We are back!! After a little hiatus moving into our new Workshop in Belle Vue Lane, Bude, we are starting to land again after a busy, yet fun summer. Welcome back to our popular monthly Blog Series aiming to bring together a community of likeminded and soulful folk. This blog is a chance for people to tell their stories and create inspiration for all you Rooted Ocean tribe. We hope that you will love reading the entries as much as we loved making them.
If you have something you would like to share with us all, drop us an email to book up a yarn!
September ’23 ‘A Sit and Yarn with…. Tony R ‘Maker’!
Last week (1/9/23), we were all exceptionally excited (especially Maisie) to have a cuppa and a good old yarn with the extraordinarily ‘ordinary bloke that sews’, Tony Rea… more commonly known as Tony R ‘Maker’ these days!Tony, a Bude-based community bloke, a husband, father, postman, avid maker, repairer, re-worker and landfill dodger, shares his incredible story of the last year, his time on and being a finalist of Season 9 of the BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee and how he remains true to his cause, mental-health, even in the aftermath of being watched in the lounges of 5 million households each week!
“People talk about ‘being in the flow’, when your mind turns off, thought disappears and something just happens”.
So… obvious place to start… how was it, being on the Great British Sewing Bee?
It was great, such a learning exercise. It’s such a cliché, but it was a rollercoaster. I went into it having made just a few things myself… I mean, I’m a sewer, a maker, but only for myself really; a bit of kit, bags for my gravel bikes, cycling caps, printed shirts, bags for that camping trip that I’ll take one day which I just keep making bags for [laughs], just in case.
Through the pandemic I was making masks for people at work and that’s when the folks in the Royal Mail Post Office where I work, said I should go on that ‘Busy Bee programme’! I didn’t really think it was my thing, but recognised that as I’m approaching my mid-fifties, I might not get many new experiences actually, so why not give it a go!
It was coming up to the closing date for applications, so I just clicked the button and uploaded the things I’ve made which I just spoke about. The phone rings the next day and I’ve started the process on being on the show. But being on the show itself was mad, it was a challenge… I’ve never made any lady’s clothes before. I thought ‘I might mess this up here!’
I went into it with a certain head space of ‘you don’t know what you can’t do until you’ve done it’ and that’s how I approached every single challenge on there. And then it was like ‘hey up, I’ve made it!’
Do you get a heads up in advance on what they’re going to ask you to make so you can go away and learn beforehand?
To be honest the process is quite secretive as you can imagine. There are only certain things you’re given the heads up on; one of those is the Made to Measure, which is the equivalent to the show-stopper on the Bake Off. That last garment. They give you a brief with a couple of weeks-notice and you have to come up with something in your style, to your ability, to put up on the catwalk against everybody else’s. That’s the only thing. So, you only get a chance to practice something once, because you’ve then got to go and do the next show.
The two things that I think people have learned about me from doing it, is 1) I can sew, and 2) I’m really good at keeping secrets!
It’s now 12 months since I met the other sewers for the first time for a meal, the night before the first episode. I was lucky enough to do the full 10 weeks, which took 8 weeks real-time to do, and then sat on that as a thing for 6 months until it was announced as being on the show. I then needed to sit on that for 10 more weeks as it was being played on TV!
So, it’s a lot to hold in your head.
But ‘now’ is the enjoyment phase, because it was so full on at the time. It takes two days to film one episode. Because it’s real time, each person has their own crew, a camera person and a sound person, who are on you non-stop. We don’t know what they are going to show on the programme though, because that’s all done in post-production.
The fun bit is the doing and the making, helping each other out, that time in the sewing room.
Why making then? What is it about making that drew you to it?
I think it is the way my mind works, but making for me, which is predominantly sewing, but still crochet and knitting sometimes, has taken over to fill the gaps in my day! I need to keep my mind busy, so from a mental health perspective I use sewing as that meditative activity in my day. It’s a mindful process. You’re concentrating and need to be ‘on it’. But you’re also getting something tangible at the end. It’s a real joy, to take a raw thing and turn it into something else. It’s where I get my flow.
