Where do you find an Edinburgh-based scientist who just so happens to be a pro sewist, trained as a vet AND is a whiz at circus trapeze? Why on this year’s Great British Sewing Bee of course!
Oh Ben, don’t leave us! We were so sad to say goodbye to Ben’s good humour and creative flair for refashioning this week. We fell in love with him from the off when he admitted, “Whenever I create something it’s almost like a baby that I’m putting out into the world. Everything I make is like a part of me.”
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His experiments with fabric printing and construction have fast become a highlight of the Sewing Bee 2019 and he defines his personal style as veering between seventies TV presenter and futuristic ninja.
We chat to the man himself about his sewing life and his time on the Bee…
When did you first start sewing and why do you love it so much?
I grew up in a very crafty household, so learnt to sew (and knit, crochet etc.) at a very young age. Mostly this consisted of things like cross stitch and tapestry. I first used a sewing machine when I started secondary school… but given the cheap nasty poly fabric and truly abysmal projects we were given, I unsurprisingly didn’t fall in love with it at that point.
While I did use a sewing machine from time to time, it was only when I went to Vet School in Glasgow, a place where parties only came in the fancy dress variety, that I began sewing more and more. I realised quite how much I loved it after I left and sadly the fancy dress parties became fewer and further apart. That’s when I began sewing proper clothing that could be worn in real life (some people may argue some of my pieces still fall somewhere nearer costume than clothes but hey, I know my roots!).
For me, it’s the love of fashion and the opportunity to exercise the creative side of my brain that makes me love sewing. It’s what has driven me to develop those other skills, like pattern cutting and textile design, which in turn make me love it all the more.
Who was your mentor?
I’m mostly self taught so don’t strictly speaking have a sewing mentor, although I have been lucky enough to have many inspiring and creative people amongst my friends and family who have always helped push me.
Why did you want to be a Great British Sewing Bee and who did you want to most impress of the Judges, or both?
I’ve loved the Sewing Bee since it first aired, so I just really wanted the chance to be part of it all! I just felt so lucky to be there, if I managed to impress anyone that would be a bonus…that’s a lie, I’m your typical type A personality, obviously I wanted to impress everyone!
When the sewing got tough, was Joe a welcome ally?
I do not have enough nice words to describe the wonderful human being he is… and he is my new sartorial hero! Noone pulls off bubblegum pink faux fur quite like Mr Lycett!
Describe your experience on first walking into the sewing room.
It’s a cliché, but the whole experience was very surreal. I think I was too overwhelmed to feel much of anything on that first day. The first pattern challenge was definitely the most panic inducing though – not knowing what to expect, what the judges would be looking for, just how good everyone around you was going to be (turns out they are all amazing). As is no doubt obvious from my face during the judging, the fear is real!
Do you have a special attachment to a sewing tool?
I have many tools which I find indispensable for sewing (big shout out to the humble awl), but my most treasured piece of sewing paraphernalia is a silver needle case from the 1920’s. It was a gift from my Aunty Helen and I adore it.
In your sewing life: What has been your worst sewing disaster?
My worst disaster is hands down the time my dog lay down on my overlocker peddle… not a disaster in itself, but when you have about 8 hours work under the blade it quickly becomes catastrophic. I cut that bodice in half, there were tears and a very confused dog.
And your biggest triumph?
While far from being the most complex thing I have ever made, the first garment I ever drafted entirely from scratch (a pencil skirt for the mothership) is still something I am immensely proud of…and she still wears it!
Describe your style, and how much of your own clothes do you make?
My style is quite eclectic. I tend to dress depending on my mood that day, whether that be 50’s beat poet or 70’s kids TV presenter, country squire or futuristic ninja.
In the past I rarely made things for myself, men’s sewing patterns being in the main part indescribably dull and ugly. As my pattern drafting skills have improved and I’ve begun delving into menswear though, I find myself partaking in selfish sewing more and more.
Can you share a sewing tip or two?
Make something you can actually see yourself wearing in a fabric you like, not just something that is described as easy in a fabric that’s cheap (not that these things are necessarily mutually exclusive). Safe to say, you’re more likely to persevere through the multiple inevitable unpickings if you have something to show for it at the end.
Pyjama bottoms in a nice soft cotton are great!
Also, get someone (ideally who sews) to help you get your measurements. Measuring yourself is harder than you’d think, and it can make such a difference to your final garment.
What is the best way to describe the relationship between this year’s Bees?
I know as a viewer I was always a little sceptical of how well everyone got on, but we genuinely get on amazingly. I adore each and every one of them. It’s a bit sickening really, but there you go.
To see how the rest of the Bees are getting on, watch The Great British Sewing Bee on iPlayer and BBC 2 every Tuesday at 9pm.
Photographs © BBC/Love Productions