Interview: Tilly Walnes from The Great British Sewing Bee

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Tilly Walnes only began sewing three years ago, but recently found fame on the BBC series, The Great British Sewing Bee. London-based and working with independent films and film festivals, she is inspired by ‘60s French cinema and collects vintage sewing patterns. Her blog, Tilly and the Buttons, features not only free Learn to Sew tutorials but also downloadable sewing patterns with step-by-step photo instructions.


1. When did fashion/a sense of personal style first become important to you?

My first fashion memory was age 6, successfully convincing my mum to buy me a pair of yellow Mary Jane shoes. They were the coolest! I spent my childhood designing clothing collections, but it was only 3 years ago when I learnt to use a sewing machine and could start turning my daydream dresses into real-life dresses.

2. Who is your style icon (living or dead)?

Anna Karina, Jean Seberg, and Suzy Bishop from Moonrise Kingdom.

3. How would you describe London style?

Eclectic. You can wear whatever you like and no one bats an eyelid.

4. If you could live anywhere else in the world where would it be (and why)?

Right now I’m dreaming of Japan – it sounds mental. Apparently you can get cake from vending machines in the street.

5. Limited to just a suitcase, which items from your wardrobe would you have to take with you?

I can’t stop wearing my button-back Mathilde blouses and Miette wraparound skirts, made from my own sewing pattern designs. I’d pack high-waisted jeans and a homemade pencil skirt to wear with the blouses, a couple of neck scarves, then fill the rest of the suitcase with Breton tops. You can never have too many Breton tops.

6. What are your most used grooming/beauty products?

Black eyeliner pen and vanilla spice body lotion. Oh and toothpaste, obvs.

7. When and where did you look your best?

Graduating from my masters, rocking Mortarboard Chic.

8. Which is your favourite season of the year (and why)?

Springtime. I love seeing the first flowers start to bloom and longer daylight hours, but without the summer heat (I’m an indoors person at heart).

9. Who in your own family most influenced your sense of style?

No one in my family, my real inspiration comes from the movies.

10. If life was a movie, which film would you most like to live in?

In my daydreams, I’m styling it out in a 1960s Jean-Luc Godard picture, but in reality my life is more akin to a Woody Allen anxiety comedy.

11. Which grooming or fashion mistakes most irk you in others?

I don’t understand bronzer. But I’m sure many people don’t understand my look either, so I don’t judge.

12. Cat or dog?

Cat. Ooh little kitties – yay!

13. What lesson would you pass on to younger people following in your shoes?

A leader not a follower be.

14. What motivates you in your career?

Making an impact, spreading inspiration, and making life a little brighter.

15. If you could trade looks with anyone who would that person be?

Anna Karina in the 1960s.

16. What category of clothing are you most drawn to/are most likely to overspend on?

Fabric to make my own clothing. You can never overspend on fabric.

17. Which is your most treasured sense?

Smell. It’s underrated.

18. Name three elements of a perfect holiday

Good food, fresh air, more good food.

19. If you could change a single aspect of your appearance what would it be?

It’d be nice to be a few inches taller so I wouldn’t get ID-ed trying to buy wine in Sainsburys.

20. Your ideal lunch venue and guest

The Hinds Head in Bray, with my man. Opposite the Fat Duck, you get Heston Blumenthal food in a beautiful 15th Century pub with fantastic service at affordable prices. Finish it off with a stunning cocktail at the bar, then stumble back to the station through the beautiful nature reserve.

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