Sewing Bee: Get to know the team!
In preparation for the new season of Sewing Bee, get to know the show's judges Patrick and Esme and fabulous presenter Sara Pascoe.
BREAKING NEWS! Contestents Revealed for Sewing Bee Season 8!
Comedian/actress Sara, 40, is best known for her role as Coco Lomax in the BBC comedies W1A and Twenty Twelve and appearances on 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Live at the Apollo and QI. She also hosts the panel show Guessable on Comedy Central. She appeared in The Thick Of It, Free Agents and Being Human, wrote and starred in the BBC2 comedy Out of Her Mind and has written two books – Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body and Sex Power Money.
Having taken part in Celebrity Sewing Bee 2020, you know what it's like to be on the other side of the sewing machine. Did that help you as the new host?
Well, actually, what it did was undermine me terribly. They’d all seen me making terrible Christmas things the year before, so there was no me coming in saying: ‘Did you not think about using French seams?’ They were like: ‘Don't pretend you know about sewing…’ But all the people who make the show are incredibly sensitive to the wellbeing of the sewers. It’s a safe space where they can flourish. And so, having done it before, I knew how kind it was.
And I guess that makes you even more supportive of the sewers…
Well, quite often what I was seeing was incredibly talented people be very, very hard on themselves. Lots of creative people in all different fields, amateur or professional, hold themselves to very high standards. I felt like, a lot of the time, I was just going round saying ‘This is so great. You’re doing really well. Just remember how proud you should be of yourself.’ We can all do with a cheerleader in our life.
As you struggled to make festive pyjamas on Sewing Bee, did you think: ‘Oh, I'd like to host this show…’
Do you know what? I stupidly looked at Joe [Lycett] coming in and out and thought: ‘It’s brilliant. He only works for about 10 minutes a day…’ So, when I agreed to the job, I’d envisioned myself on a sofa laid out eating snacks. Obviously, there's a lot more content than goes into the programme. I had to re-evaluate how hard Joe was working.
How did you come to take over hosting duties?
There were auditions, so it was: ‘We’re going to be finding a new presenter. Would you like to be considered?’ Then, ‘Will you meet us and do some tapes?’ There were a few people and you always end up wanting things more because you’re competitive. When I realised I was up against lots of other comedians, I was like: ‘OK. I'm really gonna have to try my best.’
And it’s easier to host than it is to do the sewing…
Yes. It's a really lovely show. I didn't feel like we were making a TV programme. It felt like there was a group of sewers and a group of people who interview and film the sewers and all of us were just there having a competition. I was astonished by the talent and creativity of people. They are artists. Every one of them went on a journey out of their comfort zone. Quite often people are highly skilled in one area of sewing. The minute you tell someone who makes lovely dresses to make a Parka or clothes for children, they have to learn. There was always real growth. We had really hard pattern challenges. We had lacy underwear one week.
And then, you have to send one sewer home every week. That must be hard…
I got incredibly embarrassed – because I was pregnant, I was more hormonal than I would have liked to have been. Occasionally, I was already crying at Garment of the Week. I'd be so happy for the person who won. Sending someone home, it’s just horrible being the person who goes: ‘Actually, it’s you.’ I was really grateful no one ever really went home after a disaster. Usually, they had a good week, but everyone else had done that bit better. No one let themselves down.
What were your three favourite challenges?
My favourite Transformation was netball kits because they look so terrible to begin with and everyone finds PE kits incredibly triggering. The idea of turning those into a going out outfit in 90 minutes… I thought it was impossible. I was so impressed. I was impressed at all of the Transformations. My favourite pattern challenge was when they made the amorphous dress – a design by Swanky Modes and Esme. Esme is this rock ’n' roll punk having an incredible life and it was brilliant to celebrate that. My favourite Made-to-Measure was using old duvets to make a dress in Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Week. Everyone has old duvets in their house, so I hope people are inspired. You can make amazing things. You'll be really surprised. I’d say 90% of them, you wouldn't think it had been a duvet. They were like designer dresses. Really beautiful.
