You may think The Great British Sewing Bee is a cosy, family show aimed at a core-audience of middle-aged women with a make-and-mend mentality and a passion for cushion covers. But Patrick Grant, the dashingly dapper and very successful menswear designer who judges the contestants’ creations, along with the WI’s May Martin, begs to differ.

“I think the stereotype of sewing is disappearing,” he explains, as he reclines in a leather armchair, dressed immaculately in wide-leg, rolled-up jeans and a navy jumper. “It’s very intricate and quite a manly thing to do. It’s kind of like Meccano and Lego. It’s making stuff.”

While Savile Row has long been a male domain – “Back in the day the tools for tailoring were incredibly heavy and it was always men who did it,” says Grant – domestic sewing, whether as a hobby or through necessity, is usually considered a women’s game. However, Grant is convinced that Sewing Bee’s influence is eroding this gender split. To confirm his theory, after two years of all-female finals, this year’s show has a record number of male contestants.

“We’re 40 per cent men this time – six women and four guys – and two of the guys have been in the Army! They’re blokey. Perhaps they might not have wanted to raise their heads above the parapet when we first started, but I hope that we’ve shown that there’s nothing girly about making clothes.”

This is hardly a surprising opinion given Grant’s unconventional route into tailoring. Although he was “obsessive” about clothes as a boy, with weekends spent rummaging through Edinburgh’s charity shops, he never contem- plated life as a designer, enrolling at Leeds University to study engineering.

“I studied materials science and engineering and that’s basically the discipline of how you put things together. You design something, you select the material, you work out how to join those things together and finish them. It doesn’t really matter at that point whether you’re making the brake for a high-speed train or a pair 

This is hardly a surprising opinion given Grant’s unconventional route into tailoring. Although he was “obsessive” about clothes as a boy, with weekends spent rummaging through Edinburgh’s charity shops, he never contem- plated life as a designer, enrolling at Leeds University to study engineering.

“I studied materials science and engineering and that’s basically the discipline of how you put things together. You design something, you select the material, you work out how to join those things together and finish them. It doesn’t really matter at that point whether you’re making the brake for a high-speed train or a pair of trousers. I treat clothing with the same level of rigour and integrity as I did when I worked for companies that made industrial products.”

After stints as a nanny, ski instructor and gardener, Grant was studying for an MBA at Oxford when he spotted an ad for the sale of Savile Row tailors Norton & Sons in the Financial Times. With a flash of fearless spontaneity that sets successful entrepreneurs apart from us mere mortals, he sold everything he owned – including his house and car – and bought the business.

“If you drew a Venn diagram of all the things I really like – clothes, hand-made stuff, historic brands – Savile Row is bang in the centre of all of those. It was a small company that was knackered but I fell in love with it and didn’t think of the potential for it to be a complete disaster.” 

That was a decade ago and he has since revived the brand, injecting a contemporary twist and relaunching its subsidiary E Tautz line as a covetable ready-to-wear label, and he’s also got the high street covered with his Hammond & Co line for Designers at Debenhams, which has flown off the shelves since its 2013 launch.

Grant is also one half of the British fashion industry’s hottest power couple thanks to his relationship with accessories designer and Marc Jacobs creative director Kate Hillier. It makes you wonder why he’s put this hard-won reputation on the line to take part in Sewing Bee?

“It sounded like a lot of fun,” says Grant, shrugging. “Fashion is a funny, slightly snobby world, and perception is everything, but I’ve always taken the view that if something sounds like it’s going to be fun, just do it. The core of all the brands I’m involved in is sewing and textiles and clothes, so it didn’t seem very far away.”

Sewing Bee is made by the production company behind Bake Off and shares many of its traits, including the pairing of an older female judge with a male junior. Does Grant see himself as Paul Hollywood’s successor in the heart-throb stakes? “No! I watch Bake Off, but I didn’t study Paul for tips. The shows are very different – we all eat cakes and bread so we have an understanding of how these things should taste, but a lot of people don’t know how clothes should fit. Our task is to help people appreciate the nuances of cut and fit and construction.”

So what advice would he give the amateur male sewer looking to improve his favourite suit? Grant looks horrified. “His favourite suit! If he’s got a good suit then I wouldn’t advise him to be messing around with it. It’s better to start at the beginning and work your way up.” He laughs. “Start with the stuff that you can wear in the house, then work your way up to things that you’ll wear in public.”  

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