The Student
A photograph of Serena Brown holding a bolt of colorful fabric
Features
An interview with the winner of the Great British Sewing Bee
by Kirsty Hogg, 11/07/21

Serena Baker is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Edinburgh who was crowned the winner of BBC One’s Great British Sewing Bee. The seventh series of the programme put amateur sewers through ten weeks of challenges, attracting audiences of nearly six million people. Serena spoke to The Student about her experience.

‘I felt anxious the whole time. On the filming days I hardly ate anything because I was so nervous about the challenges and all the cameras. When I came home after, I scoffed so much food to make up for it,’ she said, laughing.

At 21 years old, Glasgow-born Serena is the competition’s youngest winner and the first winner from Scotland. She noted that the presenter, Joe Lycett, took a long pause before calling her name as the winner.  ‘It was such an awkward tense silence that I just started giggling. It was not the right time to giggle. But then when they finally said my name it was just incredible. I was really happy.’

The Great British Sewing Bee

The programme was filmed in the autumn of 2020. Serena said, on the reality of filming a TV show, ‘It was really intense. Before the first episode I got three hours of sleep and then the filming day was 15 hours long. I think knowing how intense it was now, I would be quite apprehensive about doing it.’

On balancing filming with her studies as a medical student, she explained that Edinburgh Medical School allowed her to do online teaching while she was away filming and to postpone her placements in hospitals. However, once filming started, Serena struggled to keep up with her online lectures. ‘I basically missed a quarter of my academic year. When I got back, I had to make it all up. It was really stressful at first but it all worked out in the end. And it was completely worth it.’

Serena discussed why she chose to study in Edinburgh. ‘I’d been over to Edinburgh a few times with my family and I really liked it. It’s a small city so it’s good for being a student in.’

‘We were in the centre of London for filming – so it was just buildings. I like running and I’m getting more into cycling now, so I missed the green space in Edinburgh while I was away. I like being near the Meadows, Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park.’

Serena isn’t alone in Edinburgh with her winning trophy. Fellow University of Edinburgh student Peter Sawkins – ‘Peter Bakes’ – won the Great British Bake Off earlier in the same academic year. The two programmes are made by the same production company, Love Productions. ‘We did meet up for a coffee’ Serena said, ‘Neither of us knew the other had applied when we started filming because it all had to be a secret. It’s nice to chat to him because it’s a similar experience. It can be hard to explain it to other people.’

Over the course of the programme, Serena accumulated over 35 thousand followers on Instagram (@serenasews_) ‘It is cool to have a bit of a platform but also kind of scary because that’s when you start to get more negative stuff’ she said. ‘Overwhelmingly, the response has been positive. There are only a few people who say negative things. I just don’t have time for that. Especially when I was studying for my exams and Sewing Bee was coming out. I just didn’t have the brain capacity to be worried or annoyed about negative things people were saying about me online. There’s so many more positive things that I’d rather spend my time focusing on.’

Serena also discussed the community of sewers on Instagram. ‘Not many people sew – and especially not many young people. Before Sewing Bee, I used Instagram as my way to connect to other people who sew. It’s really nice that I can do that with more people now.’

‘I have been recognised a couple of times around Edinburgh’ she said. ‘Everyone who has come up to me has been really nice. It’s great to hear that people have enjoyed watching it, and to talk to people about sewing.’ 

On her Instagram, Serena shares her projects upcycling old clothes. ‘There’s a lot of really great second-hand charity shops in Edinburgh. They have loads of really great clothes in them. You can find things that are nice fabrics and change them a little bit, or fit them to you. Start small. Then you can go onto a more difficult project, refashioning something to completely change how it looks.’

‘There’s so many benefits of not buying new clothes. You start to really think about what you want to wear and what you are comfortable in. Obviously it’s better for the environment too.’

On what she learned from the experience, Serena said ‘my main takeaway is to just go for it. The worst people can say is no. I applied for series six and didn’t get through the application process. And then I applied for season seven and ended up winning it. So just go for it. If people say no, try again, or try something else.’

‘When I was offered the place on the show, I was actually unsure about whether I was going to take it. I felt really anxious about being in front of cameras, having my things judged, and meeting new people. But I decided if I didn’t do it, I’d spent the rest of my life regretting it. I’m so glad I did.’

‘One of the other major things I learned is to just be yourself. When we first started filming, I kept thinking: I’m one of the quiet ones on the show. There were other people with louder personalities who said really witty things. I was nervous about how I was going to come across. Eventually I realised: I need to stop worrying about this. I need to say things that I would say and do things that I would do – and that is enough. That’s more than enough. That’s great. Me being myself is enough.’