen anything negative on social media,” says Patrick. “It’s a very warm spirited show; the process is very friendly, and everyone who watches it seems nice. Fans who approach us are always genuinely warm. People always message me with photos of things they’ve made.”
This year the sewing room has even more contestants! 12 talented home sewers have stepped up for the challenge.
Meet the sewists who we’ll be getting to know as they ride the highs and lows of the nation’s favourite sewing room in the weeks to come. From left to right: Angillia, Alex, Alison, Matt, Hazel, Peter, Therese, Liz, Mark, Fiona, Clare, and Nicole. Image: BBC/Love Productions/Mark Bourdillon.
Oh hello new BFFs (well, virtually anyway – especially as we can’t hang out with our actual best friends at the time of writing!). This year’s series will feature a fresh batch of sewists, ready to face the judges.
Meet the Sewing Bee 2020 contestants
Retired Primary School Teacher, Watford
Teaching is Angillia’s vocation, she taught primary school children for thirty years before retiring in 2016. Today she loves to make clothes for formal events and parties, in her own bold and colourful fashion. When she’s not sewing she still likes to work with young people, she also practices mindfulness and can be found attending meditation meetings.
What was your best and worst moment that first week?
Realising that the time constraints were not a plus for me, however I enjoyed the experience. I think I’m definitely better suited to being the other side of the sewing machine or working at my own pace in front of the sewing machine.”
What’s next for you in the sewing world?
“I would really like to work with a garment designer, especially one who makes for ‘real’ women (plus sizes included).”
At 24 Alex is the youngest person in the sewing room. During term time Alex studies cognitive sciences at Edinburgh University and he also loves ballroom dancing. He learnt to dance just three years ago and has quickly progressed to competition standard, now winning awards across Europe. As a teenager Alex was taught to sew by his mum, who he watched make wedding dresses on her 1980s sewing machine. “Teach me your ways; Oh Jedi!” he asked her. Having learnt from the master he tentatively branched out into menswear to create his own clothes.
What will you take away from your experience of being on The Great British Sewing Bee?
“I honestly thought that it was going to be me going home. Everyone else in this room is so deserving of this opportunity. They present such fantastic work and maybe my skills aren’t at that level just yet.”
Paramedic, West Yorkshire
Paramedic Ali’s twin passions are sewing and golfing. These two worlds collide on the range where she showcases her colourful homemade golf clothes. In 2013 she started a sewing blog; its popularity led to her arranging meet ups with followers and one person has even travelled from Germany to be part of the action. Aside from sewing Ali’s been a paramedic for 23 years which has seen her deliver countless babies.
When did you first start sewing and why do you love it so much?
“I think I was about 10 years when my mum showed me how to sew and we made an underskirt. It was beige nylon trimmed with blue lace! No I haven’t still got it! I can’t remember if I ever wore it!
I dabbled with the sewing machine through my teenage years but it wasn’t until I left school and started working at the tax office that I really got into sewing. There was a fantastic haberdashery in a department store in Leeds and I’d buy fabric from there and use the free patterns that came with magazines. I really got the bug and loved being able to go out knowing that no one would be wearing the same clothes as me.”
Charity Worker, Kent
It was after the birth of her son that Hazel started sewing again having been taught by her aunt when she was a child and she loves to make matching outfits for herself, her husband and son. Sewing’s a creative outlet that’s given her confidence and allows her to carve out her own time and keep hold of her identity. When she’s not sewing, or with her family, Hazel works for a charity that encourages social mobility by connecting young people with major companies.
Describe your style, and how much of your own clothes do you make?
“My style is comfortable and practical. My new year’s resolution was to not buy any new clothes and to make my own clothes. If I can do it in 90 minutes with cameras and no time to plan, then I can do it with no time restraints!”
Can you give a sewing tip for amateur sewers who have been enjoying the show?
“My piece of advice would be to focus on mastering one type of garment. Initially, I started making skirts, as you can’t really go wrong. Also when buying pattern pieces, they are usually labelled, pay attention to that and buy ones that say novice or easy.”
Deputy Manager for a Youth Hostel, Brighton
Peter was taught to sew by his mum when he was a child but it was watching The Great British Sewing Bee that reignited his passion. Outside of the Sewing Bee, Peter looks for inspiration from design rebels like Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood when making his own clothes. He has a workshop in the spare room of his flat where he experiments with all things creative. After leaving school Peter trained as a hairdresser and moved to Brighton when he was 20, where he currently works as the deputy manager of the Brighton YHA.
Was it hard to keep a secret that you were going to be on the show?