People talk about ‘being in the flow’, when your mind turns off, thought disappears and something just happens.
I completely agree, and this happens massively with surfing. We had somebody come into The Workshop the other day who needed a wrist repair on their wetsuit. They were really frustrated because they spent their whole surf looking down at their wrists and being distracted. It sounded like it stopped them getting into flow…
That’s it! People don’t know it, but it’s what they are striving for. That nothingness. That place where time just disappears. It’s where everything is just great. When I’m not doing my day job, being a father or a husband, it’s what fills the space. So, I pretty much make, change, repair, or rework something every day. I don’t just generate stuff for the sake of it, it has a purpose.
I don’t do complex stuff. It’s simple. I’m just an ordinary bloke that does sewing!
I’m really into zero waste stuff at the moment, which is essentially taking rectangle fabric and making clothes without putting anything in the bin. The shorts I’m wearing right now are zero waste; they’ve got pockets, a waistband, elastic, all out of one rectangle. I love it! I’ve done suits, work jackets. The cutting out and the patterning is the hard bit, the sewing is the easy bit really!
So, what’s next on the cards for you?…
I’m still a ‘Posty’ here in Bude. I love that job to be honest; the community aspect of it. I also don’t work many days a week, which means it frees up some time for some sewing. Thinking about the Sewing Bee and whether that leads onto things; well, it’s not that kind of programme. It’s not really a talent show. You don’t win anything on the Sewing Bee except a typical Ikea Ergo statue, painted gold with a dress on it, that’s all it is! [laughs]
Of course, it matters who wins, but actually, it feels great to have just taken part.
Instantly after the show ended, I had brands contacting me to become one of their ambassadors, which I’ve not bothered with to be honest. We don’t need to sell more stuff to people!
But what I am interested in, is getting involved in more sewing groups, spreading the word, maybe through setting up male sewing groups as well. There aren’t that many male ‘hobby sewists’. The field is far more female orientated. Even the patterns for clothing, it’s very limited for male things. The patterns are so old, and we just don’t get any inspiration from them whatsoever! I’m really interested in seeing if we can change that, to bring it all more up to date, to make sewing more attractive to young male sewists.
You know, I’m a 54-year-old bloke on telly, I’m not going necessarily going to inspire these young men to sew. Having said that, I’ve had blokes walking past me on the high street in Bude saying “I saw you on the telly mate, I’m gunna have a go at sewing now!”. It’s great! Anyone can have a go at it!
I’d really like to incorporate my interest in mental health and the benefits sewing has given me personally, with some charity work; giving some time to voluntary organisations to help with men’s mental health through sewing. I’ve been contacted by some CiCs down south to put on some sewing workshops for men, especially for those who wouldn’t ordinarily engage in something like this, nor engage in a group environment or whatever their barriers are and help them overcome them. It’s really exciting!
Here in Bude, The Pearl Exchange has asked if I’ll offer a workshop for their ‘Arty Fridays’, which dovetails with my passions in sewing and mental health, so works well for my path right now.
I just want to make sure I’m really following what I feel passionately about, giving the right amount of time to the right organisations, in addition to looking after myself through all of this!
Mental health is something I manage myself. My father has Lewy Body Dementia. When you’ve got that in your family, you see that there may be something on the horizon, and there are lots of things you can do for yourself to maybe slow things down. I need to keep my mind active. I know it’s important for me, and I want to help other people to keep their mind busy too.
I know that I just want to impart my making onto others, sharing what I do, I’m not going to say to people ‘oh, wait for my book’! I want to help them now. If I can help people with that ‘flow state’, it’s a win.
There are far too many angry people out on the streets. I walk the streets every day. There are too many angry people that need to find their way. There are a lot of anxious people too. So, this is doing the right thing.
Are you still in touch with the other Sewing Bee participants at all?
Absolutely! If you’re put into an extreme situation with a group, you immediately bond. That’s what happened with the Sewing Bee. We meet by Zoom every other week to catch up and have WhatsApp groups going.