How was it working with Patrick and Esme?
They're very, very, very lovely people and the luckiest thing about the job is we laughed a lot. It's lucky to have that at work. You can't take that for granted when you make TV. The days are very long – sometimes 14 hours. They start very early. We're in a cold former woollen mill in Leeds. But we laughed a lot. There were lots of in-jokes. Lots of snacks. There was lots of Patrick saying he wasn't going to snack until 12. I'd say: ‘I'm not going to eat anything sugary only healthy things…’ And Esme was on the Fruitellas. I've never seen anyone eat so many sweeties. I don't want to out her as an addict, but I would say it was a problem. And there were Beyoncé moments because she doesn't like the pink ones. A runner would be going through the Fruitellas to remove the pink ones and they were the ones the rest of us were allowed. Esme had taken the best colours. You didn't hear it from me…
Are you ready to field requests from people that a) want a date with Patrick and b) want to know where Esme got her necklace or dress from?
Yes. I'm going to end up being a conduit. I'll be having to do Patrick’s dating diary because he's a very eligible bachelor and very popular with women of all ages. As we were away from home, we often socialised on our day off and I saw all the different kinds of women who approached Patrick for a selfie. There was a constant stream aged from 21 up to 80 or 90. The whole spectrum of humanity wants to kiss Patrick. Though Patrick was bubbled with us, so there was no kissing for him. Esme and I would roll our eyes every time a woman approached. We’d be like: ‘Here comes another one…’
What did Joe say about you getting the job?
I happened to see Joe the night I had the audition, so he knew I was in the process from the beginning. He was the first person to text me – before it was publicised I'd got the job. He said, ‘You're going to have such a great time. You’re so lucky.’
What's been the reaction from fellow comedians and showbiz pals…
It’s a really beloved show. I had a gig last night with Rachel Parris and she was like, ‘Oh, it's a dream job. You're so lucky.’ I had lovely tweet messages from people like Jenny Eclair, who I know did the Children in Need one several years ago. Lots of comics reached out to say well done and/or really jealous because that's a dream job.
Has doing the show changed your attitude towards clothes?
Yes. You don't think about how things are made, you just pop them on, don't you? Seeing how difficult certain things were to make, which look deceptively simple, gave me a newfound respect for quality and how things shouldlook. Rather than what people get when they get fast fashion which is something that isn’t well made. They aren't made with any love. There is a movement for more ethical clothing buying and Sewing Bee is a part of that. They're so passionate about it. Don't turn up to work wearing synthetic fabric or Patrick and Esme will tell you off. (LAUGHS) Luckily, I had had some help from a couple of stylists. I’d said, ‘I really want to make sure it's ethical brands, hopefully female-owned, smaller businesses.’
It’s slightly harder when you're pregnant to find stuff that's comfortable.
That's why I had the help. I’ve never been pregnant before and, over two months, I had no idea how much I was going to grow. I had this pair of jeans and said: ‘They’re a bit baggy, they’ll be fine.’ These two stylists were saying: ‘Absolutely not! You're going to need eight sizes…’ I had the biggest wardrobe of all. That’s my diva thing: all my maternity jeans in the corner.
Have you a message for people watching Sewing Beethinking about entering?
What was amazing about the sewers taking part is that there were people who've been sewing for decades – very experienced – and people who’d been sewing for two years since lockdown started. People don't realise how good they are. I’d just encourage people to enter the next series.
Patrick, 49, is a designer and creative director of bespoke tailors Norton & Sons of Savile Row and its subsidiary E Tautz. He won Menswear Designer of the Yearat the British Fashion Awards in 2010. He bought ailing Blackburn clothing manufacturer Cookson & Clegg in 2015, saving the factory from closure, and launched social enterprise Community Clothing to champion UK-made quality, affordable and sustainable fashion. He's judged The Great British Sewing Bee since its start in 2013. He lives in London.