“The secrecy was super difficult, I just wanted to tell everyone, but of course I couldn’t. My husband, Clive, was super proud and wanted to broadcast it to the world. It’s so nice now I can talk about it a little more.”
What is the best way to describe the relationship between this year’s Bees?
“The bees are all so different, we come from different backgrounds and came to sewing in different ways. But we are united through our passion and have all become firm friends. It’s been a very bonding experience, I’ve never had anything like it before.”
Semi-retired tutor, East Sussex
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. 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.
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.”
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.”
Product Manager, Middlesbrough
Liz loves goth punk style and through being creative with patterns and using a palette of black and grey she’s been able to build her own homemade wardrobe. After graduating from University Liz went into product management and currently works for an outdoor power equipment company. She lives with her partner Andy in a happy blended family with their children from previous relationships.
Why did you want to be on The Great British Sewing Bee and which judge did you most want to impress? When the sewing got tough, was Joe a welcome ally?
“I wanted to go on the Sewing Bee to really push myself to expand my horizons! I’d sewn mostly children’s clothing and underwear, with a few other garments here and there. I felt that taking part in the competition would really push me to try sewing things I had never considered sewing before, and expose me to new techniques.
Of course, having an alternative fashion sense made me really want to impress Esme, as she’s somewhat of a punk sewing idol! Both Patrick and Esme are tough to please, so it really gave me goosebumps when they were positive about something I’d sewn. Joe was an absolute sweetheart and really funny.”
Personal Banker, Kenilworth
Mark studied music at college, before becoming a personal banker but he keeps his love of music alive by playing as a pianist in the evenings after work. Mark has been sewing for three years. He wanted to sew as a young boy, but never had the confidence. He learned basic skills at the local haberdashery and now sews vintage inspired menswear for himself, his husband and dogs. Mark has a love of big collars and cuffs, with inspiration taken from Dr Who costumes.
When did you first start sewing and why do you love it so much?
“I first learned to sew in October 2016. I had sewn at school but they didn’t have the resources to teach it properly. My husband studied fashion at uni and he made the bridesmaids’ dresses when we got married. This encouraged me to start sewing classes.”
Who was your mentor?
“My mentors have been Jules Fallon whose sewing classes I attended and my husband Clive, who has always been endlessly supportive of my drive and passion to learn this craft.”
House person, Renfrewshire
Fiona started sewing as a little girl when her mother helped her make a rag doll. Sewing took a back seat until her 20s when she became a “golf widow” and needed something to occupy her time when her partner was on the course. Motherhood gave Fiona the opportunity to make clothes for her three kids and she moved onto all the soft furnishing for their home. These days she’s a self-proclaimed “selfish sewer” who only makes for herself, which she does almost daily in her studio at the top of the house with her beloved dog Coco by her side.
Describe your experience on first walking into the sewing room, and which challenge were you fearing the most?
“My stomach had butterflies as I walked into the room… it was surreal. I was actually here in the Sewing Room. I pinch myself even now. This is usually where I am most secure – no judgement, no noise and no worries. Except, there were judges, there was a buzz in the room, a time constraint, and the reality was that someone would be going home.
My real fear was the transformation challenge. I thought I was going to be sick. I realised it was panic – it’s a terrible thing for anyone to experience. I took deep breaths and hoped my brain would kick in with an idea. Amazingly, as I cut into the fabric, something came to mind, and I just went with it, trying to have fun at the same time. You never forget that feeling! I have a new respect for repurposing garments and those who do make it look easy.”
Playout Supervisor, London
Matt works as a broadcast engineer where he monitors forty-five TV channels broadcasting around the world but he dreams of doing something more creative professionally. Matt first started sewing in 2017 when he decided to throw a drag party and make his own dress. Since then he’s made more drag outfits for himself, his partner and his friends in the East London LGBTQ community. Not that he’s not happy making menswear too, he has made his own beach shirts and jackets.
Jewellery Designer, London
During her childhood in Trinidad the choice of imported clothes was limited, so Nicole grew up around dressmaking, often visiting a seamstress to have garments made. Her mother taught her to sew as a teenager so she could create her own outfits. Today Nicole’s sewing style is comfortable and relaxed, suited to a mum working from home, but she sees that as no excuse not to “turn out” so makes clothes in slinky metallics, bold Asian prints and sources fabric from fashion fairs in Paris.
Sewing Bee 2020 Winner!
