How exciting was the final of this year’s Great British Sewing Bee!

We had three very talented contestants, with different strengths and weaknesses:

Matt Gage: Matt is a broadcast engineer by day. However, in his spare time he likes to create drag outfits for himself, his partner and his friends in the East London LGBTQ community. He has won the most Pattern Challenges, but has never done well at the transformations. During the show he has displayed a great creative streak but when things get tough he sometimes tends to crumble. You can follow him on Instagram @mattgagesewing

Clare Bradley: Clare is a respiratory consultant at Portsmouth hospital. She was taught to sew as a child by her mother, but has been sewing more seriously in the last five years to satisfy her passion for vintage clothing. She is nearly always methodical and precise, and fairly unflappable. Her creativity has developed and flourished on the show, resulting in her winning the last three Transformation Challenges. However she has never won a Made to Measure challenge. You can follow her on Instagram @clare.bradders

Nicole Akong: Trinidadian Nicole is a jewellery designer who likes experimenting with tricky fabrics. Her ambition can sometimes be her undoing but when she succeeds the results are spectacular. She is very exuberant, likes a bit of sparkle and has won three ‘Garment of the Week’ awards. You can follow her on Instagram @nicole_akong

The theme this week was “Celebration” and the Pattern Challenge was to make a traditional tartan kilt for a child. This was to have a frayed edge and be fastened with two leather straps and buckles. The judges pointed out that it requires an incredible level of precision to get the pleats exactly right. The pleats also have to be reduced to draw in the kilt in at the waist, which requires mathematical calculation. As an extra twist, the contestants weren’t given pattern pieces – instead they had to measure and cut the fabric freehand using the repeating squares of the tartan as a guide.

Nicole and Clare both chose tartan fabric with a small repeat to make lining up the pleats easier. Matt, on the other hand, chose a large repeat which means he had to pleat through large areas of plain fabric with no guidelines.

Not surprisingly, Clare won this challenge with her usual calm and methodical approach. Patrick loved the look of the pleating and noted how evenly they had been reduced at the waist. Nicole came a close second but the judges felt her waistband wasn’t quite right. Matt was third in this challenge as he had not done his pleats correctly and the kilt didn’t fit at the waist as he hadn’t reduced the pleats – resulting in what the judges termed a ‘hipster style’ kilt!

There is a guide to making kilts HERE.

Next it was time for the Transformation Challenge. This week the contestants were given a swimsuit and a prom dress and asked to make a carnival outfit from them. In addition, the contestants had access to lots of recycled sparkle in the haberdashery.

Nicole was in her element in this phase having enjoyed many a carnival in Trinidad and she won this challenge. Her design was based on a bikini with a cutaway detail at the top of the bust with lots of decoration and bling. Esme particularly loved the way some of the embellishments would jingle when dancing. Patrick said it was fabulous, and liked the way it included many different elements that worked really well together.

Clare came a close second with an outfit featuring huge wings supported with wooden measuring rules. The judges felt it was an amazing feat of engineering but Esme felt it was a shame there wasn’t any decoration on the bust piece.  Matt came third again. The judges felt it was not quite embellished enough and didn’t really quite go together as an outfit.

Finally we came to the Made to Measure Challenge which was to create a stunning evening gown with a cut out detail. The judges said they wanted a dress with incredible impact as well as being well sewn and well fitted. The contestants were able to chose their own models this time – Nicole and Clare chose female friends whilst Matt chose his partner Greg, also known by his drag alter ego ‘Miss Martini’.

Clare chose to recreate the golden age of Hollywood with a 1930s slinky gown made of red silk crepe backed satin. It featured a cut out at the bust with a jewelled embellishment. Patrick thought it was the epitome of elegance although the judges did notice a small pucker at the edge of the cut out. The judges also loved the fit of the dress.

True to form, Nicole chose a bright orange fabric for her dress, with a feathered skirt with side split and a cut out back. Unfortunately she encountered some problems in the sewing process which meant the feathered fabric was only lightly stitched on. However, the overall effect was good and the judges thought it was really glamorous.

Matt had drafted his pattern himself. The asymmetrical bodice was made of black leatherette with a risque cutout going from the waist through into the back. He incorporated studs at the front of the bodice and a ring at the back. This contrasted with a full skirt made of black and gold brocade.  The judges loved the combination of fabrics and felt it had real impact and drama.

Finally, the sewing room was filled with the three finalists’ family and friends, plus former contestants from the series, to hear that the winner this year was … Clare! She looked genuinely shocked as did her incredibly proud mum! Afterwards Clare said:

‘I hold myself to high standards but those are usually things I have gone trained for and gone in for like exams, exams and more exams. This is something I signed up to for fun and to do interesting things and I have.’

It seems particularly poignant that whilst the series was being broadcast on TV, Clare was extremely busy working at the hospital on the frontline during the coronavirus crisis. On her Instagram she revealed that she watched most of the series on her own during lockdown, however for the final episode she borrowed a projector so that she could watch the show with a couple of friends in their garden. Hopefully now she might have a little more time to enjoy some new sewing projects!

We hope you have been inspired by the show to start some sewing projects of your own.  Have a look at our Newest Arrivals page for the latest fabrics to come in.  Here are a few of our favourites:

Centre: Linen Cotton – Grey Chambray

Top left: Cotton Jersey Stripes White/Navy

Top right: Lady McElroy Cotton Lawn – Artisan Display Turquoise

Bottom: Cotton Poplin – Pink Meadow

We also have a fantastic range of sewing patterns from independent designers – check out our Latest Patterns page for our new arrivals.  You can also search our patterns by ‘type’ and by ‘designer’.

Happy sewing!