We were delighted to have Lt Col Neil Stace come to speak to us, especially as he’s the brother of one of our very own Widgets. You may know him better as Neil from the Great British Sewing Bee or “that bloke who sews” as he’s known in the army.
Neil regaled us with tales of how he’d sewed all his life, starting with making combats for his Action Man as a child, moving onto rugby shirts as a teenager and discovering that he could use his skills with a needle to attract girls. He graduated to making “disposable ball gowns” for friends, which were cut down into cocktail dresses for a second or third wear and put his engineering skills to use in an interesting way in his one foray into lingerie. Now a happily married family man, he had to learn diplomacy the hard way when making the bridesmaid’s dresses.
Neil told us of his adventures whilst sewing in the army, from fitting in as a new Major in Helmand Province after sewing ammunition pouches onto soldier’s backpacks, to fixing teddy bears’ heads back on, to designing his Corporal’s wedding dress in the Ops room, to introducing hand sewing machines to womens’ groups on his last tour to Afghanistan to empower the women in the community and help to build up the economy.
It was Neil’s time on the Great British Sewing Bee that brought him into the public eye. He had to go through a series of interviews before being accepted by the programme, including psychiatric testing where he was asked if he was used to working under pressure! He believed his army training helped to get him into the final, as he has to fit his sewing around a demanding work schedule. He only had 2-3 days to prepare for each episode, and was fitting this in between being back at work each week, often ordering materials at night. His progress was even reported in the army briefing, and his choice of chiffon was heavily debated by the under-18s rugby team he coaches, who also invented “Neil’s bingo drinking game”. He brought along some items to show us, including the amazing “skanklettes”, corsets, the kilt and the wetsuit dress.
We were really pleased to hear that he’s going to be running blokes’ sewing courses in Salisbury and he’s working with a designer in Marlborough on a a small range of clothing. You can follow Neil’s progress on Twitter @sewingsoldier