Voices: I was a finalist on The Great British Sewing Bee – why don’t more men sew?

More men should pick up a needle and thread  (BBC/Love Productions/Mark Bourdillon)
More men should pick up a needle and thread (BBC/Love Productions/Mark Bourdillon)

I was a finalist in last year’s Great British Sewing Bee on the BBC – and after the final for this year’s show revealed the 2022 winner, I can’t help but think about the invisibility of men who sew.

The TV coverage perpetuates a cycle that needs breaking: of the seven finalists from the last two seasons of the reality TV programme, six have been women. Being the solitary male among this talent was a proud moment – but I was born and raised in France, so it does pose questions about the absence of British men.

Love Production (the producers behind the Great British programmes) have more men compete on their other two shows, The Great British Bake Off and The Great Pottery Throw Down (both on Channel 4), but baking and ceramics aren’t traditionally seen as male pursuits – so why the stark contrast with Sewing Bee?

I’ve experienced many outdated views from other men about my love for making my own clothes – the association many of them have is that it’s for women only. Dismissing this as fragile male masculinity, however, is simplistic – because our society (and our media) perpetuates that image.

On social media, the #boyssewtoo and #mencansew movements are trying to showcase the cool (and often inspiring) work of men that already sew. They have raised a few eyebrows within the community, but are an attempt to counter the near invisibility that exists in traditional media, heightening awareness of the incredible creations that are out there that can inspire other men.

Exposing boys to the idea that they can and should sew though should be welcomed – more men picking up a needle and thread is a positive step on the journey towards weening us all off our fast fashion addiction (a problem for all genders) and is incredibly beneficial for mental health and managing stress.

Sewing Bee itself is hamstrung currently with an undoubtedly smaller pool of men to choose from, the show has struggled to find many men to appear in the past, particularly straight men. The cycle is hard to break with the lack of visible role models for young boys to aspire to.

Better promotion of sewing in education could help break the trend, showcasing the potential doors that sewing can open. I’ve been working non-stop since the show last year, as well as celebrity commissions (I got to make Rylan Clark’s Eurovision garments and had outfits I designed worn at the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant). I also work in the costume departments in Britain’s vastly expanding TV and Film industry.

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These are extremely well paid , skilled jobs and I’m often the only man on the team – we are always desperate to find more male talent who can lend their perspective. If the joy of sewing can’t be a motivator, promoting the fantastic career opportunities that exist for young men might be a good place to start.

On Sewing Bee itself, I would love to see yet more memorable items of menswear. Of the 200+ garments made in a series run, the vast majority are for women. If a little more room for some inspiring mens garments was possible, I’m confident it would encourage more men to try and replicate the looks in the same way that lots of women are inspired to make the womenswear they see on the show.

With some extra encouragement of boys to sew, we may one day see them compete with the level of female talent on display in this week’s final of the sewing bee. It would be fantastic if some of the untapped talent that undoubtedly exists was harnessed in the future.

Raph Dilhan was a finalist in The Great British Sewing Bee 2021. Raph designs occasion-wear for celebrities and works as a key textile artist for films from Disney and Marvel, shot in the UK