What's the standard of this year’s sewers?
It’s exceptional. Absolutely exceptional. This year, we had so many fantastically good sewers, we could have had two finals worth of finalists. People went out in early rounds who could have easily won in previous years.
So, you and Esme found it hard to judge?
Yeah, we found it incredibly difficult on a number of occasions to separate the sewers. We set incredibly difficult challenges, which – week after week – they did brilliantly. It was very rare anybody really stood out head and shoulders above the rest. We had some people that were brilliant from the beginning and a number of people who just got better and better as the weeks went on.
What were your favourite challenges?
We did Music Week and had a David Bowie made-to-measure that was absolutely fantastic. They had to make an outfit inspired by his musical and artistic back catalogue and it was lovely because there was such a variety of interpretations. That was a definite highlight. Actually, I really, really enjoyed the whole of Music Week. The transformation challenge was turning denim into a country music stage outfit. They all did really well on that. And the first challenge was incredibly difficult: we got them to make a Parka. Obviously, there’s a big Mod association there and, more recently, with Oasis. That was a tough challenge. The pattern challenge for Sportswear Week was a huge curveball, too: trainers. Nobody expected it – a shoe was very much off people's radar – but you sew shoes. It’s a very different piece of apparel to sew, though. It was difficult. A couple of people did a very good job, but a number did struggle.
You did Japan Week, too…
Yes. I did a collection at E Tautz in 2019 where most of the pieces were old textiles that had been reclaimed. Lots of them had visible mends – they were patched and darned. We were making the point that mended clothes have a beauty about them we need to celebrate. And so it was really nice to do a challenge on Sewing Bee that was Sashiko and Boro-inspired – celebrating visible mending. Something I've always loved about Japanese culture is this celebration of the beauty in thriftiness. It wasn’t born out of anything particularly noble, it began with people with very limited amounts of money having to fix their clothes. And, because of all of this repeated patching and stitching, they became objects that became very valuable. If we're going to solve the environmental issues around the clothing industry, we have to get used to wearing and celebrating older clothes. We also did an origami-inspired challenge. Designers such as Issey Miyake have used origami in their collections. That was tricky.
You now have Sara Pascoe as the new Sewing Bee host – taking over from Joe Lycett…
I’ve been very, very lucky. Over eight series, I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to work with Claudia Winkleman, Joe and now Sara. We've been so fortunate to have such brilliant hosts. I loved working with Sara. We laughed all the time. It was every bit as much fun working with her as it was working with Joe and Claudia. Funnily enough, what was different about Sara was – because she’d been a contestant herself – she was much more invested in the sewing than Joe or Claudia. She’d been at the sharp end of it and that brought something really interesting and new to the process. She'd been in their shoes and had an empathy with the contestants that was quite different. An understanding of exactly what they were going through.
She knew that sick feeling in the stomach when the clock started…
Exactly. Sara was just great. I’d be watching from the wings chuckling at some of the things she and the sewers were saying to one another. I know anyone who is a fan of Sewing Bee will love her as a host. She's fantastic. It’s in safe hands with her at the helm. She’s everything we’d want from a host: she’s amazing with the sewers, hilariously funny, great fun to work with. You couldn't ask for anything more.
You filmed in a former woollen mill in Leeds this time…
I went to university in Leeds a long time ago and, during filming, I was living in a flat 200 yards from where the nightclub we used to go to – Back to Basics – used to be. It was this super successful dance music club that ran for years. I was having flashbacks to a very different period of time. It was great filming there. I cycled to work along the canal every day. And Esme and I and occasionally Sara would go and have the odd cup of coffee in town on days we weren't filming. There were so many people in Leeds asking what we were doing and they were so excited we were filming Sewing Bee in Leeds. Of course, Leeds has this amazing textile heritage and it felt very appropriate to not only be filming in Leeds, but also to be filming in a woollen mill. And the scenery around there… On days off, I was out on my bike and having a very nice time.
