Sewing bee creates a buzz at the hive

Heather Mills at the sewing class at HIVE in Shipley

Jackie Higgins with tutor Jill Smith

Garth Rookes at the sewing class at HIVE in Shipley

First published in News Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , T&A Reporter

As the machines drone into action, the room becomes a hive of activity.

On each bench, members of the Sewing Bee are busy crafting all manner of creations from cushion covers to custom-made bags and clothes.

This may not be an iconic Victorian warehouse in a waterside setting in London where amateur sewers recently battled it out on the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee – but the calibre of talent could cut it here at HIVE, part of a creative hub within Shipley’s Kirkgate Centre.

Located in the basement of a former school, the incumbents on HIVE’s Sewing Bee course are studying at their stations.

Having never touched a sewing machine before, Ann-Marie Bentley is using the skills she has learned to work her wonders on customising a black tunic she bought from a swishing event.

Unfolding some vibrant patterned fabric, Ann-Marie explains her intention to re-design the neckline and incorporate sleeves. She also hopes to re-fashion it with a floaty hemline.

Creating clothes that flow and flatter are important to wheelchair-user Ann-Marie. “I had never touched a sewing machine in my life, but fancied doing it because some of the clothes I wear don’t flatter me as well as I sit in a wheelchair.”

Ann-Marie suffers from hypermobility syndrome which affects her ligaments and causes her joints to dislocate. The condition also causes fatigue. She joined the Sewing Bee course last year. “I am quite a creative person. I like making new things.”

Brandishing a pink and white spotted pin cushion, Ann-Marie proudly shows off her first creation. Spinning her chair to the side she lifts up the chair arm bag she designed and created.

The check-patterned bag has been well thought out for purpose. The size is sufficient to accommodate essentials and the floral corsage adds a pretty finishing touch to the stylish accessory designed to slide on to the arm of her wheelchair.

“It’s learning new skills,” says Ann-Marie.

Elisabeth Macdonald grew up in a household of women. “The machine was never silent, my Mum was a sewer,” she says.

Elisabeth progressed from clothing her dolls to running up garments for herself in her younger years. “I’ve always been a sewer, a slap dash and bodge variety!” she smiles.

“Watching the Great British Sewing Bee the first time around made me think I wanted to do this properly and learn how to use a modern machine because mine is about 45 years old.”

Investing in a new machine has given Elisabeth, from Shipley, the impetus to start sewing seriously. The colourful and stylish wrap dress she was sporting when we met was achieved through the Sewing Bee.

With the help of Gill Smith, a tutor at HIVE and also a trustee of the charity which started as a drop-in a decade ago, Elisabeth is now learning how to create a pattern template of her favourite summer dress which she will use to make the new version in a thicker material and a different colour.

Aside to learning new skills, Elisabeth says the course has changed her attitude to sewing. She says she is less “slap dash”, more thoughtful about what she is doing “and more prepared to take the time with it and get it right.

“It’s also very sociable,” she adds.

Deftly manoeuvring an embroidery hoop under the sewing machine needle, Jackie Higgins is stitching round a heart she drew in free hand. It is, she says, experimental.

For Jackie, mum to five-year-old Oisin, coming to the Sewing Bee allows her to dedicate time to her pastime. “It is a dedicated two hours of just sewing because I get very easily distracted at home and it is nice to meet new people,” she says.

“I’ve always been into sewing and embroidery and I always loved arts and crafts,” says Jackie, a gemologist by profession.

A candy-striped cushion cover with delicate bow fastenings is one of the creations Jackie has worked on since joining the Sewing Bee in January.

“I absolutely love it. It’s the feel good factor time and time again,” concludes Jackie.

Sporting the front piece of what will be his ‘Shircoat’ Garth Rookes explains his intention to replicate the pale blue shirt cum coat he has had for “donkeys years”.

Unable to find a replacement, Garth set himself a challenge to create a new one in a dark navy fabric.

Garth picked up his sewing skills watching his mum sewing as a young boy and has turned his talents to a number of projects.

“My mum used to sew and it got to the stage where a 29 inch inside leg never turned out to be a 29 so I always needed trousers taking up. It was all right when it cost £1.50, but when it cost six quid I thought I’d get a sewing machine!” he laughs.

As well as trouser shortening, Garth created a fishing bag, but embarking on the Sewing Bee course has expanded his knowledge of sewing and enabled him to find out more about his machine.

Questions he couldn’t answer, such as the bird’s nest which appeared under his sewing, have now been explained. “This has been really useful in learning the vocabulary of sewing in its widest sense,” says Garth, whose next challenge is a waterproof duster coat.

And he says he doesn’t mind being the only man on the course. “I am learning a skill I want to learn and this is the way to do it.”

For Angelina Mitrovic the Sewing Bee course is enabling her to pick up where she left off. Having explored her creative flair studying at the London Arts Academy, Angelina hoped to pursue a career as a fashion designer.

Ill health put pay to her ambition so she settled for office work instead. However, faced with redundancy in 2010, Angelina decided to follow her dream.

“My dream was to go back to fashion,” says Angelina, who is now forging a new career creating clothes for plus-size females.

“But I had been out of the picture for so long my skills were rusty and confidence was shot.”

Discovering the Sewing Bee at HIVE has enabled Angelina to brush up her skills and expand her expertise. She now has a studio in the centre of Bradford where she is also showcasing some of the costumes she has created.

“I get lost in it. It is just a really integral part of me,” says Angelina, referring to her love of sewing.

“When I get sewing everything else is forgotten and I am totally focused. It’s a bit like escapism for me and I can create anything I want from costumes to really wearable pieces.

“It’s a real sense of achievement and self- worth.”

Brandishing the bag she created from a coffee bean sack which she lined with tea towels, course tutor Gill shows the benefits of up-cycling.

Further showcasing the skills she inherited from her mum, who was a dressmaker, Gill delicately straightens the dolls dress and coat she created as a young girl.

“I was very interested in fashion and that is what we were wearing in the Seventies,” she says, referring to the tiny outfits.

Learning dressmaking taught Gill all she needed to know and enabled her to create her own patterns for the clothes she has made, such as the sleeveless blouse she was sporting when we spoke.

Gill says sewing evokes both excitement and satisfaction of seeing a garment come together and knowing you have created it yourself.

“And sharing. From teaching I learn as much from the people as they learn from me,” says Gill.

For more information about the Sewing Bee courses contact HIVE in the Kirkgate Centre, Kirkgate, Shipley, on (01274) 598928.

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