With the fantastically glamorous festival, Bath in Fashion 2015, starting this coming Saturday, March 21st, for a whole week, we thought we’d take a closer look at one of the many Bath based designers within the city.
Bath’s history of being a Spa town, and THE place to go and be seen during the “season”, meant the city developed a reputation over the centuries as being a city of Fashion and Fashionistas. Today, Bath still has a hub of creative individuals who all produce wonderful things for the fashion lovers of the city who want something not just of quality but individualistic.
The city is also host to a number of Fashion design courses. One can study at both Bath Spa University and Bath College for a Fashion Design degree or B.A. in Fashion and Textiles. Many of these students will then move on to the bigger cities such as Bristol, London and Manchester to explore their potential further, and to gain invaluable placements in nationally renowned design and fashion agencies. However, in Bath itself you can also find designers beavering away creating their own collections.
You can pick up items made by local Bath based fashion designers within the city itself or online. For luxurious leather handbags with a difference buy from Liz Cox (17 Margarets Buildings) or Peony & Moore (concession within Sisi & May, Bartlett Street). Beautiful hand-printed 100% silk scarves by Eleanor J Shore can be obtained through her online shop. While if you want to add some fun jewellery and accessories to an outfit for either men or women, pop into Charlie Boots on Broad Street.
If you look up dressmakers in Bath you will come across many skilled seamstresses who choose to go into the very lucrative market of occasion and wedding wear. However, what about day to day clothing? This is a side-line somewhat overlooked; however not by one Bath based designer and dressmaker, Amy Laws, who runs There’s Only One Amy Laws.
Situated behind The Circus in an un-assuming flat on Rivers’ Street, lies the workshop and home of Amy and her partner Chris. Amy had moved to Bath in 2012, having originally grown up in Stoke-on-Trent and studying a BSc in Product Design Engineering at Brunel University. Not quite the path to becoming a dressmaker you may think; however Amy had been taught to sew from a very early age by her grandmother.
The days of living on a small student budget, but the desire to wear a new dress when going out with friends, forced Amy to put her skills to use, and she began to rustle up new outfits for herself. It was a hobby that she didn’t think much about expanding until friends and strangers began to comment on her outfits. She tried Brick Lane market in London, only producing one size of her dresses, and was surprised when she actually sold items, and people were interested in more. Inspired by this, Amy decided to continue selling her designs on e-bay, and while working took an evening BTEC in Pattern Cutting course.
By the time she had moved to Bath, by way of Edinburgh and a screen printing course there, Amy had made up her mind to set up her business; but she only became fulltime since April last year. She produces not just women’s dresses, skirts and blouses; but children’s skirts, dresses and tops.
The first thing you are struck by is the quality of her clothes and the materials used. Amy said it took her a long time to source exactly what she wanted, and to her credit she has also kept to using British based companies. Her fabric, mainly cottons and stretch cotton, she orders from a textile company in Manchester, and the water based inks she uses come from Handprinted, a small business based in Sussex. The inks are environmentally friendly, and she thoroughly tests each new dress and design herself to ensure that it can withstand continuous washing at 30C without fading or loss of the print.
The second thing you are struck by is the unusual name for her business – There’s Only One Amy Laws. She’s even had other Amy Laws contacting her to tell her she’s not alone! Amy says that the name though has always been there, even before she was sewing or considered taking it up as a business. A chant at her school it seems has been the inspiration for a whole brand.
Since starting her business back in 2012 Amy guesses she’s had around 10-15 designs. She’s created many more, but as she confesses, some have been hit and miss and those have never seen the light of day on a dress or shirt. Some of these ideas may be resurrected at another time and reworked into a design that will eventually be used in her work.
Her work has ended up in America, New Zealand and around Europe and she says her most popular print has been her Flamingos. There’s an easy on the eye simplicity to Amy’s fun and bold designs that reflect familiar images and childhood memories – from ice cream cones to umbrellas, from daffodils to bees, and balloons.
