12 Jul 2017By Mark Hayhurst
The Great British Sewing Bee thrust Stuart Hillard into the limelight.
However, his love of sewing started at an early age and he was already on the path to sewing greatness before his appearance on the first series on BBC Two in 2013.
With one book already under his belt, Sew Fabulous, he is soon to publish another through Pavilion, ‘Use Scraps, Sew Blocks, Make 100 Quilts’, which hits the shelves in August.
Stuart remembers when his love of craft began, he said: “It started with my mum when I was three, I was the youngest of five children, and she wanted to give me something practical and absorbing to do and keep me from out of under her feet.
“I loved it and it worked for a while but it wasn’t too long before I learned to knit and talk at the same time.”
This early start was bolstered at school where his love of craft was encouraged by one of his teachers.
He added: “When I was seven I had teacher called Miss Jenkins who was very inspiring.
“In the mid 1970s the whole craft revival had begun, Golden Hands magazine was a real feature.
“Miss Jenkins and I spent our afternoons going through them and making the projects.
“We had a spinning wheel in the classroom and piles of fleece, so she taught me to spin.
“I still spin to this day, spinning is my downtime activity, I love it.
“She also taught me to weave and to dye using natural plant material.
“She taught me to do patchwork, embroidery and sewing so that gave me a really good grounding and inspired a real love of crafting and my parents were very supportive of that as well. My dad built me a little loom so I could sit at home weaving.”
However, one aspect didn’t light up Stuart’s crafting world and it may come as a surprise.
He added: “The one thing I didn’t enjoy, especially as a knitter, was stitching up the garments.
“It wasn’t until I left university and bought my first house that I bought a sewing machine and started machine sewing. That completely changed my attitude because knitting suddenly seemed very slow and sewing seemed very quick by comparison. I could make things in an hour or two, in the evening or at the weekend.
“It was definitely a sea change in what I could produce and how I produced it and I found the process really fun. At 21 I’d got my first house and I made the curtains, the throws, the cushions, the blinds, the blankets.
“When I had finished making all of those things I had a lot of scraps left over so I made my first quilt.
“I had seen a quilt in Laura Ashley and thought I am not paying that price, I’ve got a load of scraps I can make that quilt.
“It was a bit lumpy and misshapen – wasn’t bad for a first attempt with no tuition and no idea, I didn’t even look at a book to see how. And that was it – I was completely hooked on quilt making.”
There was some trepidation for Stuart before his appearance on the Great British Sewing Bee, a change in format caused a few nerves.
He added: “When I applied for the Sewing Bee the format was very much going to be general sewing – home décor, soft furnishings, patchwork and quilting, embroidery and there was going to be a bit of dressmaking and at that time I had done very little serious dressmaking.
“Before we started filming I was then informed that the format of the show had changed and now it would be all dressmaking and tailoring. I really was in two minds to take part or not. But I decided it was a wonderful opportunity to experience a television programme from the other side of the camera and to be there at the start of something.
“I knew there would be a terrific audience of sewers out there but what nobody expected was how many non sewers would enjoy watching the show.
“I think what a lot of people enjoyed when I was on the Sewing Bee was the growth.
“Because I started with really little confidence and that grew, I listened to the judges’ comments and I took on board what they said and I tried to improve on what they pointed out to me. For me, I never imagined that when I went along to start that at some point in the show I would be a semi-finalist and I would win garment of the week
“I was amazed at the response to the show when it came out.”
So what does the future hold for Stuart, he has enjoyed the experience of writing and is looking forward to the launch of his new book as well as a number of other projects.
He said: “My first book, Sew Fabulous, has been a bestseller, at one point it was the number one fastest moving book on Amazon. Which was quite a thrill. I enjoy the process of putting a book together.
“I love my public work teaching workshops, Create and Craft TV shows, that sort of thing but I also love my time in the studio designing, creating and sewing. I love using new fabrics and products and I love to be innovative and bring new things to the market as well.
“I have a fabric range coming out in September with the Craft Cotton Company.
“It is an all cotton range mainly directed at quilters and crafters but it will also be great for dress making too. It is sewing themed but not too overtly so. There is a sewing element to it, there is also a
bee element to it – do you see where I am going with it?
“That’s going to be fun, I am really excited about bringing out my first fabric range.
“And, of course, lots and lots more with Create and Craft TV, AccuQuilts and Brother sewing machines.
“I love my work, it is the reason I get up every day.”