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Thinking outside the (sewing) box

In a hectic world, where do time-consuming crafts fit in? 44’s Zoe Wilkinson looks at a traditional hobby that’s made a big comeback on prime-time TV…

When was the last time you got creative?

I’ve always been a big fan of crafts – my Auntie Joan dubbed me the ‘cut and stick girl’ from a young age, and I’ve not quite grown out of it.

Give me a Pritt Stick, sewing needle or a ball of yarn and I’m entertained for hours.

So, I’ve loved how the BBC’s latest series of The Great British Sewing Bee has been sewing stitches back into the heart of the nation.

From Chinese silk tops to PVC raincoat dresses, the sewing enthusiasts have spent the past eight weeks rising to new challenges – putting their skills and creativity to the test.

And, although the grand finale was aired last week, the urge to raid the nearest haberdashery has stayed with me. Not only did it give me flashbacks to making my school prom dress (with mum on hand, naturally), but it also showcased an ‘old’ skillset and gave it a new lease of life.

Just like upcycling old furniture or deconstructing pie and mash into a Michelin-starred dish, it seems that sewing has been given a trendy new makeover.

But I’m not the only one who’s itching to thread up the sewing machine. John Lewis saw a 54 per cent rise in the sale of dressmaking patterns during the first series, and Tesco has seen the demand for kids’ sewing and knitting kits rise by nearly 500 per cent in the last year.

Creativity under pressure

Showing technical skill and creativity under time constraints isn’t easy – proven by the lumpy hems, questionable designs and unfinished garments we’ve seen produced over the past weeks. But, in a similar format to the ground-breaking Bake Off, having three different challenges (following a pattern, altering and an individual fitting) gave contestants the opportunity to display a variety of skills.

Is it the versatility – coupled with the opportunity to create something unique – that appeals to the modern audience? Or is it watching the eye-candy that is Patrick Grant, the Savile Row tailor? Whatever the answer, it seems that watching creative people ‘do their thing’ clearly draws in a big audience, which is something we can all appreciate in internal comms.

The finished product

It’s clear that this nostalgia-fuelled show doesn’t have any problems with engagement, and it might even be able to teach communicators a thing or two:

1. Putting the time in is worth it. Where communication is frequently becoming geared around time-poor audiences, there might be an opening for those with longer attention spans. Target a new audience and you might be surprised who’s willing to read a magazine cover-to-cover.

2. Make it a social occasion. The Sewing Bee’s Twitter page has taken on a life of its own. Supporting the show is a flurry of amusing GIFs and audience interaction, taking the show to another level and making it even more relatable to a younger fan base. Adding quirky, interactive elements to your communications could help you reach a wider audience.

3. Where new ideas can seem shiny and glamorous, upcycling an existing idea might be just the thing you’re looking for. The show has taken a grandmother’s hobby into a new generation, so why not try the same with your communication? Where there’s room for shiny new sites and apps, there might also be the perfect opportunity for a classic newspaper with a fresh design. After all, last week’s winner was commended for her inventive alteration challenges – you don’t need to start from scratch to create a masterpiece.

As for the BBC craft-renaissance, who knows what’s next? I can’t image ‘The Great British Knit Off’ would be such a big success, but you never know. We might all be getting socks next Christmas.

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