Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

Meanwhile, on Fashionably Pale February 11, 2013

Filed under: Fashion — lauravw @ 2:15 pm

Just a reminder that I am posting regularly over at my other blog, Fashionably Pale. Recently I’ve been looking at new foundations for pale complexions, swooning over red clothes, and confessing to owning too many things with stripes on.


Fashionably pale December 5, 2012

Filed under: Cosmetics,Fashion — lauravw @ 7:23 pm

I’ve started a new blog, about clothes and cosmetics. I’m not stopping doing Busywork, I just felt that these subjects don’t fit so well with the mostly domestic nature of what I write about here on Busywork. So I’ve set up a new home for my thoughts on style, finding suitable cosmetics for very pale complexions, and clothing in general. The new site is called Fashionably Pale, and I would love it if you’d come and visit me over there.

And I’ll be back with more Busywork posts very soon, including something about my recently-acquired Mary Berry cookbook. Let’s just say that as a result of buying this book, the cake tin is now full of treats which I’m having to eat up in order to make space for the next batch.


Amy Butler for Boden? July 30, 2011

Filed under: Fashion,Shopping — lauravw @ 1:16 pm

This week my new Boden dress arrived, and I’m very pleased with it – I wore it the very next day. All day I kept thinking that the print looked familiar, that it reminded me of something.

Exhibit A: a bag that was made for me several years ago by my friend Megan (of Not Martha), using an Amy Butler pattern.

I was pretty sure it was made from an Amy Butler print, but I couldn’t find it on the Amy Butler website. I emailed Megan to check, and she confirmed she had used Amy Butler fabric to make the bag.

Exhibit B: my new dress, from Boden.

The fabric the dress is made from uses the same print as the bag, though it has been scaled up a little bit, and recoloured. You can get a much better look at this on Boden’s website.

I’m fascinated to think that a print like this can be doing the rounds for so many years, before turning up as a dress. Megan thinks that in the past, this print has been used on dresses for sale at US chain Target too. It must be strange to work as a textile designer, not knowing what form your fabrics are going to take once they are released into the wild. Jessica from How About Orange notes on her blog when she’s seen one of her fabrics being used in a magazine, or for sale as part of a finished product, and I really like to read about it.

I’m also interested to know more about how prints are bought and licensed – I have a skirt that is in the same print as a top of of my colleagues has. The two garments are from very different shops, and the fabric used for used is different too (one’s a lightweight cotton, the other is a heavy, velvety fabric). The colours used contrast greatly – which is another thing that gets me thinking, about how a designer creates something but then someone down the line chooses to recolour it or alter the scale. So I think I have some research to do…



The coming season May 27, 2011

Filed under: Fashion,Shopping — lauravw @ 12:36 pm

And I don’t mean summer. I mean autumn: it’s preview time amongst some of my favourite clothing manufacturers, and there are glimpses to be had of what we could be wearing towards the end of the year.

First up is Boden: their autumn collection can now be viewed on their preview website, and you can get 20% off if you order now. You won’t get your clothes for a few months though, because I expect they are still being made/transported on big ships from China and wherever else they manufacture. I’ve got my eye on a few things already: this skirt (in black flower power) and this dress (in charcoal). And a few other things may have also snuck into my shopping basket… I’ve not placed an order yet though – I think I need to mull it over for a few days longer.

Secondly, Kew. Kew is going to be rebranded,which I wasn’t pleased to hear (I can be a real stick-in-the-mud when it comes to change). I like their clothes, particularly their basics – they are very good at plain jersey tops and simple cardigans, for example. The rebranding comes hand in hand with new prices (upwards, naturally), and there will be greater use of more luxurious fabrics. To me, that sounds like more stuff that won’t go in your washing machine. I don’t know about you, but I only have to see the words ‘dry clean only’ to be put off buying a garment. (‘handwash only’ has a similar effect on me, but I am prepared to handwash a garment if there’s something really special about it). Having said all that, the clothes on display at the preview look very nice, and very much like the Kew of old. I shall reserve judgement.

Next: Cath Kidston. Cath Kidston did a preview of their new season products in London recently, and have published a set of photos from the day on their Facebook page. The product photos look to have been taken from some distance, so you only get the faintest glimpse of what will be on offer. UPDATE: I found some more close-up photos from the event.

Finally, H&M. Holly from Decor8 tweeted about their new season’s collections this morning. It all looks a bit too fashionable for me, but there are some good colours and interesting prints.


The price of fashion March 22, 2011

Filed under: Fashion,Shopping — lauravw @ 8:44 pm

In Saturday’s Times, there was an article by Hilary Rose on the price limits she sets herself when buying new clothes:

“Obviously we all earn different amounts and place different emphases on how much our clothes should cost, but on my salary (rubbish), with my fondness for clothes (big), and living the life I do (corporate), these are my figures. I’m not saying this is what you have to spend, it’s the top end of what I’ll spend…

“So shoe prices can start with a three or a four, or even, if my life will be incomplete without them, a low five, but £600 or anything close is too much, unless they’re boots in which case anything up to £850 is bearable. A skirt or trousers can never be more than £250, or at the absolute outside £300.  A cashmere sweater  can be up to £250, coats up to £800 and dresses no more than £400.”

