Sew Eco: Make do and Mend



During World War Two whilst resources were being diverted to the war effort, The British Government issued a ‘Make Do and Mend’ pamphlet to households.  It was intended to provide housewives with useful tips on how to be both frugal and stylish in times of harsh rationing. With its thrifty design ideas and advice on reusing old clothing, the pamphlet was an indispensable guide.   Readers were advised to reuse fabric and yarn to mend, adapt and make clothing.  They included tips on un-picking old sweaters to re-knit new ones, turn mens clothing into women’s, to create patches or to cover holes in worn garments. Readers were advised to darn holes in socks and sweaters, and create pretty ‘decorative patches’ to cover holes in other warn out garments.

These same principles and tips apply now.  Whilst there is an economic benefit to households in living more frugally, we are now realising that the earth’s resources also need to be rationed.  The eco-principles and skills involved in the ‘use it up, wear it out, make it do and do without” movement are as vital today as they were back.  We are living in an age of rapidly changing fashion, with very cheap, unatural clothing widely available.  It is relatively inexpensive to replace clothing, which has led to clothing being thrown away, ending up in landfill rather than recycled because the quality of the garment is too shoddy to be put to another use.   These cheaper clothing items are not made for their longevity.  Many are made of poor quality fabrics, far away, by low paid workers under horrible conditions.

It is possible to live the ‘make do and mend’ lifestyle today.  Some have set themselves green challenges to live a “make do and mend year”, whilst others are trying to make a difference in any way they can.  Recycling hand me downs, second hand clothing, thrift stores and donation to clothing banks are great for the Environment. If we can also learn and use making and mending skills, we can prolong the life of our clothing and significantly reduce our carbon footprint. These skills are in danger of being forgotten as forego them for cheap quality clothing, and then when we are forced to employ them as we have over reached the earth’s natural resources we will not have the skills to make it work.

Darning Holes in Sweaters and Socks

From time to time holes appear in our sweaters and socks. Instead of throwing them away we can mend them.    Whilst simple sewing methods to close up the hole can mend these, there is a traditional method known as darning.  It is skill using a similar principle as weaving, where the hole is mended and essentially a new surface is produced to cover the hole.  It is a lot more comfortable to wear a darned sock than a sock which had been repaired with a seam! The better quality the sock, the easier they are to darn.


Mending and Adapting Clothing.

Some of the holes in clothing can be repaired quite easily. Patches can be sewed onto holes, or ironed on using a special fabric adhesive, or iron on webbing.  These can be in different shapes, contrasting decorative colours or in a similar fabric, but natural fabrics are always easier to work with, and usually are easier to mend.  Patches you don’t want to be noticed can be placed on the inside of the garment after the hole had been trimmed and neatened from fraying. You can hand sew, or machine sew them so that they will not catch on things. Machine sewing is usually more durable.

Second hand and hand-me-downs will sometimes require some adapting.   Hemlines can be turned up to make them shorter – again using sewing or ironed on webbing. Clothing may need to be taken in to fit smaller sizes, or even let out. This is much more skilled but can be achieved by some research or asking a friend who is more experienced in dress making. Some refashions are much easier to do than others, so choose simple projects at first.

Plainer clothes can be personalised and become more stylish just by changing buttons, replacing with buttons saved from other projects and clothing items.  Other fabric and designs, including logos, can be appliqued or glued on to cover the holes.   The following is a great green guide on how to do some of these tasks. 


Knitting and Crocheting

These are skills that are again increasing in popularity.  Whilst making a sweater that someone would actually like to wear requires a higher level of skill, easier projects include making scarves and squares for blankets and quilts.  Find a local group or ask a friend to teach the skill, or look on line for guides and tutorials such as:


You tube.  How to Knit – Absolute Beginner Knitting, Lesson 1 – Even if You’re Clueless

Hand knitting and finger knitting are easy to do and make great scarves and gifts. You can practice on yarn you have unravelled from other projects or if you have found an old sweater in a charity shop, that will work just as well. Practice makes perfect with knitting so keep at it! You’ll soon be making sweaters and other beautiful garments from natural fibres.

Similarly second hand plain knitted sweaters can be brightened up and personalised with appliqué designs.


Other Items can be made out of old knitted and crochet items, such as clothing from blankets, and reusable bags or purses from 100% wool sweaters.  Once washed on a boil setting, the wool sweater shrinks and resembles wool felt.  The arms make the handles whist the body of the sweater makes the actual bag.

See: for ideas and patterns.



Making your own, depending on the level of skill, it is possible to make our own clothing.  Whilst shop bought could be cheaper, choosing or reusing fabric is more likely to produce a longer lasting garment.  Using simple designs at first it is possible to make some beautiful clothing, for example pillowcase dresses.  Shorts, pants and shirts require a greater level of skill, but there are simpler patterns available to start with and when you’re confident, you can move on.


There are a many community sewing projects which are a good way to learn, develop and share skills and also do something worthwhile, such as the Little Dresses For Africa project. You can practice your skills, and still breathe new life into an unused item – why not get together with family and friends and make it ‘sew sociable’ too!

Another for those with good sewing skills is the poignant Angel Gown project. They collect donated wedding dresses to make into little burial gowns by groups such as Angel Gown®.  The organisers explain ”There is no greater gift that can be given to a grieving family than affirming the importance of the life of their child by offering the simple gift of our Angel Gown® and supporting them emotionally and educationally afterwards. Our program is made possible because of wonderful donors and volunteers who have often experienced the loss of their own children or of another loved one. Brides from around the world donate their precious wedding gowns to NICU Helping Hands.”


It’s wonderful to think that people are committed to donating fabrics, time and skills to help others. These recycled fabrics and treasured wedding dresses can really make a difference in many people’s lives. Unwanted fabric can also be used to make toys, fabric reusable bags, such as Morsbags, quilts using  patchwork or appliqué, bath towels and can made into wash cloths.  The list goes on!

Make Do and Mend projects are Eco-friendly.  We can reduce our carbon footprint and practice our commitment to reducing landfill.  We also reduce our dependence on new, mass produced clothing which often use unethical work practices and production methods and transportation which are harmful to the environment.  Look for local classes and groups which teach and share skills.  We can then connect with people who share our green values, whist learning a new skill.  These traditional skills can then  be maintained and passed on to future generations.  Any efforts to make do and mend contribute hugely to reducing, reducing and recycling.



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