We were 12 individuals who had never met each other before. We went through that whole process and sat on those secrets together for so long. Then we went on TV together, and we’re now in the aftermath supporting each other. That’s going to create special, strong bonds between anyone!
We try to get together for different shows and exhibitions like The Stitch Fest, Creative Craft Fest. It was great before the show was aired because people didn’t know who we were. But now its more of a case of being mobbed! The Sewing Bee has 5 million viewers a week. These are our demographic, our ‘Grand-Dem!’ [laughs].
Next week is the National Television Awards. The show has been nominated! So, me and the other finalists are heading to that.
Amazing!… Important question….Are you going to wear ‘The Beanie’?!
Yes mate!! I’ve got it on now, so there you go. The beanie is just part of me now. It’s like Superman… If I take my beanie off, I can go anywhere. But if it’s on, I’m the ‘Sewing Bee Man!’
We sold lots of the beanie that day you shared it so thank you for that, but people now come in and just ask for ‘Your Hat! We should call it the ‘TR Range’!
You should put it in a glass case in the corner!
Of course, for the red carpet, coming from a creative show, the ladies will have to come up with something unique. For the guys it’s black tie, but I have an idea for something a little bit different. I’m wearing a second-hand DJ, sewing in the label for the Cornwall Hospice on the inside and I’ve cut some vinyl for it so I’ll do some vinyl printing on it which will tie into something I made on the show hopefully.
This is the absurdity of being on the programme… being on the NTAs afterwards. It’ll be a bit mad.
“If you’re high-volume manufacturing, your legacy can only be landfill”!
And how’s the cycling and running going these days? You’re really into them both aren’t you?…
To be honest, getting home after walking 10 miles as a Posty, I’ve let it slide. But that’s where my making comes in. Ultramarathons were my thing though. Again, it was that time alone. I come to that point when I’m running but not thinking about running. Like the Chamonix OCC, which is a 50km run part of the UTMB. It started in Switzerland and ended in Chamonix. I’ve done the Lantua 50 in Hong Kong. 50km is my sweet spot mentally, but I’ve done 100kms and a 100 miler which was a four-day event, so four marathons over four days. I love running, it’s so accessible for everyone and you don’t need all that kit which you do with cycling. Just a vest and your water.
So, what did you do before being a postman and a ‘bloke that sews’?
Well, I used to live in South-East Asia, hence the Lantau 50. Manufacturing operations was my thing, and I gave more than my pound of flesh to that world, but the main reason for leaving that world, was questioning what was going to be my legacy.
If you’re high-volume manufacturing, your legacy can only be landfill!
This is what brought me to Bude. It was a Bude company that was manufacturing their products over there and in China. I used to travel between the two, until I hit the age of 50 and decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. I took the year off and that’s when my makers thing kicked off really. My creativity from my younger years came back.
I started making cycling caps because I was cycling a lot and buying far too many at £15 a time. People wanted the ones I was making so I started a little Etsy store. Nothing high volume because that’s not what its about. I just made nice things for a bunch of nice people, who where stoked. There was a community element to it which I loved. The cycling caps are still going, but I’ve not been able to promote that obviously because of the last year and there’s too much to fit in.
… And what about the Bude community? How have they received their Posty as ‘Tony R Maker’?
Being on the Sewing Bee has been so good for Bude. The locals love the promotion of our town. This is why I’m doing a free exhibition down at the Castle, to give everybody a bit more. I’ve got all of my stuff back from the Sewing Bee, thirty garments in all. I’ll be putting some of the Transformation stuff, the Made to Measure and the Pattern stuff down there for everyone to see. It runs from September 9th to October 6th, entry is free. I’ll be popping in on the first day, the Saturday, and then every Saturday that I’m not working.
I’m really looking forward to exhibiting here in our home-town.
If you would like to follow Tony, or see his works in the flesh, give him a follow (link below) or come along and check out his exhibits at Bude Castle from 9th September for the month:
IG – @tonyr.maker