Hospital Doctor, Winchester
Clare followed in her mother’s footsteps and is a medical consultant at a hospital in Portsmouth with specialist interest in lung cancer. Her job is hectic and sewing gives her an enjoyable creative escape. It was through her mother that Clare was introduced to sewing, she used to make party dresses and taught Clare to sew when she was aged eight. Clare didn’t start sewing in earnest until 5 years ago when her love of vintage clothing developed. She loves the 1930s and 1940s and makes the majority of her own clothes using modern copies of vintage patterns.
Who are the judges on Sewing Bee?
As viewers, we get to see all the best bits from the sewing room – the outbursts of despair when Joe shouts a countdown, the wide-eyed alarm when the judges walk past and hover just a little too long, and all the triumphs and mishaps in-between. For Patrick and Esme, who miss out on a lot of this, watching the show when it airs is just as entertaining as it is for us at home, as Patrick shares, “I love watching the show back, because we don’t see them do the transformation challenge, or get to hear what they say on camera. I concentrate on doing my bit of the job, and we don’t get to enjoy them doing their stuff – we don’t even see their back story until we watch it on TV. Given that we only see a snippet of what’s going on during filming, it’s so enjoyable to get the full picture.”
“Watching the first episode last season was quite odd for me,” reveals Joe. “They’re all panicking about how they’re going to be perceived before it airs, so watching them blossom is really magical, so I’m super excited about this gang watching it for the first time and the same thing happening. Last year’s group loved it and said they’d all do it again.”
So, what do the judges get up to during the transformation challenge when they’re banished from the sewing room? Patrick shared a sneak-peek behind the scenes, “Esme is constantly making dresses, but Joe and I play scrabble, do sudoku puzzles, and eat lots and lots of snacks. To be honest, though, we never get much of a break, because we’re always on stand-by in case something goes wrong.”
“I took to sitting on an exercise balance ball, which strengthens the muscle around the knees,” adds Joe – there’s a sight we’d like to see!
The charismatic host has promised that his wardrobe this year is as much to look forward to as the sewing, “My outfits are something to behold this series. I start gently and then build up. I had one outfit that everyone hated; It was covered and glitter and malted terribly. Every one of the contestants’ garments that week got covered in sparkles.”
“We had to put blankets all over things and we wouldn’t let him sit down,” Esme adds. “He left a trail of glitter everywhere, like a sparkly slug.”
“There are some wild outfits from me this season, and choosing something to wear that I wouldn’t normally dare to is one of my fave things about the job,” says Joe. “My favourite outfit this season was made by my sister. Totally unrelated to me joining the show, she started sewing and made me an amazing shirt in a wacky fabric. People always ask if it’s designer – the buttons on it were designed by Patrick!”
Meet the judges
Patrick Grant is a Scottish fashion designer and famous within the industry. He’s worked with multiple bespoke tailors including Norton & Sons of Savile Row and has a keen eye for sharp lines and crisp suits. He was awarded the Menswear Designer award at the British Fashion Awards in 2010 which means he more than qualified to judge the Sewing Bee’s contestants.
Esme Young is the powerhouse on Sewing Bee. She began her sewing career in Camden with her brand Swanky Modes and has been sewing ever since. Learn more about Esme’s life, style and history in our interview.
Inspired by the Sewing Bee?
If GBSB has inspired you to dust off the sewing machine and get creative then we have lots of free projects to get you started. Every week we round up the Sewing Bee 2020 gossip, tips and patterns in our episode guide. Our guide has a full range of projects which are inspired by the weekly transformation, pattern and made to measure challenges. There’s everything from corsets to pinafore dresses so head over to find your next project!
Sewing Bee applications: how to take part
Applications for the 2021 Sewing Bee are now open! Before you apply for sewing bee, Joe, Esme, and Patrick are on hand with have some useful advice. “You need a broad skill base,” says Patrick. “You should be able to sew zips, deal with elastic, and so on because we are testing all of it. We’ll always be testing all of those skills, along with many more.”
“When sewing at home, people often focus on a particular skill and they get very talented at it, but being confronted with something they’ve never done before can make contestants come unstuck,” comments Esme.
“Some people are good at following patterns and instructions, so if you want to apply, I’d suggest timing yourself doing patterns at home under pressure, as that’s a key part of the show,” says Patrick.
“It’s also worth practicing having someone interrupting you to ask ‘how’s your sewing going?’” quips Joe.
Sewing Bee patterns to try at home
We have loads of free sewing patterns here on Gathered. We’ve even got some that are inspired by Sewing Bee! Check out our pattern below and get making.
Programme Name: The Great British Sewing Bee – TX: 06/05/2020 – Episode: n/a (No. 3) – Picture Shows: Esme Young, Patrick Grant, Alison – (C) Love Productions – Photographer: Production