The Great British Sewing Bee 2016

Anticipation is well and truly in the air as we not-so-patiently await the arrival of The Great British Sewing Bee 2016 on the BBC on 5th May. Will there be sobs over snapped needles, hysterics about hemlines, blow-ups over buttonholes? And, most importantly of all, will Patrick still have a moustache?

One thing we do know about GBSB series 4 is that May Martin will sadly not be joining Patrick in judging the sewists’ efforts this year – instead, costume designer and co-founder of fashion label Swanky Modes, Esme Young, will be casting her expert eye over their finished garments. May, we’ll miss you!

Before the new lot of crafty contestants take to the sewing machines, we asked a few former Bees about life since the show, their favourite moments and whether they have any words of wisdom to offer this year’s hopefuls…

Patrick Grant, Matt, May Martin cr BBC:Love Productions:Mark Bourdillon

Chinelo Bally was on the brink of launching her career when she took part in GBSB series two. “I had begun the groundwork for my business, and the show was a great way to kick-start all of that,” she comments.

“It led to my book, Freehand Fashion, being published and also added another strand to what I do, because as soon as the show aired people began getting in touch and asking if I teach workshops. That hadn’t occurred to me previously, but I thought, why not? And that’s now an enjoyable part of what I do.”

Chinelo says meeting like-minded people is a brilliant benefit of appearing on the Bee. “For me personally, taking part was amazing,” she says. “It’s nice to be in an atmosphere where everyone loves sewing and you’re all in a room sharing knowledge. I learnt so much from the other contestants, as well as judges Patrick Grant and May Martin.”

We love the idea of participants generously sharing their sewing prowess – a far cry from most televised competitions we can think of! Freehand Fashion by Chinelo Bally is published by Pavilion-Photos by Claire Pepper and Laura Lewis3Since winning series three, Matt Chapple co-founded with his wife Gemma. The biggest impact, Gemma says, has been on their time. “If Matt’s not working on a project for our blog or designing a sewing kit or project, then you’ll likely find him talking about it,” she exclaims.

“We’ve both become masters at scheduling in short bursts of activity to make sure we have the right balance as a family. The best result of us working as a team is that we actually spend more time together, but we’re not chilling on the sofa!”

Taking part in the series has potential to lead to a wide range of opportunities, Matt tells us: “The show opens doors. I know that some of us have been asked to do talks, demos, shop openings, blogs and so on. Ryan Walklett has even been working on some stage shows, which goes to show what a talented guy he is.” Matt Chapple1 cr SewWhatsNewFellow series three contestant Deborah Simms believes there’s plenty of personal growth to be gained from taking part, too. “The Bee can make you much more confident about what you can achieve as a sewist,” she says.

“In the weeks following filming I made a plastic raincoat, something I’d always wanted but never thought to sew myself. I’ve learnt more about how I sew under pressure, and have since met some wonderful inspiring people who’ve also been inspired by the programme.”

Excitement about sewing has been spiralling upwards since the launch of the show, with increasing numbers discovering the gratification of making for themselves. “The Sewing Bee has changed the public’s opinion of what sewing is, and who does it,” says Chinelo. “Now people see sewing as really cool. The show inspires people to give sewing a try, and that’s really amazing.”

Great expectations
As we wait with anticipation for series four to begin, we’re certain the show will prompt ever-greater interest in sewing among the general public. But what can the next wave of contestants expect, and what will be expected of them?

First things first, you’ll need to be able to keep a secret, because there will inevitably be a time lapse between filming the show, and airing it. “I developed a poker face to deal with this, and any time someone asked me about the winner, I just said I didn’t know, even though that was blatantly untrue,” exclaims Chinelo. “I didn’t even tell many of my friends I’d been on it until it aired in 2014, and we’d filmed it in October 2013!” cr Terence SimmsThere will be plenty of things to look forward to, as well. “The Sewing Bee is great fun, and a great way to make sewing friends for life,” says Deborah. “It gives you the confidence to attempt things you might never have thought to attempt.”

She recommends putting the competitive side of the show to the back of your mind. “Try not to worry too much about winning, just remember why you started sewing in the first place,” she says. “I didn’t take it too seriously, and that made it so much easier to relax.”

It’s true that there are plenty of stress triggers to manage, as Chinelo can attest. “You might have ten people trying to talk to you while you’re sewing on the show, so the simplest task becomes the most difficult in your life!”

Matt has some useful advice for coping with this. “Getting used to multiple cameras floating around filming your every move is a little daunting at first, but they soon become the norm,” he reassures us. “I’d say take deep breaths, relax as much as you can and enjoy the whole experience. After all, it’s only sewing!” Matt and Claudia cr BBC:Love Productions:Mark BourdillonAnd. if all else fails, there’s always show host Claudia Winkleman to turn to. “In one of the episodes I was trying to lace up the back of a nightgown, and was really struggling until Claudia came over to help me,” Chinelo recalls. “Claudia is amazing, actually. She bakes brownies and brings them in to help keep everyone’s spirits up.”

Hang on, aren’t we getting sidetracked by a different BBC show here? “No, really, Claudia makes the best brownies in the world!” Chinelo says with a grin. “And she and Patrick are like unruly children, which helps diffuse the tension. You wouldn’t believe the things they come out with. It’s like ‘wash your mouth out with soap!’”

Just like us, Matt can’t wait to see GBSB return. “Fingers crossed it encourages more people to get their sewing machines out and give something a go,” he says. “There’s nothing better than creating a truly one-off garment.”

To find out more about this year’s show, keep an eye on the BBC website and Sewing Bee Facebook page.Series 3 finalist, judges and Claudia cr BBC:Love Productions:Mark Bourdillon

Judy Darley hiresWritten by Judy Darley. See more of Judy’s work at

Photo credits: Great British Sewing Bee images cr BBC/Love Productions/Mark Bourdillon; Matt Chapple image cr; Chinelo Bally image cr Claire Pepper and Laura Lewis; Deborah Simms image cr Terence Simms.