Beautiful custom made furniture

I just bought a flat. Well, I did in November, and it’s still sinking in.

Luckily for me I could more or less move in, although there was a fair amount of stuff to be done, and I am lucky enough to know the kind of people who can do that stuff (painting, stripping beams etc – contact me for references!)

Anyway, I have various bits of furniture that I need and I really didn’t want to go down the made-in-china-ikea route and I am fortunate enough to have artesan friends who not only have the skills but also a good line in well-sourced wood.

The following is a link so some amazing custom made benches made for my kitchen. I have asked the same fantastic carpenter to make me some other custom woodwork which will appear here soon… 

I can’t recommend enough in terms of quality and understanding of the customer’s needs – check him out:

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Dirty White Gold

I’ve posted before about the true costs of ‘cheap’ clothing, most recently in the ‘Who Made My Pants’ article. Well here is someone doing some great work into investigating those costs in more detail.

From her website:

“Leah Borromeo is making a film about fashion and its real victims. She is on a mission – she wants to make ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry the norm, not the exception, by making the supply chain transparent.  And she is on a journey to find out how to make this a reality.”

Leah is crowdsourcing funds to complete a documentary about the real costs of cheap cotton, starting with why up to 300,000 Indian farmers – at one point, up to 26 per day -have killed themselves to escape debt.

See a trailer for the documentary “Dirty White Gold” by clicking the link.

Check out the trailer and the site, and if you are moved/concerned, you can sponsor the film here. Your few euros could make a real difference.

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Papers Coma – get your printing and binding done here.

I just want to briefly raise the profile of Papers Coma again – they really are a fantastic place to do business. I just had to get some reasonably complex printing and binding done. It was done promptly and efficiently with a smile – when I was in a rush they said they’d hang on to it until the morning when I could come in and pay. Because I was doing quite a high volume they even reduced the price by 1 cent per page.

About 10000000 times better than when I tried to get the same thing done at the dreary, impersonal and expensive Workcenter. Seriously, if you need anything from professional binding to photocopying, this is the place to come.

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Who made your pants? Lingerie to change the World.

(This is not Barcelona-specific, but they do mail order)

I am obsessed with underwear. I do mean my own. Pretty, frilly, lacy, brightly coloured – I love it all. Few are the days when – if run over – I would not be found, haemorraging gently into the road, in a matching ensemble. Greying, saggy-of-elastic pants are for me a shudder-worthy thing of horror.

When in department stores I have to avoid the lingerie department for fear of getting stuck there, distracted, for hours.

It’s borderline pathological.

I once spent the equivalent of a weekend city break for two on a 3-piece red silk set from a well-known purveyor of pervy pants for ladies.

You’re getting the picture.

Such is my fascination with all things silk, satin and lace that unlike with other shopping choices in my life, I have a bit of a blind spot for provenance. BUT NO MORE!

I recently visited an old friend (as in, we’ve known each other for a long time. She’s the same age as me, so not actually OLD. Obviously.) who I hadn’t seen for ages and who had rather fabulously (Hi Mags!) kept all the birthday and xmas presents she’d got me from all the occasions since we had last seen each other, so I had a present-fest. It was great.

Said friend has an interest in co-operatives that is both personal and through her work; it was in the course of the latter that she came across this amazing company Who Made Your Pants?.

Who Made Your Pants uses ‘upcycled‘ end-of-line fabric bought from large manufacturers – fabric that would otherwise become waste. They have a small workshop in southern England where their team of makers creates their pretty lacy knickers, and they are a workers’ collective, self-sustaining and providing both work and training for women who have been in difficult circumstances.

If you’ve never really thought about where your underwear came from or how it was made, maybe now is the time to start. Go, on – check!

*pauses to check where today’s purple satin and cream lace ensemble was manufactured…

…realises that checking the label of your underwear is actually quite tricky while you are still wearing it…

Ah –  there we go. Marks and Spencers finest and MADE IN CHINA! ARGH! So these items were probably made in a sweatshop or as near as dammit, then heavy fuel oil was expended bringing them over from China in a container on a massive ship, which produces I-don’t-know-what Carbon Footprint, for them to sit in an air-conditioned warehouse then an air-conditioned shop just so I could have the convenience of walking in and buying them. Not good.

If the environmental argument doesn’t convince you, then consider this: every time you buy an item – be it clothing, furniture (hello IKEA!), scented candles from the 1 euro shop or whatever – that has been made cheaply overseas:


Additionally, insisting on buying cheap imported items takes business away from artesans – the cabinetmakers, the tailors, the artesanal candle makers etc. Eventually they either go out of business or end up so specialised that they can only charge extortionate rates for their products. That’s bad for all of us – it leaves us then with no other option but the cheap imported goods, even when we actually want something of quality.

I’ve said a number of times that I’d rather pay more to buy one item that lasted for 10 years than less for 10 items that each lasted for 1 year, and I would like to have the option to do so, reducing waste and supporting local businesses (and thus the local economy) where possible while I’m at it. If you’re interested in doing the same, here’s a great place to start: at the bottom. (hur hur)

I highly recommend you check out the link above to the WMYP website which has more intelligent things to say about sustainable manufacturing than I can squeeze in here, but in the meantime what about the fundament-(hur hur)-al question: How are the pants?

Well, they are pretty, comfortable, and don’t give you a VPL. What more could you possibly want? To have them ethically made on the same continent, perhaps? Very well:

Apologies for the appearance of the word ‘gusset’ without forewarning.

Lacy and with a little bow, you say? That can be arranged:

And for them to be a snug, line-free fit? Let’s see now:

Looks about right.

From a customer service perspective, they they got back to me promptly (although not over the weekend) about a query I had regarding postage and packing, and the delivery service was pretty speedy.

