Make Do and Mend

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I ordered the neatest little book through the interlibrary loan service at the university I work at. It’s called Make Do and Mend: Keeping Family and Home  Afloat on War Rations — Reproductions of Official Second World War Instruction Leaflets. The main subjects included are mending, reinforcing, refashioning, sewing, and washing. There is also information on cutting down on energy use, fixing household items, a war coupon primer, and a Ration FAQ of sorts. There are also some really cool slipper patterns for all sizes — imagine making the sole of your slippers from braided worn out stockings coiled into shape —  now that’s thinking outside the box! In some leaflets, a little cartoon lady named Mrs. Sew-and-Sew gives us advice like a friendly neighbor.

Reading this book hit some important points home for me. Even though I’m a mender, I realized that I’ve done very little patching — not because I was unwilling, but because for the most part, my clothing never stuck around in my closet long enough to need it! I operated on a sort of revolving closet principle — I could donate to the thrift shop when I was sick of something — how virtuous! — then buy or thrift more stuff. Repeat as needed.

I stopped doing this after reading about the  used clothing “crisis” — I still try to buy as much as I can used, but not add to the problem by donating back. I’ve been sticking with what I have and choosing new items very slowly and wisely. Still — I haven’t worn through any sleeves at the elbow or needed to reinforce underarm seams — yet. When I do, now I know some tricks with patches, several darning stitches (I only knew one!), and some clever ways with added pockets and trim. I also learned some important rules of thumb, like never wash a hole (it will get worse!) and never patch old material with new (too much stress on the old material — it can tear).

Much of the charm of this book is that the leaflets are original and authentic, and included in full without modern commentary. There is a preface to the book, but the leaflets otherwise stand alone, allowing you to immerse yourself in this very different worldview. The illustrations are charming; the sayings are catchy (Make fastenings fast!). It’s propaganda, I know, but propaganda at its best. A little of that indefatigable homefront spirit rubbed off on me. I closed the book feeling knowledgable, competent, and inspired to make what I have last as long as possible.

(image: how to darn a hole, an illustration from one of the original leaflets)

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6 comments

  1. That link is scary and it certainly makes you realise what a culture of comsumption we live in, with the necessity to constantly buy new stuff and throw out the old. I tend to wear things till they disintegrate… But I blame shops like Primark in the UK, with their cheap throwaway clothing – when clothes were manufactured in this country they were made to last, and you certainly did make them last….!

    1. So true! I think the reason I’ve yet to have to patch anything is because I try to buy the best quality I can. Most of my stuff is several years old and had previous owners 🙂 I don’t consider myself an excellent or experienced clothesmaker, but even the stuff I make in my inexperience holds together for years. It speaks to how truly shoddy fast fashion is!

      1. I definitely agree with that. I am only an average cutter and seamstress but even the simple shift dresses and A-line skirts I make at home are better cut & stitched more precisely than a lot of what’s currently available, to say nothing of the quality of fabric! It is depressing to see how standards have slipped in my lifetime, and I am not that old!

  2. Super post! A lot of folk have not cottoned on yet to the downsides of the “donate to charity” solution, including how it is hampering the development of a local clothing sector in many African countries.

    I really enjoy perusing those old wartime poster/leaflets collated in books like Make Do & Mend (or the food one, Eat for Victory). As you say, yes they are propaganda but they are worryingly relevant in this day and age. Did you know that the official advice/regulations about clothes produced in the UK during WW2 was that they should “not be out of fashion until they are worn out”. I like that outlook, which of course puts me totally at odds with current trends…

    1. I love that outlook too (and I’m hopelessly at odds with … so many current things 🙂 BUT! Learning about Make Something Month and your project and people like Tom of Holland and his visible mending project gives me so much hope.

      I’ll have to look for Eat for Victory. Although I’m not rationing food officially, thinking of clothing and toiletries in this way is seeping into all aspects of my daily life — it just can’t be helped.

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