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TV sewing bee finalist Chinelo says ‘I want God to use what I do for him’

Chinelo Bally’s smiling face was beamed into sitting rooms across the country this spring as one of the most notable finalists in the BBC1 series The Great British Sewing Bee ...

Chinelo Bally chats to Sandie Shirley about appearing on BBC1’s The Great British Sewing Bee, and what her faith means to her

Chinelo Bally’s smiling face was beamed into sitting rooms across the country this spring as one of the most notable finalists in the BBC1 series The Great British Sewing Bee.

The African-born 26-year-old showcased her skills with a succession of stunning, elegant and colourful creations, yet the woman with a big heart for God will tell you she has no natural talent.

With a fervent desire to sew, she spent a week in church during a prayer retreat crying out in faith for ability while she was still young with the passion and energy to use it.

And use it she has, in front of millions of viewers and two keen-eyed judges, although she narrowly missed out on taking the winning trophy. In eight weeks, as the assignments became more taxing, she won national acclaim and fame that has been the springboard for her dream to become a successful international fashion designer with her own studio and staff.

She also hopes the publicity will heighten her voice as an activist against child abuse and domestic violence.

“God is the most important aspect of my life and I ask him to endow my hands with excellence – so this is really his work. I put the whole mission of designing in his hands when I pray,” says the hip Essex media graduate who also draws, bakes and uses her creative skills at her Pentecostal church.

To date, the sewing programme has won her commissions from well-known women keen for a Chinelo Bally design. It has also helped publicise her sewing blog and workshops to empower and teach others the art of freehand cutting and sewing which she learnt from her aunt, a tailor.

She blends her native vibrant culture with the classic Western silhouettes that she has come to love since moving to England from Nigeria with her church pastor parents and siblings, when she was just four.

With less than three years’ experience, she frequently outshone far more seasoned Sewing Bee competitors with risky, elaborate designs that pushed the boundaries of innovation without a using a pattern. Using silk, velvet, satin, organza and net with beads, flowers or bows, she transformed the palest fabrics or brightest prints or a combination of both.

She also remodelled existing garments including a wedding dress and man’s suit into stylish eye-catching creations. Her skills took her to the top of the class on numerous occasions, winning approval from judges, Savile Row designer Patrick Grant and 40-year experienced sewer and teacher May Martin, to help her beat nine other amateur sewers to a place in the final.

Chinelo who lives in Essex, explains that her husband, Tunde, is her greatest fan and backbone. Recognising her eagerness to sew when she could not find clothes she liked, he bought his wife’s first sewing machine and her later industrial ones.

The determined young designer rallied against nerves and difficulties during the BBC series with the support and prayers of her family and church and viewers often heard her frantic pleas for divine assistance.

She says: “I love my church – it really does get behind people with support. My pastor, who is like a second mum to me, prayed and encouraged me throughout the series which was important.

“Yes, I am a child of God and I want others to know that being a Christian does not mean you cannot be cool and beautiful – it just means you can be yourself.

“I want God to use what I do for him since he is the driving force behind it. Sexual abuse of children and domestic violence pull at my heart-strings,” says Chinelo who is part of her church ministry to help its victims. “I want to work hard with bespoke fashion and be a showcase for the world so my voice as an activist can be reckoned with in higher places.”

Chinelo uses her talents in the marketplace and at church. The choir was all sewn-up in her matching creations and she recently made tote bags for those attending her church annual women’s seminar. The stunning backdrop in church is also her handiwork and she even baked a birthday cake for her pastor recently.

“God has blessed my hands,” says Chinelo who has made it her business to bless others through them.

Twitter: @ChinelloBally

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