My budget is very different to Hilary’s (I tend to pay around 10-20% of these prices!) but the principles are similar for me, even when the numbers are scaled back so far. What she doesn’t mention in the article is a minimum price for clothing: I will not buy any item that is being sold so cheaply that I have reason to supect the person who made it must have been unfairly paid. For this reason I avoid items with lots of sequins on – I know from experience how long it takes to sew embellishments on to a garment.

My father used to work in fashion, and from that I learned that retail shops mark up garments by around 50-60%. So if they buy a dress for £30, they will sell it for £60. This means if you see a dress for £20, you know the shop will have paid around £10 for it, and that cost must include the cost of the materials and the transportation (often from somewhere far away), not to mention design and other branding costs.

But it’s not safe to assume that simply because a garment is expensive, those who worked on its construction have been fairly compensated. There are plenty of stories around about workers producing clothes for very expensive luxury brands in sweatshops. One website I’ve found helpful in this respect is the Ethical Trading Initiative:

“The Ethical Trading Initiative is a ground-breaking alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations. We work in partnership to improve the working lives of people across the globe who make or grow consumer goods – everything from tea to T-shirts, from flowers to footballs.”

It’s interesting to see which companies make up the list of members – and also which names are missing from that list. Not that you can rely on it absolutely, of course – companies may have their own schemes to ensure their workers are cared for, and companies who are on the list could still make mistakes. And then there’s the American Apparel question: “The company doesn’t use sweatshops – but its owner allegedly sexually harasses his employees.” It’s a minefield…


I made this May 28, 2010

Filed under: Fashion,Sewing — lauravw @ 4:42 pm

…and I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out. You can see a couple more pictures of it on Flickr, and there’s information about the pattern and fabric in this earlier post. The pattern was nice to work with – I can honestly say I did not swear during the making of this skirt, and nor did I threaten to throw the whole project out of the window. (I may have done this on previous occasions…)

When you make a skirt, you take your own measurements and cut your cloth to fit your body – and yet I am always surprised when the finished object fits me. I think it’s that part of me that knows that my homemade skirt won’t be as well constructed as some that I might buy, and so my expectations are lower than they need to be.

Susannah at Cargo Cult Craft wrote a post about this subject recently that caught my interest: Handmade or homemade? She writes: “The problem is that my eye is so accustomed to the mechanical perfection of mass-produced clothing — perfectly spaced buttonholes, perfectly even tucks, perfectly parallel rows of topstitching — that anything else, even a meticulously handstitched hem, looks somehow shabby.”

It’s worth reading the whole post, and the comments that follow it. The next pattern I plan to tackle is Amy Butler’s Liverpool shirt dress. I am terrified of it. I opened up the instructions and they look so daunting – there’s so much going on, so many bits to cut out! And there are choices – four different lengths, and sleeve options. I think I have settled on the tunic length, but I haven’t even thought about the sleeves yet. With the bank holiday weekend ahead of me, I may get chance to start cutting out my pattern pieces, so it is making-your-mind-up time.


I’ve been sewing May 16, 2010

Filed under: Fashion,Sewing — lauravw @ 5:11 pm

It was a slow start, but it’s getting there now: at long last I am sewing my Anna Maria Horner Study Hall skirt. Other than my own lack of speed when it comes to projects, this one’s a slow start because she has you zigzag stich every bit of fabric before you start sewing them together. Which I’m sure is a very sensible thing to do, but it means it’s a little while before you actually start constructing the skirt.

But now there’s no stopping me! I’ve made the front and the back, put in a zipper I’m really happy with (I think this is the best job I’ve ever done in putting in a zipper), and I’m soon going to be sewing the front to the back, then trying the whole thing on and admiring it.

It’s a little bit on the bright side, but no matter – I’ll wear it with a dark brown top and I’m sure that will tone it down enough. I love the fabrics – the main print is Splashy Rose in Pumpkin by Sandi Henderson, and the one inside the pleats is Henna Garden in Brown, from the same collection.

And of course, now that I’ve actually made something, I can (almost) justify buying some new fabric. I have my eye on something already – Filigree by Patricia Bravo.

And then there are new fabrics being unveiled by some of my favourite designers: Amy Butler has a new collection out in the autumn. I like the look of it, but I can’t see colours in there that would suit me if made into clothing. But Heather Ross’s new collection has a print that I love and want to wear, so there are possibilities there. It’s a shame the pound-to-dollar exchange rate is no longer in favour of us British girls…