What do you like most about working with Esme?
Well, she doesn't pull any punches. She says exactly what she thinks. Sometimes we agree on things and sometimes we don't, but whenever we don't agree, we both respect one another enough that we're still friends at the end of it. We share a little WhatsApp group together and do get along very, very well. I like her enormously. We would go for cups of coffee and walks on our days off. We used to wander up to Roundhay Park and down the canal. It was fun.
Confusing lots of Sewing Bee fans on the way, I imagine…
We did! We had socially distanced pictures with fans in the street. It’s funny because individually we sort of pass under the radar a little bit, but when you see us both together, it's much more obvious who we are.
You can't really hide. One very tall, one slightly shorter…
Slightly shorter, yes. (LAUGHS) She was busy making a few things during filming. We shared a little room with a sewing machine, so I get Esme’s 1960s/1970s playlist, whether we like it or not, at full volume. It’s very entertaining. In fact, it feels a bit funny to be back home and not filming after eight weeks of solidly being there.
And to get back into that spirit, all you need to do is listen to some 1970s tunes…
I started collating a little playlist of the things Esme’s playlist would churn out. I've got a Esme Sewing Bee Playlist on Spotify I can play if I need it.
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Esme, 72, joined The Great British Sewing Bee as a judge in 2016. A designer who’s made costumes for films such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Trainspotting and Bridget Jones’s Diary, Esme is also a tutor at Central Saint Martins art school. Along with three friends passionate about fashion, she opened the iconic store, Swanky Modes in Camden, London, in the 1970s and dressed stars such as Grace Jones, Siouxsie Sioux and Cher. Their most famous creation, the Amorphous dress, is in The V&A Museum. She lives in London.
What is the standard of the sewers this year?
Oh, really good. Really good. They were very impressive. We’re really testing them with some of the challenges this year. Some of them are a nightmare. Trainers in Sportswear Week… that was a bit of a shock for them. It came out of left field. That was quite interesting because it was all flat sewing until you had to put the top into the sole. That was what made it really tricky. There was a Lingerie Week, too. I do an underwear course at Central Saint Martins and I've got an amazing collection of underwear dating from Victorian times to the modern day. Knickers, bras, petticoats, all sorts. Not that I wear them! I have them in boxes and I show my students. The sewers were making more modern styles, but it’s quite hard – that combination of elastic and trim and lace.
What were your favourite challenges?
We had a 1930s Week and I love the 1930s. They had to make a bias cut dress for the Made-to-Measure Challenge and that can be really tricky. It was supposed to be an evening dress for a Hollywood star and all the models looked like they were off to the Oscars. Well, most of them did. Every week there's somebody who finds it tricky because it's something they've never done. They can be really good at sewing one particular item – or quite a few things – but if it’s something they’ve never done before, it's an absolute challenge. Their brain goes into panic mode. They were asking each other for help and it’s so brilliant they help each other. That’s the nice thing about shows like this – they’re not going to sabotage somebody. They all learn from each other and it’s quite special because they make friends for life.
And the sewers had to turn school uniform into something a kid would want to wear outside school. Tell us more…
I did this little film for The One Show and they wanted me to say which school uniforms were the best made. When I looked into it, the thing that was absolutely shocking was the price. Absolutely shocking. There’s the fabric, the haberdashery, the shipping, people having to be paid to make it… how can it be so cheap? And none of this stuff is recycled. So it was good to do something to try and persuade people to re-use school uniform rather than just throwing them away or having them languishing in a drawer.
In Party Week, The Pattern Challenge was to make your iconic Swanky Modes creation – the Amorphous Dress…
It was fabulous to do that because it has such meaning for me. It is an iconic dress. Absolutely iconic. The Amorphous Dress is a dress that's cut in one piece. It looks a bit like an amoeba when it’s laid out – that’s why it was called an amorphous dress. It has shoulder seam and a dart and, when it’s all sewn together, you’ve got cutaway bits down one side that you do up with D-rings. Somebody who bought it from us in the late 1970s or early 80s said she went into a restaurant wearing one and everyone stood up and clapped because she made such an entrance in this dress. It’s made from a Lycra material. Swanky Modes was one of the first design companies to use Lycra in clothes other than sportswear.
