Sewing Bee’s Lynda

Jasmin Martin catches up with one of the contestants from the Great British Sewing Bee.

If you’re a fan of the utterly addictive Great British Bake Off, then I’d be surprised if you haven’t been just as glued to BBC2’s the Great British Sewing Bee.

The contestants have been entertaining viewers since the second series began at the end of February, and arguably none more so than fun-loving Welsh lass Lynda Lewis who moved to Billingshurst from Caerphilly two years ago.

Sewing area

Sewing area

Despite having no intentions of entering the show, the 58-year-old, who works as a learning support assistant at Billingshurst Primary School, was persuaded by her eldest daughter to send in an application form and was told the following day she had been shortlisted.

“I was amazed,” says Lynda, with her familiar infectious smile on her face.
“The first thing I had to do was go to school and talk to my head teacher and ask if I could have the time off because there would have been no point even going to the interview if she wasn’t happy and without her blessing I wasn’t happy to do it. She was fine with it and it went from there.”

The series is presented by Claudia Winkleman and now has eight episodes, compared to four in the first series. It sees finalists competing in three challenges during the hour-long show which are then judged by May Martin, from the Women’s Institute, and Savile Row’s Patrick Grant.

Lynda grew up surrounded by all things sewing as her mother was a tailoress.
She made her first dress when she was in junior school and currently loves nothing more than making things for her grandchildren.

After always wanting to live closer to her grandchildren, who live in West Sussex, she finally got the courage to move after the school she worked for in Wales for more than 20 years revealed they were going to decrease her pay.

At the young age of 11, Lynda also realised she was unable to hear properly. This was particularly so when teachers in class would turn their back to write on a blackboard and she wouldn’t know what was being said.

Lynda signing the word 'sewing'

Lynda signing the word ‘sewing’

At first she wasn’t believed due to the fact she was able to speak so well and, despite numerous trips to the doctors with her mother, it wasn’t until years later that she was diagnosed.
“It wasn’t until I was 23 that I said I was going back to the doctors and not leaving until they let me go to hospital because I’ve had enough of it,” Lynda adds. “They gave me an appointment at the hospital and had my very first hearing test and they said ‘oh you are deaf and you lip read remarkably well’.”

Lynda was given one hearing aid for her nerve deafness before having to use two when her hearing gradually got worse.

She is able to hear some sounds, but not which direction they’re coming from, and she is unable to pick up the human voice. Without the hearing aids she can’t hear anything.

But the charming grandmother didn’t let her deafness affect her time on the Sewing Bee, and even went on to win garment of the week for her men’s pyjamas in the second show.

“The first week was difficult because I don’t think they realised how deaf I was and people forget because I talk okay, but they were brilliant,” she reveals.
“I had an interpreter with me all the time and she was great but also the people that were there, the crew, they would sign to me.
“They would ask the interpreter what things are and sign things like asking me if I wanted a cup of tea. It was really nice because everyone made an effort to communicate with me.”

Two of my favourite moments on the show have in fact involved Lynda. From telling judge Patrick that she and her daughter have a ‘sign name’ for him – two taps on the heart because he makes their heart flutter – to finishing the leggings challenge so far ahead she was able to sit drinking tea and eating biscuits while everyone else was stretched for time.

It’s hard to believe she’s never appeared on television before.

S14100890x“To be honest with you, it was really really strange because I wasn’t stressed at all,” she laughs. “In fact, I was calming other people down because I was just there to have fun.
“This is another good thing see because I have no expectations. I’ve got my job that I love, if something good comes of it then great but if it doesn’t I’m fine anyway and that’s what’s so lovely for me because I don’t feel the pressure.
“I find it more stressful watching it on TV then I did when I was there.”

For the first episode she watched it from her Billingshurst home with her daughters, with one making the journey from Exeter for the occasion.

But it’s not just support from her family she has been receiving. The day after she first appeared, Lynda went to Fisher’s Farm Park and was recognised by a little girl who wanted to meet her.

“The dress the little girl was wearing she’d made herself and she wanted to tell me she’d made her dress which was really lovely because I could relate to that,” she says.
“I was the same age as her when I started sewing and she loved that.
“They said I’d made her day but actually she’d made mine because that was the first time anyone had ever come up to me like that.”

Visibly becoming teary-eyed, Lynda also explains how she’s had loads of messages from deaf organisations, had a deaf lawyers and interpreters follow her on Twitter.

Plus she was recognised at a festival of knitting – ‘Unravel’ in Farnham – and had people asking her for pictures.
Even children who she worked with in Caerphilly have started contacting her via Facebook and she has also gained support from strangers on Twitter.

S14100913x“I’ve had one young teenage boy send me a signed video saying good luck and that he’s really proud of me because I’m deaf,” smiles Lynda.
“It’s been amazing, everywhere I go. People are recognising me and saying such lovely things. I get really choked up and I didn’t expect it at all.
“It’s stupid really, I didn’t think about it so it’s been a really big surprise for me that people have reacted the way they have.”

Despite being thrusted into the spotlight on national TV it’s clear she still loves what’s important to her – from the little boy she works with at Billingshurst Primary School, who is also deaf and has Downs Syndrome, to her family.

It’s no wonder she’s become so popular.

Unable to let on about the outcome of the show, I wish Lynda good luck as she gives advice for those who may find themselves in her situation.

“I took it in my stride I think, I really enjoyed it and I think if anyone, whether they’re deaf or hearing or have any doubts, they should just go for it and enjoy it.”

The Great British Sewing Bee is on BBC2 at 8pm on Tuesdays.

Pictures by Steve Cobb