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Jenniffer Taylor Interview

I spoke to Jenni from series 2 of The Great British Sewing Bee to find out about how she got into sewing and what lead to her appearing on the show. 

Jenni Taylor - Taylor Tailor - Great British Sewing Bee



Hi Jenni, please tell us how did you get into sewing, and what was the first thing you made?

The first time I really got into sewing was when I decided I wanted to make my wedding dress.

I have made very small things as a child like hand sewn pencil cases for friends at school and then GCSE Textiles as a teenager, but nothing of this scale and not for a very long time.

Did you not find it daunting starting with a project as big as a wedding dress?  What did you learn through the process?

Most people thought I was mad taking on something so special as my wedding dress for the first project but those who are close to me, knew ‘well that’s just so Jenni!’.

Luckily, I was in good company as my sister in law, put me in contact with Ineke Berlyn (her mother in Law) who is a textile artist by trade. She helped me make my dream dress. I designed my own lace and using a technique called paper laminating, which uses paper and organza to form my ‘lace’ which lay over the top of dupion silk which formed my wedding dress. Not many people can say their wedding dress is made from paper!    


What kind of thing do you prefer to sew now?

Anything and everything! I see each new garment or item as an opportunity to learn new skills. I think this is how I managed to get good enough to go onto the sewing bee. I literally became addicted to sewing for myself and for others, at any given opportunity. So I was sewing lots of different types of things from dresses to jacket. Bags to shirts.

 
Upcycled skirt by Jenni TaylorI understand you are now running upcycling workshops, please tell me more about that.  Where, when, what experience required etc…

I’m so excited about this.  I think upcycling/recycling is a wonderful way to start sewing. Using old clothes or linen that you would potentially just throw out, to practice with and in turn make something wonderful. My classes are for absolute beginners however I have had a few ‘sewing hands’ attend and they really enjoyed the experience of turning something old into something new without using a pattern as this process is not the norm for them. I’m trying to get a few going around the Midlands and hopefully the UK. So please follow me for details near you!

Do you think upcycling is a good place for someone new to sewing to start? 

Absolutely, beginning to sew can be really scary. Especially when looking for fabric from markets and shops as fabric is on a roll and flat. Which is quite an unfamiliar sight, you may not be able to tell your cotton from your stretch knits. Where with old clothes you know what you are using because you wear them. You know that an old pair of jeans would be good for bags as they are a hard wearing material and men’s shirts are generally light and cool fabrics, so would be great for summer dresses for instance. You don’t need lots of money to get started. Once you get a grip of sewing you can then tackle the fabric shops.Sso markets may not seem so scary anymore and you have the confidence to buy a few meters knowing you can make something from it.

What tips would you give for someone just starting on their sewing journey?

Take your time, and don’t worry if you make a mistake and have to unpick (A sewer’s best friend - get a decent unpicker)! Even great sewers like May and Patrick I’m sure have to unpick!

 
What made you apply to The Great British Sewing Bee?  Did you watch the first series?

I DIDN’T APPLY! My Husband Kirk applied for me which at the time I could have killed him for. I had only been sewing for about a year at that point. He quizzed me after watching the first series about applying for it – I quickly said ‘don’t be stupid I’m not good enough to go on there’! Obviously Kirk and The Great British Sewing Bee thought differently. It was a massive shock to even get the secret application accepted, let alone get through all the audition stages and then to appear on the show.

Jenni Taylor's handmade wedding dress Paper lace on Jenni's wedding dress
Jenni's Wedding Dress Close up on the lace detail

 

 

What were the auditions like?  Did you have to demonstrate a range of technique and show you could sew under pressure?  

Intense! But I’m not allowed to disclose the audition process but there were a lot of stages!


How did you feel when you found out you were going to be on the show?

I cried! I just couldn’t believe I have got this far! This was the ultimate sewing experience. I was so excited about what I could potentially learn from the show, Patrick and May’s guidance and from the other contestants! There were so many sewing years in the room! It was a treat!


