A whizz with jersey and GBSB‘s unofficial sewing guru, Janet left the Sewing Bee sewing room this week – sob!
Janet lives in North Yorkshire with her husband of 48 years, David and their dog. As a little girl, Janet was taught to sew by her Italian mother and at 16 was making her own clothes and soft furnishings. However, after having her three children, Janet had a 20-year hiatus before taking up sewing again in 2015 when she was inspired to sew for her grandchildren.
Janet enjoys upcycling her outfits, as well as giving her garments an artistic flare by personalizing them with quilting and embroidery details. Fashion has always been an important part of Janet’s life, as she owned a wool and knitting supply shop before working as a magistrate for 20 years.
Now retired, Janet spends the majority of her time as a ‘fair weather’ landscape painter and has had her work featured in exhibitions around the country. She also enjoys making beaded jewellery and playing golf. When did you first start sewing and why do you love it so much?
I started sewing when I was about 18. I shared my mum’s sewing machine, an old converted-to-electric one. I got my own machine for my 21st birthday. My early attempts at self sewn fashion were a bit hit and miss, but I had much more success a few years later when I started sewing for my children. I loved it because I could dress them as I wanted rather than having to buy what was available. That started my interest, but as they grew older and didn’t want home made stuff (particularly my boys) I turned to other pastimes and sewed only curtains and mended jeans.
The last major thing I made was a dress for my daughter’s 21st, then I had a 20 year hiatus, and started again 3 years ago. The change in the sewing scene was mind-blowing. The arrival of sewing online, pdf patterns and online fabric shopping was a game changer and opened up so many exciting new doors that I became more and more enamored and excited.
Who was your mentor?
My mum started me sewing because she made things for us. Once I got married she helped and guided me with the things I made for my children. After we had grown up and left home she no longer made things for herself and became involved in other pastimes, but she was always interested in what I made.
What is your favourite garment to sew/or your speciality?
I love sewing jersey tops for myself. They are a gratifying thing to sew because they are quick to make and once you have nailed the techniques, tend to be pretty simple. Their only limitation is their simplicity, but that encourages me to be more creative with colour and fabric choices. I am constantly on the look out for interesting variations, and am currently investigating fabric decoration and embellishment techniques. 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 wanted to be on the GBSB because it seemed like an interesting adventure. I like a challenge, and whilst I don’t consider myself to be seriously competitive the idea of seeing how my skills compared to other sewers was an attractive proposition. I wanted to impress Esme, I learned a lot from her, and I have a lot of respect for her style and skills. Of course, praise from Patrick was high on my wish list.
Joe was a welcome relief from the pressure of constantly being scrutinised. He seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing and was gently funny without putting pressure on us.
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 Sewing Room was exactly as I imagined it to be having watched previous series, but I never considered what it would be like with all the camera equipment and the masses of people involved in the production. That was quite a surprise. It was also housed in a much larger space than I imagined. It really hit home what we had let ourselves in for when we first climbed the stairs and entered the room.
I was really dreading the transformation challenge. I had never done anything like that before and wasn’t familiar with working directly on a tailors dummy, or thinking on my feet.
Do you have a special attachment to a sewing tool?
I am very attached to my awl. It is constantly in my right hand to help me feed fabric through the foot of the sewing machine and to persuade difficult bits to behave as I want them to. My most used tool, however, is probably my seam ripper! In your sewing life: What has been your worst sewing disaster – and your biggest triumph?
I can’t think of any major sewing disasters, only quite a lot of garments that never made into onto my back, but passed directly into the bin bag.
My biggest fail was an outfit that I planned very carefully, designed the pattern, matched checks, sewed and pressed carefully and finished it nicely. And I just looked awful in it. My earliest attempts at designing my own clothes involved me grappling to find my own style, which I don’t think I successfully achieved until I came back to sewing after a long gap, when I was in my late 60s.
My biggest success was an evening dress I made very early on because my boyfriend (now my husband of 48 years) was taking me to the Yorkshire Bachelor’s Ball. It was in the days of Come Dancing when the commentary frequently mentioned all the sequins being sewn on by hand. I stitched hundreds of sequins by hand onto that dress. It looked a triumph but most of the sequins ended up on the floor of his sports car because they weren’t very securely attached. It wasn’t easy getting in and out of his car, because mother said I shouldn’t put a slit in the skirt (for reasons of propriety) and it was full length and very slimline!
Describe your style, and how much of your own clothes do you make?
I prefer to dress in a casual, colourful and slightly funky manner than probably is not age appropriate. I spent a lot of my working life wearing ‘business clothes’ so now I can be a little more wacky.
I make most of my own clothes, probably 90%. This year I have only bought 2 items. I have a large wardrobe full of bought things that either don’t suit my current lifestyle or don’t fit, but I keep because I might be able to use the material and make something more interesting out of them. Next year I am going to try to buy none.
Can you give a sewing tip for amateur sewers who have been enjoying the show?
Don’t skimp on the preparation. Read the pattern, then read it again. Measure twice then check again before you cut out. Make marks (I like tailor tacks) that you can see and understand what they are. Don’t rush. Enjoy the process. Finished is better than perfect.
What is the best way to describe the relationship between this year’s Bees?
The best part about being on the show was the other Bees. We had a terrific relationship and laughed until we cried. (Sometimes we cried and then laughed – it was very emotional). I have never had a sewing buddy, now I have nine who if they don’t know the answer to my sewing query will tell me where to find it.