Sunday, September 11, 2022

Weekend Review: Behind the Seams


I first encountered Esme Young via the Great British Sewing Bee, and had a vague idea that she was a fashion person brought on to the show. I feel some affinity with her as a fellow short person with a similar hairstyle, too ;) 

So when I saw this title I was very interested, and fortunately a friend gave me a copy! I really enjoyed reading this relaxed memoir. It has stories about her life from young girl to present day, but it's not just a chronological progression. It covers various times in more detail; the highlights are her years running Swanky Modes, a design house/storefront with 3 friends -- they were one of the first to use Lycra as a fashion fabric, not just for workout gear -- as well as her work with Central St Martins as a pattern cutter instructor. And of course, there are the years of the Great British Sewing Bee! 

The style is quite relaxed and fun; if you are familiar with her from the Sewing Bee, you'll recognize her 'voice' as it is the same in her writing. She has some great anecdotes from her time in the fashionable crowd in London, especially in the years of Swanky Modes - like meeting David Bowie, or even the small, homely details of how she built relationships with the children of her business partners. I found this different from other fashion memoirs in that she had a different relationship to fashion -- she wasn't a trained designer trying to make it in couture, she was a rather down to earth pattern maker who decided to start a boutique with three of her friends and just had fun with it.  

And sewists will enjoy reading about her pattern work and the way it shaped her career. At Central St Martins she mentored designer Ashish Gupta, and talks about their work together even now -- one of her most memorable outfits on the Bee was a sequined granny square pattern jacket made by Ashish so it all makes sense! I enjoyed this story of a woman who followed her passions and did it all on her own. She talks about work as a key element of her life, and when she was asked to be on the Bee she seemed surprised that she was invited to audition; there was no snobbiness or sense that she was assured anything due to her history or connections. And she seems happy with this new gig - as she says, she wants (and needs) to work until she dies, and this is just one more new experience for her that has brought opportunity. 

This was an enjoyable read. The tone felt very natural and entertaining, and I learned quite a bit about her life, and fashion in England over the past few decades. There's nothing too dark in it, and you get a sense of her habit of just getting on with things. Recommended for any fan of English fashion personalities or the Great British Sewing Bee! 


  1. Well, as an absolute fan of GBSB I think I will have to acquire this one if I can! I imagine she would be quite a bit of fun to work with. A sense of humour really comes out in her TV presence.

    1. If you're a GBSB fan I think you'll really enjoy this!


Share your comments, ideas or suggestions here -- I am always interested in hearing from readers. It's nice to have a conversation!