They are *not* cheap (although a fraction of the price of knickers from the WKPofPPtoL), but bearing in mind everything above and on their website about the ‘real cost’ and impact of ‘cheap’ clothing, if you can afford them then go for it. Guess what all my female friends will be getting for their birthdays for the next year? (Spoiler alert!).

As an extra-nice touch, you really can find out Who Made Your Pants. Each pair comes with a little label attached that is date-stamped  you can go to the website and see who was working on that day. Sweet!

So – no more cheap frills for me. Hopefully not for you, either.

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Cake – Part 2 of an occasional series: The Vegan Bakery. Yum!

Ok – so I’m not vegan. I’m not even vegetarian, although I used to be (it’s all about provenance these days…do keep up!) and I have plenty of veggie or vegan friends.  I’m always on the look-out for things that might make their visit to Barcelona a bit less – well – lettuce oriented.

Step forward The Vegan Bakery on c/Allada Vermell:

All their cakes are made with various goodies like soya milk and algae proteins (OK, sounds less than appetising, but have you ever REALLY thought about what milk and eggs are?) so no animal products at all, and they look SO PRETTY!

The service is delightful, and there is a little space to sit and enjoy your cake with a coffee or juice:



However, I’ve heard tell that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so allow me:

Packaging: recycled and recyclable. Even better – reusable. I’m keeping mine for when I go back for seconds!

Undressing my cakes. Don’t they look seductive?

Opinion on the chocolate brownie? Soft, firm, moist…I’ll just leave it there, shall ?

Verdict on cupcake: (eaten for morning coffee the next day). Well to be honest I’m not a huge fan of cupcakes as the pile of butter cream on them is usually overwhelming and frequently a bit slimy (couldn’t think of a better word!). This one does have slightly more icing than it needs in my opinion, but it was fairly light with a gentle flavour. The cake was more like a tiny muffin in texture, was not sickly sweet like many cupcakes and had a flavour that genuinely seemed to come from the blueberries and not from some chemical plant in Sabadell.

On balance, I’ll be back and heartily recommending this to all cake fans, vegan or not.

They have an internet ordering service and will do catering to order too – great idea for those upcoming parties over the next few months. Check them out in the shop (Allada Vermell 19, opposite the Black Horse pub) or online:

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La Hamaca – locally grown fruit and vegetables

I stumbled across this place when I called into the Xarxa Consum yesterday. It’s been open for two months and is part of the Barcelona ‘km0‘ (Kilometre Zero) slow food movement:

All the produce comes from local co-operatives, and each basket of fruit or veg is labelled with the name of the farm it came from:

Obviously only seasonal fruit and veg – better for you, and makes you a bit more creative about your cooking!
As well as the fruit and veg for sale there are a few bits like jams, olive oil etc, and they make fresh juices too.

I was tempted by the rather fabulous looking cakes including this apple cake. Next time…

Even better, it’s not ridiculously overpriced – cheaper than buying in Santa Caterina market. All this came to 2.80:

‘La Hamaca’ – Pl Sant Agusti Vell 15 (next to the Comerc Just Xarxa Consum shop).

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Greener Cleaning – Part One of an Occasional Series: Cleaning Silver

The Doing the Shopping blog has been away, but will be back in Barcelona in October looking out for eco and wallet-friendly (there’s a crisis on, in case you didn’t know!) shopping options. In the meantime we’re interested in hearing about your cheap/eco-friendly cleaning tips.

I’m currently living in Berlin in a beautiful rented apartment full of lovely antique silver, most of which is in need of a good clean. I’m not a fan of the chemical silver polishes and the effort involved to apply them, so when I saw a friend post online that you could use a baking soda and salt ‘dip’ to clean it I thought I would give it a try.

Commercial silver ‘dips’ are available but are generally harsher chemicals. This version uses a simple reaction between the aluminum metal and the silver sulfide (tarnish) – the salt acts as an electrolyte, the baking soda as a catalyst.

The various places I searched on-line were not clear, or disagreed about the quantities of salt and baking soda so I experimented with a couple of smaller items – here’s how it went:

First attempt

Subsequently I’ve researched it a bit further and experimented a bit more, and here are my top tips:

1. Clean the silver with a mild solution of soapy water and a soft cloth before bathing it.
2. Use enough salt that it takes about a minute to all dissolve when you pour in steaming hot (not boiling) water.
3. Use about 2 tablespoons of baking soda per bucket / sink of water (not sure of the exact volume but you get the idea from the video)
4. Once the salt has dissolved and the baking soda has been stirred into the hot water, place the silver items in so each one is touching the foil.
5. Leave for 5 minutes then take out a piece, rinse carefully, then rub with a soft cloth. Can the remaining tarnish be easily removed? If not, repeat this process (waiting 5 minutes each time) until the remaining tarnish that has not been reacted off can be removed by rubbing with the soft cloth. Don’t be tempted to just leave it in for ages; although this is a milder treatment, apparently soaking for too long could still potentially damage your silverware.
6. Ta daaaa! That’s it! No harsh chemicals, no scrubbing, just gentle polishing with a soft cloth and cotton-buds or a soft-bristled toothbrush for any more intricate bits. Remember, if you have heavily detailed silver pieces you should probably leave a little tarnish in the cracks as this provides contrast and helps to bring out the pattern.

Note: Do not scrub before rinsing – the undissolved baking powder is too abrasive and can damage the surface of the silver items.
Note (2): Apparently I should not have been wearing rubber gloves as rubber and latex contain sulphides that tarnish and over time corrode silver, so bare hands or non-sulphide containing plastic only for this.

Let me know in the comments if you have tried this and how it went.

Thanks to the lovely Sairica Rose for her camera and editing work on the vid!

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