In conversation with Claire-Louise Hardie, Sewing Producer for The Great British Sewing Bee..! *Part 1

Many moons ago, I took Twitter's advice, and started following someone who often tweeted about what I'm interested in... Claire-Louise Hardie was a theatrical costumier on the West End - and had a way of tweeting, and sharing through her blog, that made her both knowledgeable and approachable, the perfect sewing mentor! 

It was only after that initial 'Follow' that I began to realise how many other facets there were to The Thrifty Stitcher.. and how lucky it was I'd taken Twitter's advice (on that suggestion, at least!). You'll come to understand why CL (as she's known to her friends) is such a good interviewee in the two parts to follow (I had to chop it down, we talked for that long!) - suffice to say, if you're interested in people's career paths, costume design, the world of TV, or sewing your own wardrobe pieces - read on!
I was lucky that CL was free and willing to meet to take part in an interview for me to share with you; her work is so varied, and at times so pressurised, that fitting in a 'cosy chat' is a bit of a mission - but meet we did, in one of my favourite haunts, the Fashion and Textile Museum cafe! After grabbing myself a cappuccino, I set my dictaphone to record (I've never gotten around to learning shorthand, more's the pity!), and started firing questions...

And Sew to The Very Beginning...

Introduced by her Gran at a very young age to the world of crafting, knitting, and sewing, it was only in her teens that CL wanted to start dressmaking, spurred into action by being so petite, "I was really under-height for my age, having to wear children's clothes, going to the school disco and being laughed at, while all my friends were dressed like Duran Duran!". Further motivated by a dressmaking session on TV show Pebble Mill at One - her love for sewing grew very quickly, at one stage meaning CL was making a dress a week! "Not properly you understand, I stitched myself in, and couldn't be bothered to learn about zips... I only came a cropper when I did that with a pair of trousers... I needed a wee, and had to come home from a party to cut myself out!". Her eagerness to create clothing very quickly meant CL wasn't too interested in the minutiae of sewing... that came later...

Crafting a new career...

"Originally I wanted to nurse, that was my lifelong goal... but I had chronic eczema, and when I went for a nursing interview they challenged whether nursing was the right career for me, given my skin condition. I got a base, but was let go; so at seventeen I was faced with a dilemma...". 
Her college tutor sensed there was a performer within, and sent CL for auditions with drama colleges. Little did the tutor realise that, although grateful for his help, and giving feedback on every audition, CL didn't ever go to one. She was crippled by stage fright - and finally came clean... which is when she was recommended to enrol on a technical theatre course; the perfect combination of working in performance, without performing. Although stage management was a large part of the course, it soon became common knowledge that CL had sewing experience, and that paved the way for playing the role of wardrobe mistress. Following the foundation year, which covered a little bit of everything, CL went on to specialise in costume design; and that was the beginning of her career. Funnily enough, it was the very fact that CL had not taken a formal route into sewing, that became her strength, "Home sewing is very different to making costumes, so all the girls in my year who had done an A-Level in needlework really struggled, they had to really strip down their knowledge, whereas I was more of a blank canvas..,".

Sew... how does CL feel all these years later about working in sewing, and TV, rather than nursing..?

"Because I work in the entertainment industry, it is rather superficial; so I do sometimes think about how life would have been, had my first career (as a nurse) actually come about... I think about all the people who do 'real jobs' who make a difference in people's lives. But then, having started to teach sewing... some of the people in my classes have really stressful lives, and they now have a hobby that gives them joy. So I'm not comparing teaching sewing to brain surgery - but if you can help a brain surgeon switch off for a little while, then that's still worthy..,". 
This point obviously resonates with me, as it's something I've often talked about on this blog; sewing doesn't pay my bills, but it certainly gives me a creative outlet that gives me joy, and an outlet in terms of stress relief.

So is there such a thing as a 'typical week' for CL? No... When the Great British Sewing Bee is on (and by that I mean, in pre-production, through the auditions, for the actual filming, AND for post-production edit and 'fact checking') CL is on hand, and very much a part of the entire process, also acting as on-set sewing mentor when the need arises. All other work stops, to allow for the mammoth task. 

And what is CL's 'other work'..?

Her school is a constant source of energy " sewing mojo started to flag, but seeing other people's interest and engagement really gave me back my love for it!" - that currently means CL teaches evening courses in the week, and weekend courses too... and there are other gifted seamstresses who teach the classes in CL's absence. And that's not all - although having to remain fairly tight-lipped on the subject, CL's currently working on her first book! (since this was posted, the book has been published; The Great British Sewing Bee: Fashion With Fabric)

"I have quite a low boredom threshold, I think that's why I've always enjoyed being freelance - I've had 'jobs for life' that I've walked away from... I used to quite like touring (with theatre productions) -  you'd get to stay in different places before moving around, but I've never signed up for a long running musical, because I know five months' in that'd be it!"

And THAT'S something I can relate to, keeping busy with all sorts of different work... who knows how long I'd last if I ever worked a 9-5 again..! 

In the second half of this interview you'll hear more about how CL made the move into TV, the production values behind the scenes of The Great British Sewing Bee, and a few worthy tips for the budding sewer... I'm all too aware of how short our attention spans are, so this is where you, Dear Reader, take a breather!
Until then, check out CL's website, her Thrifty Stitcher blog, and the myriad of helpful How To tutorials and videos on her site (free, BTW!). And remember to follow her on Twitter too! :) 


In other news...

  • Here's a crafty little link, given what we've been talking about..! Tilly (one of The Great British Sewing Bee's contestants from the first series) has released a sewalong competition on her blog to celebrate the release of her new pattern, Francoise. It's a versatile A-line dress that opens up all sorts of customising opportunities; feel free to join me in the process! She's sharing plenty of tips on fitting on her blog, and as usual I'm excited at the prospect of learning-as-I-go :) Here's my Pinterest board so you can see a few bits and pieces I've been gathering for inspiration...
  • Alongside my other crafty How To videos, there are a few more to come before Christmas - if you happen to make anything, possibly to give as presents, and want to share your efforts with everyone else, don't hesitate in sending me photos! Would LOVE to see your creations...
  • Finally, a refashioning is LONG overdue... so here's a 'Before' photo of the red & pink tunic heading for the chopping board...

    ...have a think about what you think the 'After' will look like... and then check out the results (added 2/12/14)!


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