Jen lives in Glasgow with her husband Neil, children Cameron and Kirsty and the family dog, Archie. A former litigation solicitor and then small business owner, she put work on hold in 2016 to spend more time with her family. With an empty nest looming she has recently agreed to lead a local knitting class while considering options for her third career.
After receiving her first sewing machine at 14, Jen made a lot of her own clothes in her teenage years, including upcycled charity shop finds and some outlandish outfits, but struggled to find time for sewing after starting her career. It has only been in the last couple of years that she has returned to sewing on a regular basis.
Jen appreciates clothes with clean lines and a strong sense of structure, often with a Japanese influence. Generally addicted to designing and making things, her home is full of her work from a wide range of skills and crafts including knitting, pottery, silversmithing, photography, even a bit of carpentry – and, of course, sewing. When did you first start sewing and why do you love it so much?
I can’t remember learning to sew. My mum and my Gran both sewed so it was a skill I absorbed from an early age. By my early teens I was making a lot of my own clothes and I was given my first sewing machine for my 14th birthday. I love the combination of creativity and technical skill, plus the fact that you end up with something practical. It’s immensely satisfying when you manage to turn an idea into reality.
Who was your sewing mentor?
Lots of my family sewed, including my Mum and my Gran, but I haven’t had a mentor as such. Mostly I’ve learned through trial and error, and researching techniques in books and online.
What is your favourite garment to sew, or your speciality?
I don’t really have a favourite garment to sew. I go through phases of having a favourite fabric, and recently I’ve been sewing a lot with scuba. Last summer it was all about linen. I always love working with Harris Tweed.
Why did you want to be a Great British Sewing Bee and who did you want to most impress of the Judges, or both? And when the sewing got tough, was Joe a welcome ally?
I’ve watched GBSB since the first series, and I’ve always loved it. I hadn’t thought about applying, until I saw a flyer in a local fabric shop in Glasgow. At that point I thought “why not” but I didn’t actually think for a moment I would get on to the programme. As we went through the audition process I met so many fantastic sewers that it genuinely came as a surprise to me when I got the call to ask if I would participate.
On the programme I just wanted to sew as well as I could. Both Esme and Patrick have a wealth of knowledge and it was fantastic to have an opportunity to tap into that, as well as learning from the other Bees. Joe was fantastic, he kept us all laughing and really became one of the gang. Describe your experience on first walking into the sewing room on this year’s Sewing Bee, and which challenge were you fearing the most?
It was great, and a little surreal, to first see the sewing room, having watched the show from the beginning. And I couldn’t wait to get into that haberdashery. I expected the made to measure challenge to be the most difficult for me because I didn’t have any experience of fitting to other people. Also when you first go in you have no idea if your sewing skills will be sufficient to keep up with the other Bees.
Do you have a special attachment to a sewing tool?
I do like using my awl. Ben and Janet put me onto that as a useful tool and it’s something I now use every time I sew. I also like my pattern weights, which were made up from scraps of left over linen, and filled with dry rice and lead shot. I’m a bit concerned that I’m now on a watch list somewhere having ordered the shot online, but it does make for great pattern weights.
In your sewing life, what has been your worst sewing disaster – and your biggest triumph?
I’ve had a fair few sewing disasters, but I try to remember that even if something doesn’t come together the way I planned, it’s still been a valuable learning process. I did make a long coat last summer, beautifully lined, with welted pockets and everything. It was in a fine white linen and it was only when I finished that I realised that if I wore it I could be prosecuted for impersonating a doctor. All I needed was a stethoscope to complete the outfit.
Describe your style, and how much of your own clothes do you make?
I have far more bought clothes than made, but the balance is slowly changing. I’m not sure how to describe my style. Certainly casual, and not particularly neat!
Can you give a sewing tip for amateur sewers who have been enjoying the show?
My sewing tip for anyone watching the show would be simply to give things a go. Even if the finished garment isn’t something you would wear, you’ll have learned a lot and come up with more ideas in the process.
What is the best way to describe the relationship between this year’s Bees?
As a group the Bees came together from the very start. It’s an uncommon experience, and only the other Bees really understand what it’s like, so immediately we had that bond. But more than that, we had such a laugh together from the very beginning, and with Joe too. We were also all of a mind to help each other, so although the show is a competition we all share expertise with one another, on and off screen.