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)