Five Minutes With

Stuart Hillard
Stuart Hillard

Did you imagine when you auditioned for the Great British Sewing Bee that it would change your life? I can honestly say I had no idea what a transformation would come about. I started writing for Popular Patchwork magazine before I did the Sewing Bee, and I’d been teaching sewing workshops and classes, probably for about 15, 16 years, but off most people’s radars. People knew me at quilt shows because there aren’t that many men, especially ones as enthusiastic as me. But once I did the Sewing Bee, it really did transform me and what I do and how people see me. I went into it thinking it would be popular amongst sewers, but probably wouldn’t be of much interest to the general public. But actually, the first series of Sewing Bee was the most-watched show on BBC Two on the weeks it went out.

It’s Sewing’s Answer to the Great British Bake-off, isn’t it? Oh absolutely, absolutely. We were a bunch of people who got on terribly well with each other and there was a fantastic rapport between us all and great friendships developed. It was hard, it was challenging. But for me, sewing is an absolute joy and always a pleasure, and I can’t really feel that stress and anxiety when I’m sewing, despite the fact there were all those pressures there.

Is it true you weren’t an experienced dressmaker beforehand? That’s right. I’d been doing quilt-making and home decor for 20 years, but in terms of dressmaking, I had made a pair of pyjama bottoms, and that was it. But I love a challenge.

How did the book come about? I, like lots of people, have always thought I’ve got a book in me. I wanted to write a book that covered all of my favourite things. So some quilt-making, cushions, throws, window treatments, gifts, bags, wearables, all sort of different things. I love to sew for the home, it’s where you can have a lot of impact very quickly. And it’s very straightforward - it’s not like clothes where, if they don’t fit, they look awful. It’s very achievable.

You find that a lot of people from shows like Bake-off and Sewing Bee do a book straight afterwards? Yes you do, but I think it’s getting harder. What the public needs and wants is experts, and often on these shows, they are amateurs. I was an amateur dressmaker, but I’m an expert home decor sewer. If I’d gone out there and pitched a book on dressmaking, then it would have been dead in the water, but because this is something I’ve had two decades of experience with, it works.