Her winter collection saw squirrels and robins nestling in the folds of fabric and proved very popular. One lady even bought every female member of her family an item of Amy’s Robin collection and posted her a picture of them all wearing her designs on Christmas Day!
When asked what inspires her collection and designs, Amy said it’s really what interests her, what catches her eye in magazines and when walking around the city; plus she loves looking back at the designs of the 1950’s. Since her clothes have that straightforward classic 1950’s shape, she likes to keep the style and design simple too.
We’re hoping she may come up with a Bath design too. We have dropped a few hints, so you never know. Amy agreed with us that a design of the Circus around the bottom of a skirt or dress would look exceptional, so we’re keeping fingers crossed it becomes a reality!
All of Amy’s work is currently produced in her flat. We asked to see what goes into making one of her designs, so here’s a run-down of how Amy makes her wonderful clothes.
1) She drafts and grades her own patterns by hand, and each new design and item has to be hand drafted in the range of sizes she produces as well (Sizes 8 to 16 in womenswear).
2) Amy also makes her own screens using lengths of wood and plain mesh. Each new design requires a new screen. Plus if there are different colours or elements to a design then a screen has to be made for each part.
3) She draws her design by hand then downloads it onto Illustrator on her laptop so she can create a smoother image which she then prints onto acetone. In the meantime her mesh screen has been painted with a light sensitive emulsion and left in the dark for 8 hours (this she does in her bathroom. Pity anyone getting up in the night for the loo as you have to scrabble in the dark. Strictly no lights allowed!).
4) Once the screen is dry and the design is ready, the acetone is placed on the screen, and Amy uses a 500w lamp to expose the image to the mesh for 30 minutes. The emulsion hardens around the image, but any of the mesh that’s under the design, will still have soft emulsion that can then be washed off.
5) Amy then selects the fabric and colour of fabric she’s going to use and begins to cut out the panels
6) She will then print her design on the fabric before she sews the item together. To do this, she gets her prepared screen and pours ink onto the mesh, and uses a sponge to push the ink through.
7) Once the ink has dried after a few hours she will then heat set the design using an iron. This she says is helped by lots of TV and Radio 1; plus her boyfriend is put to good use with the iron when there are lots of orders to do.
8) If it’s a new design, then the item will be washed and tested to ensure the print quality is fine.
9) Eventually we come to the sewing part! Once all the pieces of the item are assembled, then there are the last few things to do. By law Amy has to ensure that every item is marked with labels telling you how to wash the item (30oC), where it’s been made (In England) and what fabric it is (100% cotton). She also adds a size label and her own label.
10) Then viola, she has the finished item! Amy either hangs it up ready for taking to sell at markets; or when postal orders come in, she carefully packages the piece up with labels, tissue paper and a sticker showing the print of the item on the front of the wrapped package.
Phew, then it’s time for a cup of tea! These dresses really are a labour of love.
It’s the attention to detail and the extra touches that really makes one of Amy’s dresses such a beautiful masterpiece. It’s simple and practical yet individual at the same time. In the winter time the dresses are lined and cap sleeves are added; though Amy said that she is happy anytime, when people order, if they want her to lengthen the dress, add pockets or sleeves, for a small extra cost.
It’s such a surprise that everything is produced in her flat, and we have to say she has a wonderfully supportive and tolerant boyfriend – who’s also handy with an iron and getting to the loo and back in the dark it seems!
Amy is currently looking for local studio space, but in the meantime, to get herself out the flat, she will soon be found for a few days a week in The Makery in the centre of the city, where she can sit and sew her dresses together.
Apart from selling on her website and Folksy, Amy can also be found with a stall every month at Green Park Station’s Artisan Market, every second Sunday of the month; as well as other local markets such as in Frome and over in Bristol.
Amy hopes for the future that eventually she will have her own studio and take more people on so that she can expand her ideas and designs, but she doesn’t want to stray from what is her key ethos for her business – the uniqueness of getting a handmade and hand printed item of clothing. Hear hear to a British, and more specifically a Bath based fashion business! There is indeed only one Amy Laws!
Amy’s clothing ranges start from just £25.00.
You can purchase her collections online or at local markets.