Sunday, 3 January 2016

Make and Mend - Necessity as the Mother of Invention

Last month I purchased a fabulous little book - "Make and Mend For Victory", published in the US during World War 11. This book is full of hints and instructions for dressing oneself and one's family smartly when resources were short.

On the opening facing page is The Consumer's Victory Pledge:

" As a consumer, in the total defense of democracy, I will do my part to make my home, my community, my country ready, efficient, strong.
I will buy carefully - and I will not buy anything above the ceiling price, no matter how much I may want it.
I will take good care of the things I have - and I will not buy anything made from vital war materials which I can get along without.
I will waste nothing - and I will take care to salvage everything needed to win the war.
Consumer Division
Office of Price Administration"

The book's editor then follows with:

" It's up to you to keep the home fires burning, to see that you and your family stay easy-on-the-eyes. Fortunately, you can be patriotic and pretty both. It's easy to teach an old wardrobe new tricks, to resurrect the skeletons in your closet and bring them up to date. Come on, take those old knockabouts and turn them into knockouts, keep that glint in Uncle Sam's eye and still do your stint towards Victory!"

Chapters on how to mend and patch, and how to alter and restyle an outfit follow. The mending chapter is homework for me.

But what do you do if you can't restyle that old dress? You accessorise, of course. The book gives instructions for making collars, edgings and trims for dresses, coats, hats and even pyjamas! Patterns for dickeys are also given. A dickey is an artificial shirt front which peeps out from below a jacket and make it look like you are wearing a blouse when you are not.

Yes, a collar makes it look like a new dress

Some hat trims
My favourite trimming illustration is this, showing a crocheted frog closing and seam braiding for pyjamas.

Presumably these are the lounging around the house kind of pyjamas. Note the boudoir shoes.

What I was most fascinated by in this book were the instructions it gives for cutting up garments and making them into other garments. E.g., making a woman's suit from a man's suit. Garments needed to be unpicked and cleaned and pressed. Cutting layouts were then given for commercially available patterns. 

Cutting a woman's suit from a man's suit

Here are whole lot of pattern layouts for cutting women's and children's garments from men's shirts:

And my favourite chapter, how to take your old dress and upcycle it into a sun frock, an apron or a romper.

This sun suit I recently acquired is an example of this kind of thrift. 

The fabric is well faded, but that's to be expected in an outfit worn in the sun more than 70 years ago. I wouldn't be surprised if it was already quite worn  before this garment was made. The maker has certainly scrimped for fabric. Note the facings on the skirt made out of a completely different garment.

I think our consumer driven society today could learn a lot from wartime necessity. So few people today seem to mend their garments. Even sewing on a new button is a skill beyond many. Once, when I worked in a school library, a teen girl asked me why I was sewing up a hole in the seam of one of the library cushions. Why, she wanted to know, didn't I just go down to K-Mart and buy a new cushion? Well, I said, it would only take 5 minutes to sew it, and it was a special Batik cushion from our sister school in Malaysia. Would I be able to get that in K-Mart? Fair enough, she said. I don't think she had ever seen anything mended. 

These days I buy very little new clothing. Apart from underwear and shoes, and occasionally a pair of jeans, the rest I buy second hand in Op Shops. I find more interesting and better quality clothing at lower prices than that at K-Mart and in chain stores. And I'm constantly complimented on my wardrobe. If I get rid of an item I either sell it, take it to the Op Shop or if it's beyond hope, I salvage the buttons and put it in the rag bag for dusters and painting. Only when it's covered in paint or oil does it go in the bin. That's just the way my mother taught me. 

You'll be pleased to know that I did buy a new dress for my daughter's wedding three years ago!

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