The Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen have told one fairy tale in common, which is The Six Swans or The Wild Swans. In this story, sewing had the magical power of healing from witches' spells and restoring the true identity of humans. At the end of the story, the queen won her race against time, finished sewing for her brothers in the last minute, and saved them from turning into animals.
Our guest today, Juliet Uzor, is the crowned winner of the BBC Great Sewing Bee competition 2019. Her passion for sewing may shed some light on a modern interpretation of the old fairy tale.
There is a secret spell that Adam Smith has cast on our modern economy and it is called "efficiency". Under his magic wand in the invisible hand of free market, a group of people in the society become specialised in setting trends and defining a unified golden standard for beauty, and another group is specialised in spraying the "buy it" perfume into the air. And the ones who have escaped from making, will inevitably step into such enchanted air, surrender to shopping maniac impulses, and are even willing to sacrifice heath, wealth and their true personality in order to fit into desired clothes or a new faceless identity.
However, with a little compromise on efficiency, one could venture in the time-consuming and sometimes painstaking process of home sewing. Without much glamour nor social pressure, this is an opportunity to re-examine one's needs and desires and to pursue only the true ones. Equipped with the knowledge of making, one can also gain one's confidence to defend one's own aesthetic values against a fantasized universal idealism of beauty, to follow their true inspiration instead of engineered buying impulses, and to liberate oneself from the curse of excessive shopping.
Last but not least, the home brewed fashion also comes with some extra ingredients, which is heart and love that can not be bought from the shelf.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I am a mum and primary school teacher. I graduated from university with a Bachelors of science degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics but went ahead to complete a post graduate degree in Primary education. I worked as a primary school teacher and Maths Lead for close to 9 years.
My love of maths, problem solving and curious nature led me to buy a sewing machine and teach myself to learn how to operate a machine and sew. I used a lot of books and online tutorials to navigate my way through really challenging projects. My relentless nature and creativity saw me through all the way to be crowned the winner of the BBC Great British Sewing Bee in April 2019.
How did you get interested in fashion design and making?
After going through issues with sizing as a curvier lady, I decided to take on the challenge to learn to make the clothes that suited my style and in the fabric types that I actually like.
On Design and Styling
In your opinion, what styles or features suit a curvier body better?
I think that designs which flatter the curves without adding too much detail to the fuller areas are ideal for curvier body types.
My trick is to add a belt or waist tie to cinch in the waist of designs that appear boxy. Wrap style dresses and tops are my go-to styles.
What are the features or design elements you like when creating your own style?
I’m obsessed with sleeves and the first element I think about for every design is, how can I make a statement with the sleeves?
On Home Sewing
What are the most important things you learned in your sewing experience?
I learnt that there is no style, technique…nothing on the runway or high street that I cannot try and be successful at. I learnt that it takes a lot of problem solving, mistakes, trial and error in order to make it to the top.
What are the challenges you have faced in the home sewing process?
The main challenges I have faced in my home sewing process is the lonely nature of it all. Being a home sewer, there aren’t other creatives present to brainstorm and tackle any issues as a team. This leads to time wasting which is useful to ensure that mistakes & errors are proper learning opportunities.
Do you also make clothes for your friends or family members? If so, how do they like your work?
Apart from bespoke commissions that I do, I make clothes for friends and family and they are my greatest cheerleaders. They also give me constructive feedback to keep me focused. This is something I really do appreciate.
On Social Engagement
What have you learned from participating in the TV sewing competition?
I learnt that I can create any garment that is thrown at me-literally. It might take longer but I CAN. I grew in self confidence and learnt to ignore the little voice in my head that makes me think I can’t measure up to others.
What are the areas you would like to explore in your future projects?
I would really love to teach more people to sew and be in charge of their style. This would enable them not to dance to the tune of trends and whatever the high street churns out to them.
Bachelors of science degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics
Post graduate degree in Primary education.
Primary school teacher and Maths Lead
2019 winner of the BBC Great British Sewing Bee