In recent years, the slogan "Make Do And Mend" which epitomised the Second World War has been embraced once again, with it appearing on all sorts of merchandise from mugs to cushions. Even my sewing needle tin sports a picture of the war time poster campaign. With the increase in crafting, it seems that many of us have followed that advice too, whether it is due to the current recession or we are all more environmentally aware.
I recently read "Nella Last's War" the war time diary of a housewife who lived in Barrow-in-Furness, in the North of England. When war broke out, she was 49, married with two grown up sons, looked after her husband, home and enjoyed sewing and knitting as hobbies. The war and all of its shortages really brought Nella into her own though.
Throughout her diary, as well as day to day accounts of bombings, food rationing and trying to keep domestic life running, Nella gives a constant dialogue of her craft activities from knitting socks for sailors to making dolls for the children's ward at the local hospital. It would seem that if it could be knitted or sewn, the Nella could make it.
One account tells of unpicking a donated mattress, washing the cover together with a dozen sugar sacks and making four single mattresses from them. Realising that she didn't have enough stuffing for four, she sorted out scraps from her rags bag and cut them into small pieces. She added cut up silk stockings and mixed all the bits together with the stuffing she had until four mattresses were finished and delivered to the Sailors' Home.
Reading Nella's diary highlighted an area of rationing in Britain during the Second World War that I was completely unaware of. Most people know about the food shortages, with many still remembering them as they continued post war. However, with metal needed for weapons and textiles needed for uniforms, wool, fabric and evening sewing needles became hard to buy. As well as ready made clothing being rationed, the clothes themselves became simpler with pockets and pleats limited. The number of buttons allowed on garments was also restricted. Nella Last mentions in her diary the difficulties in buying sewing needles as they were no longer being manufactured.
The slogan "Make Do and Mend" was born out of necessity rather than today's austerity. People had to repair and reuse their existing clothing as new clothes simply weren't available. Whilst today there is an abundance of ever cheaper clothing available, embracing the past is certainly becoming ever more popular.
Based in the heart of Jane Austen country, just a stone's throw from her home at Chawton, in Hampshire, From Rags To Bags offers an eclectic range of handmade handbags and homewares. All the items are created from clothing, fabric remnants and vintage buttons where possible, together with some new fabrics. The majority of handmade handbags, together with some of the homewares are one off designs, as the materials used are in limited supply.