Was everyone who was anyone wearing them at the time?
Lots of people did wear them. We sold them to a shop in New York and the guy who owned the shop said Cher had bought one. It was also in the film Crocodile Dundee – Linda Kozlowski wore a red one. Also the Amorphous Dress is in the V&A.
The Amorphous Dress in the Victorian & Albert Museum! That's quite something.
Oh God, I should say! There was another Lycra dress we did called the Padlock Dress. There's a picture of Grace Jones wearing it. That's in the Museum of London… which is pretty amazing.
Talking of famous people, you did a David Bowie inspired made-to-measure in Music Week…
Well, that was interesting. When you think about it, all Bowie’s looks were so different, weren’t they? From Ziggy Stardust to when he used to wear suits, so – in a way – it’s quite a difficult thing to decide what to make. Some of his stuff was quite androgynous. Certainly, early on. It was very interesting to be influenced by Bowie and update it, so it didn’t look too much like a costume. It looked like garments you could wear. That was a very interesting challenge and there was quite a range of different styles. There were a few flights of fancy in the sewing room that day. People took from him and turned it in to something you would wear nowadays.
You once met David Bowie…
I did meet him, yeah. I sat on a window ledge with him at the Notting Hill Carnival. I can't quite remember what year it was – the early 90s or late 80s. A lovely memory. Some friends had a party and one friend of mine had produced some David Bowie records, so he was there. I went upstairs to look for someone and David was with various people sitting on a window ledge, so I went and sat beside him and had a little chat.
What was he like?
Very, very nice. He was very down to earth and chatty. Not at all snotty. The carnival was happening in the street below and I remember somebody looked up and saw him and said: ‘Oh, my God. It’s David Bowie!’
Can you remember what he was wearing?
I can actually… because I asked him. He was wearing an Italian tailored suit and we had a discussion about Saville Row and Italian tailoring and the difference between them…. which was appropriate for me.
What does new host Sara Pascoe bring to the proceedings?
She’s great, Sara. First of all, she’s really friendly, really funny and really fun. And she’s very good with the sewers. She was supportive of them and made them laugh when they were having a stressful time. She’s not one of those people who stamps her foot and says: ‘I want this!’ or ‘I want that!’ She’s not a diva. One thing about Sewing Bee is it really feels like a little community. The sound people, the producers, the camera operators… most of them have been there since the first series I ever did, so it really does feel like a community. And that’s really nice. Sara slotted in well.
You and your fellow judge Patrick Grant come from very different parts of the fashion world. Do you find yourself learning from each other?
Definitely. It's a good combination because we both bring something different to the table. It works really well and we get on really well. He's a very charming man. It’s very easy working with Patrick. We can discuss stuff. We don't fall out if we disagree.
Do you ever disagree over the person that should go?
Yeah, we do, we do. Sometimes it’s tricky. It’s not very often – mostly we agree – but occasionally we don't. Then we go off into our little room and have a discussion. We don't scream and shout at each other.
You’re in charge of the music in the room you share with Patrick, I hear…
I’ve got a 1960s and 1970s playlist I play in our room when we’re not on set. I’m singing along as I make a dress on my sewing machine. There’s a lot of soul music – Aretha, Marvin Gaye – and a few by Frank Sinatra. I have modern things as well – I like Arlo Parks – so I do have a mix, but it’s a lot of soul and 1970s stuff. I love soul music. The 1970s music I listen to… I had friends in the bands: Betty Bright, Cliver Langer and the Boxes, Deaf School, Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen. And reggae I like as well. I like Peter Tosh and Bob Marley and all that. If we have a wrap party, Patrick and I both like a bit of a dance. We quite often dance together. He’s a good dancer.