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News > Old Girls > Rumana Lasker (Class of 2007)

Rumana Lasker (Class of 2007)

Read about Rumana Lasker's experiences as a contestant on The Great British Sewing Bee and her time at Habs.
8 Mar 2018
Written by Tim Scott
Old Girls
Rumana Lasker at her sewing machine
Rumana Lasker at her sewing machine
Alice an Upper 5 student, was given the opportunity to put some questions to Old Girl Rumana Lasker about her experiences as a contestant on The Great British Sewing Bee and her time at Habs.

Rumana is a Junior Doctor, who graduated from UCL in 2013. She recently set aside her medical implements for some sewing needles to take part in the 2016 Great British Sewing Bee on BBC2, and only narrowly missed out on the semi-final! Describing herself as ‘the girl who once made a skirt which only just fitted over her head and had a wonky hemline and who burnt a hole in a dress straight after she finished making it’, she created stunning pieces during her time on the show. One masterpiece came in the form of a beautiful little pink flamingo jacket, which was made from recycled retro ski suits, and delighted viewers who hurriedly searched for something similar online! As she left the show, after a brutal quarter-final knockout round, she will be remembered for her closing speech, in which she said:

“I started to sew because I got tired of people telling me how to dress…I would encourage people to sew because it makes you feel beautiful.”

Since then she has begun to spread her love of sewing to fellow sewers and fans. She has her own blog where she posts pictures of successful garments, her own thoughts, tips and motivation and steps showing how to create beautiful clothes.

Rumana at the 2017 Reunion held at school.

I asked Rumana - second from the left in this picture, taken at the 2017 Reunion event held at school - to respond to the following questions about her experiences on the Sewing Bee, how they have affected her, and how she would pass on her knowledge and passion for sewing to young people in the future.

Who/what inspired you to take up sewing and when did you first take it up?

I've always loved keeping my hands busy and after watching my mum sew my birthday dresses I used to make matching ones for my Barbies! They weren't very good, and I sewed on and off over the years. I even made a dress with some friends for one of the Habs charity week shows! (We recently uncovered a photo!) But after starting university I just didn't have the time. It was only when I started looking for a graduation dress to suit my religious clothing needs and couldn't find a thing, did I think- forget this, I'll make my own! So really, it's only been around 3 years of 'proper' sewing!

How does sewing make you feel - do you find it is an outlet for you after a stressful day’s work?

I loved having something creative to do after studying for exams for so long (6 years at university!) But as soon as I started working as a junior doctor, I found it really difficult to do anything at all. After a long day on the wards I would just collapse on the sofa like a zombie. It took a couple of months to shake myself out of it and force myself to do something for myself, some 'me-time'. Straight away I felt better and now it's an essential part of my routine- just 30min in the evening to do something for myself. Otherwise you fall into the trap of eat,sleep,work:repeat.

What was the most challenging part of the Sewing Bee competition?

The challenges were the hardest parts of the Sewing Bee. In particular the alteration challenge. That had always been my favourite one to watch as a viewer but the one we dreaded the most in the sewing room! 90 min is a ridiculously short amount of time, so you basically had no time to second guess your plan. You only had the time between the item being revealed and running to your station to plan your garment. Any umm-ing and ahh-ing would cost you the challenge. I think I got the hang of it by the end, and the alteration challenge became one of my strengths!

How did you learn to cope with the pressure of completing new garments by a deadline in front of the judges and on camera? 

Apart from the crazy tasks they gave us, sewing under time pressures was probably the hardest bit! I'd never sewn under a deadline and most certainly had never made things in such a short amount of time. I had no idea how to pace myself and really struggled with that in the very first challenge where I came 10th by a mile. After that I knew I had to go full steam ahead from the get-go. But I don't think it really worked, I'm sure I finished every task in a panic! Even Patrick came around and asked "why don't you ever start at the pace you finish? Then you wouldn't be so rushed!" 

How did your Sewing Bee experience differ from how you expected it to pan out?

Funnily enough the actual experience is pretty much what you see on the show! It felt very surreal to actually be in the Sewing Room- even now, it feels like a dream. I guess the biggest difference between reality and expectations was that I really did not expect to make it as far as I did! When I got on the show, I was just happy to be there. But once you're there-no one wants to be the first to leave so you try to hang on that little bit longer. After coming 10th in the first challenge though I really questioned whether I should have been on the show- certain that there must have been a mistake! So after that, each week felt like a stolen moment.