How did you prepare for the filming, were you frantically practicing at home?

My rate of sewing is relatively high, may be 1 or 2 garments a week but it did go to another level! I wanted to give myself as much practice as possible. But it was difficult working full time and juggling the band commitments so only really had the evenings or weekends if I wasn’t gigging.


Do you have any tips for coping with sewing under pressure?  Did you find you sew differently when you have time restraints?

That’s a tough one, you need to take your time but you cannot really do that when you have time constraints. If you have the opportunity to plan - do it. Read your pattern. Go through each step in your mind first. However, as you see in the show, two of the tasks are blind tasks. Some of the technique’s or materials used in these tasks, I had not yet come across in my one year of sewing. So I couldn’t really prep for that. But I think I handled it really well considering. How I did that? I have no idea; maybe making my own wedding dress with no previous experience put me in good stead.

Upcycling workshops with Jenni from The Great British Sewing Bee

Upcycling workshops with Jenni

 

What were the best and worst bits about being on the show?

Being on the show! Everything about it I LOVED! The stress, the early mornings, the lights camera action! The sewing, the materials, the tasks, the critique! The tears, the joy, the contestants, Judges, and crazy Claudia. I want to do it all AGAIN!  Worst bits, seeing friends(contestants) go. That was really hard.  And the show now being all over, it was such a fantastic experience. An opportunity I’m not sure I will never get again.

Was it harder than you expected?  It looks to me like this year’s tasks are a lot more challenging than last year’s.

Hell Yeah! It felt like that. The Bee really pulled all the stops out on this series! Not that I don’t think the first series wasn’t hard. But I do think they covered more techniques and fabric challenges. So we had two beasts to tackle.

 
Is there anything you wish you'd done differently?

I need to have more confidence in myself and my abilities. The contestants and the judges reassured me a few times when I doubted myself. I think the first few episodes really showed how fragile I was feeling, surrounded by these amazing sewers. I thought what am I doing here?  I’m not good enough to be here. But looking back now with friends and family every Tuesday, I am proud of what I have achieved in such a short space of time, before and after the Bee. It’s quite funny that I needed to be on TV in front of 3 million people, for me to realise that I CAN SEW!

Shirts handmade by Tailor Taylor

Men's shirts handmade by Jenni

Has the show changed anything for you? Do you get recognised?

It has given me the confidence boost to do what I love. Sewing and showing other how to do it to. I originally wanted to be a teacher when I was a kid, and now I get to do exactly that through my workshops. I have been spotted a few times in Pubs and supermarkets. I can’t pop to the shop in my PJ’s anymore! Or maybe I can if they have moustaches and top hats on them!

Are you still in touch with any of the other contestants?

I regularly keep in contact with them by phone or social media. Some more than others due to time, family etc all the normal things that stop you getting in contact with your own family and friends sometimes. I consider them all to be close friends. I do hope we get to meet up again soon in person.

Dungarees sewn by Jenni
Dungarees made by a pattern adapted by Jenni


Several people from series one have used the show as a platform to launching a career in the sewing industry, are you hoping to do the same?  What do you plan to do after the show has ended?

I would love to! I’ve built my own website and started a Blog, which is a first for me that I’m enjoying. (I bet people are sick of me saying that but it’s true) I’m currently holding workshops and I hope they become a main fixture to my sewing career. But I’m completely open to other avenues. Some people have mentioned a book and possible TV work. I’ll do it!

Finally, what's your next sewing project?

I’ve promised my Brother in Law Piet, a Peaky Blinder style over-coat. It was a sewing ‘IOU’ gift for his birthday last year. I’ve been so busy, which he completely understands but I must do that for him! So Piet you HAVE to hold me too it now! It’s in print!

 

Find out more about Jenni, her sewing and her workshops by visiting: http://www.jenniffertaylor.co.uk/ and don't forget to tune into BBC2 Tuesdays at 8pm to see if she makes it all the way! Good luck Jenni.