Make Do And Mend

Here’s an older article of mine while were having imac issues. all problems will be resolved by tonight and I’ll be able to access all the photos for the upcoming posts. In the meantime enjoy reading about one of my favorite sayings, Make do and mend.

illustration by clare owen.

“Waste management in the U.S. is in a state of anarchy with no effective federal plan in place to maximize recycling and minimize waste. America generates more waste every year, growing from a 247 million tons of non-hazardous waste in 1990, to 409 million tons in 2001,” According to Biocycle magazine, an Waste management industry magazine.  

We live in such a disposable culture. I’m sometimes shocked at how people can so wasteful, and I’m no recycle saint. Almost everything you buy in a store come pre package, wrapped in plastic, and single serve. Were buying 100’s of pairs of shoes, and throwing away clothes when they get the tiniest of defects. I knew a girl who would throw away clothing rather than having to lug it to the laundry mat to wash it.  Or a friend had a button that fell of a dress and was upset because she’d have to throw it away. Then was amazed when I pulled a sewing kit out of my bag and fixed it for her. “I could never mend anything, I’m not talented like that. ” She said to me later. 

I guess I was just lucky enough to grow up without a lot of money. Being one of six children, and having four kids young and living at home, my mother was thrifty, smart, and able to fix anything. We got almost all my clothes at yard sales and thrift stores before I was in middle school. Once washed mended and improvised by my mother, I was one of the best dressed, and cleanest kids I knew. I had countless dresses that my mom had made for me from scratch. People were always complementing my Mum on her well dressed children. When I got to middle school though, I started to become a consumer of goods. Embarrassed by home made dresses, and not willing to set foot in a thrift store. I wanted the mall, I wanted cheap clothing that wouldn’t make it through the year. I wanted shoes that lighted up when I stepped. I became disposable. 

The Phrase “Make do and Mend”, comes from WW2 when things were rationed as to support troops. Stories from that era are inspiring as far as improvising and working with what you’ve got. The following story accounts that time. “We had to make do and mend — that was the order of the day, and everything we had got in the wardrobe was kept there, we never threw anything away. I can remember when I was expecting my first baby I was wondering how I could get a christening gown for her and I thought of my wedding dress, but I couldn’t bare to put the scissors into it. A few weeks later I went and had another look at it and thought as there was a war on I would have to use it. I got it out and cut a great big piece out of it to make the christening gown, which turned out quite well, and when my little girl was four years old she was in a maypole dancing troupe and she needed a white dress, so I went back to the wedding dress and cut a bit more out of it and made her the little white dress. It was like that with other things like summer dresses.

You see during the war most ladies wore skirts and blouses because a skirt only took about a yard of material, and if you bought a dress you would have to pay a lot more money for that. Sometimes you would cut the top from a summer dress and use that as a top, but the majority of them had knitted jumpers and the wool was very important.

When the war started I had got a big bag of wool because I had always been a knitter. I looked at it one day, and thought I would knit the children a jumper, and you would be surprised how nice the jumper looked just but using up oddments of wool. People used to comment on it. Now that’s how we went on.

Men’s shirts during the war and before the war were made of linen or cotton, they had loose collars, some had two collars and some had three, and after a time the collar would begin to fray and when all the collars had frayed we used to throw the shirt away We couldn’t do that in the war, the shirt had got to be worn until it was threadbare. I used to unpick the collar, and I cut the tail off the shirt and was able to reface the collars and then they were like new again. With turnups on the trousers when they frayed, where they hit the boot, we would cut off the bottom of the trousers and turned it up slightly so that the frayed part was on the inside, the same with the cuffs on the shirts. It was amazing what we could do with what we had got and how we made do.” – Winifred Barber *

It’s not even until recently I took a step back and realized the extent of my clothing, how little of it I actually wore, and how much I “gave up” on clothing that was ripped or stained. Thats the day I started thrifting and sewing again. Looking for vintage that could stand the test of time, and sewing that occasional button back on. The idea of making do and

 wasting less has started traveling to other parts of my life. My boyfriend and I recently moved in together and made a pact to make as little impact on our environment as we possibly could. We’ve started shopping local, using our own bags, and buying nothing prepackaged. I know we lucky enough to have farmers markets, and the Findlay Market, which helps a lot. Plus our city of Cincinnati has a new recycling system where you can process almost anything. But it’s all new and baby steps for me. I think thats whats important though, just think if we all took baby-steps towards saving the world? 

I have this challenge for my readers, rework a piece of clothing that you’ve given up hope on. Something you’ve torn, stained, or even go so far to say “ruined”. If you don’t know how to fix something, try googling it. If you’re reading this blog right now, you’re luckier than 25 percent of people in the US that don’t have internet access. Use everything you have, and make do readers. Every little step people take will start to add up. 

I “ruined” my favorite dress yesterday. A piece of blue clothing made it’s way into my load of lights. It came out covered in blue stain marks, my favorite nude dress was ruined. I moped and moped. It being one of the only “new” pieces of clothing I had gotten myself recently. I then realized I was determined to fix it. I mean you can ruin something already “ruined” right? 

I had some leftover black RIT dye sitting in my cupboard, I set to work dyeing it.

Although still wearable, the blue kind of ruins the whole nude trend.

getting the dye ready on the stove

Heres the finished product, taken with photobooth (my apologies)

Not too shabby, kind of goes along the inky tiedye trend thats popping up if I do say so myself. 


*WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at


2 thoughts on “Make Do And Mend

  1. Your new dress is adorable! I do recycle all, incl clothing. And since reading "Overdressed," no more polyester for me, even thiugh it was already nearly abolished in my wardrobe. Read the book for more info on clothing's impact on the environment. (No affiliation with book etc).

  2. @Anne Kelley I've had a ton of people tell me to read that. I'll have to download it to my kindle, I've got a mini beach vacation coming up and that sounds perfect.

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