Have you been inspired to create garments for friends and family, drawing on your experiences from the show?

My new mantra is to try and learn something new with each sewing project. I recently made my first shirt for my husband and it was actually-dare I say it- quite fun! I've kind of planned in my head that I'd quite like to make a dress for the next member of the family to get married (not that there's any due to get hitched!) but I'd love to try and make something really special and exquisite. 

Do you feel that you have become more confident with sewing and manipulating new materials as a result of the competition?

Absolutely. It's given me a huge confidence boost and I'm more likely to try something completely new rather than stick to my comfort zone. 

What personal skills do you think you have gained from your experience on the Sewing Bee and how has this developed you as a person: what have you learnt about yourself?

I always thought I was quite good at keeping a calm face in stressful situations- it's something you have to master in a day job like mine! But having watched myself on The Sewing Bee I can see that's definitely not true, which really surprised me. But one thing I did notice- and again, something I picked up from the years of practical exams at uni, is that I am quite good at shaking myself off after a bad challenge/task and just focusing on the goal ahead. That's probably a good skill to have. The key thing I learnt about myself though is how expressive my face is! I think the guys over on The Great British Sewing Bee had a great time making GIFs out of the various faces I pulled. I had no idea!

What are your hopes for your sewing in the future - do you see perhaps a future career for yourself in this area, instead of your current position?

As much as I love spending my spare time sewing, I do also love my day job and I'm not sure I could ever give it up completely. But I wouldn't say no to doing a bit of both if the opportunity came up! I've just started on a GP training programme so am concentrating on this for now, but have some sewing things in the pipeline! I'll have to keep you waiting before I reveal what those are! I've also taken to jotting ideas down in case I ever get myself together to put a compilation of patterns together.

What’s your best sewing achievement/favourite garment to date?

One of my favourite garments so far has been the dress I made for International Week on the Great British Sewing Bee. Part of sewing/designing is trying something new and creating a unique garment. But this means you have to have faith in the ideas you have and power through until you get to the end. In my head I knew what I wanted to create, but it was hard to explain to others. Even my family were not convinced when I made a practise version of the caped dress and I was very close to changing the design but my husband told me to stick with it. I still doubted myself in the sewing room especially when I realised I was the only one doing a garment without a peplum! And the judges feedback was also mixed, saying they loved it but that it looked like something from outer-space. So I wasn't sure how to take that! But the response on social media was huge- with people saying it was one of their favourite garments from the whole series, so it goes to show- just have faith in yourself!

How do you think we should inspire more young people to take up sewing? Particularly in this era when it is becoming more important to reuse, recycle and adapt garments for new trends?

There's so many reasons why young people should take up sewing. One of the biggest reasons for me is to take back control of our body image. There is a huge amount of pressure on people, especially women, to look a certain way- especially when it comes to our size/shapes. Shopping in the high street can make you feel really inadequate.We spend a lot of time trying to fit into the clothes we buy rather than making the clothes fit us. I think sewing lets you understand your body more and appreciate those little nuances which make us unique. You get a better awareness of what suits your shape and flatters you- so rather than wearing an ill-fitting ready to wear dress and feeling like you're hips need to be narrower or your bust bigger, you accept your shape and sew yourself a dress which fits you perfectly. It gives you a huge boost in your confidence and you never need to compromise on style.

Another reason is since the explosion of fast fashion the need to reuse, recycle, repair and up-cycle is even greater. I think the sense of achievement you get when you complete a garment is second to none and really gives you an appreciation of the hard work and care that needs to go into creating clothes. Once you understand that, I think it becomes very hard to spend a few pounds on a dress knowing how little of that goes back to the factory workers. So there's an ethical argument for sewing too.

What is your most memorable moment at Habs?

I have so many great memories from Habs. It was so lovely when The Great British Sewing Bee aired and I got so many messages from old Habs Girls! But I guess one of the best memories- apart from getting lost on D of E, our Latin classes- which always ended with us in fits of laughter, or Charity Week- was singing the Carmen in the end of year assemblies. The warm feeling of the sun shining through the windows, everyone knowing that they're hours away from the summer holidays and the swell of students reaching a crescendo: 'mater, tibi gratias!' That's my quintessential Habs memory!

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