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Lynda Lewis: Great BRitish Spelling Bee Contestant

Lynda Lewis

Great British Sewing Bee contestant Lynda Lewis speaks to AAH Editor Ben Morris (after Episode 2 of 8, published 3rd March 2014)

I can't ever remember not sewing
My mother was a tailoress, so I grew up with sewing machines, fabric and cotton needles all around me! I lived in Caerphilly in South Wales and I was in junior school when I made my first dress. Sometimes I go through phases when I just sew, and at other times I just knit.

I've made just about anything that can be made
I've made my own soft furnishings and Roman blinds as well as clothes. If I like the look of something I will find out how it is made and do it myself. I would buy cheap remnants of fabric and make my own clothes. I remember a shop in Caerphilly called Manchester House that was full of fabric. I bought yards and yards of this reduced price fabric and made a beautiful bronze blouse with big sleeves and collar. My friend loved it so I made her one too, but the first time we washed them they fell apart! I was married at 18 and made my bridesmaids' dresses as well!

I moved to Billingshurst to be near my daughter
I had worked at the same school in Wales for 20 years, working with deaf children, but there were cutbacks, so I left. I was reading bedtime stories on Facetime to my grandson and he said 'When you're in Wales I really miss you!' So I decided to do something about it. I moved here as my other daughter was going to Exeter University, so it all fell into place. I found a job as a learning support assistant at
Billingshurst Primary School, working with a lovely little boy call Sammy.

I was born with good hearing
When I was about 11, I started to struggle with hearing, but the doctor examined me and said I was fine. I struggled through school and college, and at the age of 23 I went to the doctors and said 'I'm not leaving until I get a referral to the hospital'. He wrote a letter, but when I looked at it, he'd written 'It's all in her head. Please reassure her that she's not deaf!' At the hospital I finally had a proper hearing test, and they said 'Yes you are deaf and need hearing aids'. Since then, it has got gradually worse, and now without them I can't hear anything.

I watched the first series of The Great British Sewing Bee
My daughter writes a blog about sewing and she would write about the programme. I loved the show too, so I would comment on the blog. I'd write 'I wouldn't have done that' and things like that. She replied 'If you're so clever, why don't you go on it?' She sent me an application form, and actually my cousin's daughter sent me one too! I filled it in but honestly didn't expect to hear anything back. Then I had an email to say I'd been shortlisted!

Every week, one of the ten contestants is eliminated
We start off with ten people, and there are eight episodes in all. The show is presented by Claudia Winkleman and the judges are Patrick Grant and May Martin. The three of them are amazing; they make you feel really comfortable. There are three challenges each week. For the first challenge, you are given a pattern and told to make something, as all the fabric and haberdashery is there. The second challenge is an alteration of some sort, and the third challenge is the biggest one. You have to make something in a set amount of time.

The first week wasn't very good for me
I didn't interpret the challenges well. We had to sort out where I would stand, where the
interpreter would stand, where the cameras would be, and where the judges would stand whilst they were talking to me. It was really difficult. Because they talk to you through the challenges, I'd have to stop and I would lose my thread and my rhythm every time. Our big challenge was to make a night gown. We had five and a half hours to make it, and at home I could make a wedding dress in that time, so I thought they must want something really over the top, so I went for something difficult. But because of the filming, you didn't have that much time, and I was really disappointed with what I made.

I thought I might go out, but I wasn't worried
I only entered for a bit of fun. Some other contestants are very serious about it all, and when people were stressed I just thought 'They're not going to shoot you, just enjoy it! That's what I did. I was much more
comfortable in the second week as we were used to each other and I knew the interpreter better. We were given a pattern for a skirt as the first challenge, then I made a girl's dress from two shirts, and for the third challenge we had to make pyjamas. I was ready for that and was really pleased as I won my challenge.

Seeing yourself on television is just horrible
I hate it. For the first episode, my youngest daughter came over from Exeter, so I was with both my daughters, my son-in-law and grandchildren, and we all had a party! It was fun, but I found watching myself embarrassing. They came to film me and Sammy at the school for the back story, so he was in the first episode. He loved it and hasn't stopped talking about the Sewing Bee. Everyone at the school is very excited as this kind of thing doesn't happen every day.

The response I've had has been amazing
I went to a knitting show in Farnham and everyone was coming over and asking for a photograph with me. I was really shocked! We went to Fishers Farm too and a little girl came over. Her mother said 'She's been nagging me to bring her over to meet you! She made the dress she has on and wanted to show you.' We had a photo together and she was lovely! Her mum said 'You've made her day', but actually, she made mine.

After a week, I started a Twitter account
Somebody said that I should have one, but I thought 'Who's going to be interested in little old me?' A couple of people were following me at the start and today I looked and I have 605 followers. I also have an Instagram
message from my South African fans. It's unbelievable. I can't believe how lovely people have been.

I never had a plan
I filled in the form to shut my daughter up and that was it. Since I've been on the show, I've had lots of attention from deaf groups and organisations, which has been great, and lots of people want to talk to me, which is fine as I don't stop talking! Lots of the children I worked with in Wales have contacted me too, so it's been a wonderful experience, whatever happens next...

The Great British Spelling Bee is shown on BBC2 on Tuesday nights at 8pm

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