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

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…



Loss of Habitat July 10, 2011

Filed under: Interiors,Shopping — lauravw @ 9:59 am

In which I whine about a very middle class problem: the closing down of Habitat’s network of UK stores.

I’ve had a couple of weeks now to get used to the fact that Habitat is on the way out. And this week, when my mother said she would be going to the Nottingham shop for a final visit, I asked if I could accompany her.

She’s shopped at Habitat for years. Decades. She told me that when they opened the York branch, she was invited to the opening party. The Nottingham store was filled with signs saying ‘everything must go’ and the like, and it was a sad sight. It was also very busy – we all love a bargain. I don’t think I’ve seen so many members of staff on duty there before either – all of whom will be losing their jobs once the stock has been sold.

In my own home, I’ve got all kinds of stuff from Habitat. Very little in the way of furniture – I’ve always aspired to own some of their furniture, but hadn’t reached that point yet. (Though I do have a pink coffee table from there, which belonged to my parents and dates back to the 1980s. The fact that I’ve just said it’s pink makes it sound a bit dodgy, but really, it’s very nice. Honest.) The kitchen is full of their designs though – plates, mugs, tea towels, aprons, glasses, trays, storage jars, chopping boards… About six years ago I saved up and bought a whole set of Habitat china – plates, bowls, side plates, pasta bowls – and I still love the design as much as I did when I bought them. (I know it was six years ago because I paid for it using money I earned working to process and count votes at the 2005 general election!)

So I will be sad to see those doors close, and wonder what will take its place? In terms of a competitor, I suppose shoppers will drift to Dwell, John Lewis and M&S, but I don’t think there’s anything out there offering the same quality of design under one roof. In London there is Heal’s and the Conran Shop, but out in the sticks shops like that are thin on the ground.

By the way, thic photo is of our little cat, Daisy, sitting on a Habitat bag – she loves paper bags, and has played in Habitat bags since she was a kitten. I’m not convinced she’s realised yet how the closure of Habitat is going to affect her.


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…


Brussels March 20, 2011

Filed under: Places to go,Shopping,Travel — lauravw @ 11:42 am

On our first day in Belgium we explored Brussels. My grandfather, who I never met, was from Brussels, and so I found it interesting to look around the city and wonder about which places he liked to visit. Because such a large area of the city dates back to the 15th century, much of it will not have changed since his days there in the 1920s.

The Grand Place is incredibly beautiful and has been so well preserved over its lifetime. Every way you turn, an ornate building looks back at you. I can never understand how these sorts of buildings got built, so many hundreds of years ago and without all the technology and tools we have at our disposal these days.

And there are chocolate shops all over the place! As you’d expect I sampled quite a few different kinds while we were away, and I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit that despite my Belgian heritage, I think I prefer Swiss chocolate… I do love the Belgian flaked truffles, and very much enjoyed eating those, but in terms of chocolate bars, I think the Swiss win. I liked seeing how in the supermarkets we visited, most of the bars for sale were Belgian in origin, just like how in Switzerland most of the chocolate they sell is Swiss. It amuses me that countries can be so close to each other geographically and yet they know what they like when it comes to chocolate.

We also made sure to sample the waffles – and again, it became clear that I’m not very Belgian after all. The waffles we had were nice enough, but I wasn’t wowed by them. However, the fries! The fries were excellent – they really know how to cook a nice chip!

As well as walking around the older part of town, we made a visit to a big art gallery to see some paintings my mother has liked since she was in her teens. I think she really liked seeing the originals in person.

Once we’d taken in all the culture and waffles we needed to sample, we went shopping – our hotel was close to a smart shopping district, and there were a few places I wanted to visit. First up was Zara Home. Have you been to one of those? We don’t have one near us, but I think there are a few in the UK. The stock is really nice, and it’s mostly reasonable. I found a quilt I liked but didn’t fancy trying to stuff it in my suitcase to get it home. Another visit was to Hema – a shop I’d read about a few months ago on Decor8 and had been keen to visit ever since. It’s an inexpensive and colourful place, and we bought a few cheap and cheerful goodies while we were there.

But the best shop we went into on our trip was Dille & Kamille, a kitchen, home and garden shop that was a pleasure to spend time in. I quietly took a few pictures while we were in there so you can see what it was like. Products were beautifully displayed and affordable – I wish we had this shop in the UK, it would be such a good place to buy presents for people (and yourself). It was a big place, and one corner sold lots of kinds of loose-leaf tea. Near that was a counter in front of lots of enormous jars of fresh herbs and spices – it seemed that you could take your own spice jars in to have them filled. There were all kinds of kitchen tools and linens, and candles in every colour imaginable. I think we visited three times in all, and goodness only knows how much time we spent pottering around the place.

I bought some sweets, some notebooks, and a bar of handmade soap. My mother returned, as she always does from any decent shop, with armfulls of candles and teas.


The big adventure: shopping for fabric and craft supplies October 6, 2010

Filed under: Crafts,Shopping,Travel — lauravw @ 12:18 pm

As we travelled through California, Oregon and Washington, there were a few opportunities to treat myself to fabrics, ribbons, craft papers, and so on. I’ve come home with a little stash of things that will keep me occupied over the winter months. I like the idea that things I bought on the other side of the world will be entertaining me long after the holiday is over.

In San Francisco, I bought ribbons. There is a shop there selling nothing but ribbons – it’s like the promised land or something. Megan told me about it before we even arrived, so I had been looking forward to it for quite a while. It was much bigger than you might expect a ribbon-only shop to be, and I was able to spend quite a bit of time in there.

In Oregon, I bought a little bit of fabric, and in Seattle I bought a little bit more. I also spent some time (and money) in Impress Rubber Stamps, which is a little crafting shop that somehow carries an enormous range of stuff. I could spend hours in there (perhaps I did, I don’t know).

I like paper crafts, but – how can I put this tactfully? – I find that a lot of the places that sell stamps, papers, etc tend to err on the side of tacky… with too much emphasis on hearts and soppy messages and things saying ‘best mum ever’ and those kits for making your own cards that come with everything pre-cut and pre-chosen, so that there’s no need for the person making them to possess even an ounce of creativity or imagination… I’d better stop there before I get cross, and just admit that I’m a bit of a snob about these things. Anyway, Impress is NOT like that – they have beautiful things, and the sample projects that are scattered around the shop are as inspiring as any I’ve seen.


The rocks that I’ve got March 6, 2010

Filed under: Crafts,Shopping — lauravw @ 4:38 pm

I received some particularly nice Christmas presents this year, and I’m wearing one of them today: a purple necklace from Pebble. I actually bought this myself, but then when my mother saw it, she said she wanted to buy it for me as a Christmas present, and so it ended up being taken away and wrapped up. I like it because it’s beautiful, but I also like it because it was designed and made so close to home: Jayne from Pebble creates her jewellery at her home in Nottinghamshire, and you can buy her pieces in Nottingham and on Etsy. Her Etsy shop’s empty at the moment, but there are pictures of her pieces on the Nottingham Craft mafia website.