We live in a time where we can get practically everything we want when we want it. With Amazon Prime, people can order online and have it on their doorstep in two days (or less). Same goes for securing emergency food storage. As America’s mass consumption grows and shipping speed accelerates, it has become second nature to buy something new rather than fix what is broken. But this practice isn’t wise – especially during wartime.
During WWII, it was simply not possible to buy new products. Across America and Britain, rationing was a part of everyday life. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States implemented a rationing system for the following items:
- Canned milk
- Fuel oil
The National Park Service explains, “Americans learned, as they did during the Great Depression, to do without. Sacrificing certain items during the war became the norm for most Americans. It was considered a common good for the war effort, and it affected every American household.”
In particular, clothing was rationed in Britain and the United States due to fabrics being needed to make uniforms and parachutes. This led to the British creation of the “Make Do and Mend” campaign. According to the UK National Archives, “Everybody was given a ration book with 66 clothing coupons that had to last for a year. Each item of clothing that was rationed was worth a certain number of coupons, for example one dress was worth eleven coupons. People still had to pay for clothes, but they had to hand over the right number of coupons each time they bought something.” The idea was to encourage people to make do with the clothes they already owned and get as much wear out of them as possible rather than buy new clothing.
Following the success of Britain's Make Do and Mend campaign and the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American government also encouraged citizens to do their patriotic duty. Make Do and Mend propaganda was on full display. The idea of make do and mend led to what people proudly considered “victory fashions.” Louise Stanley, chief of the home economics bureau of the U.S. Department of Agriculture during WWII said, “If the housewife doesn’t know how to patch and darn, now is the time to learn […] Resourceful women can save materials, labor and machines needed for war production.” As women learned to make do and mend, they were doing their patriotic duty. Slogans such as “Patching Is Patriotic,” “Darning May Save the Day,” “A Patch Is a Badge of Honor,” and “Sew for Victory” were popular.
All across the United States, sewing classes became popular pastimes. And wearing new clothing or the latest fashions was frowned upon. Even the First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, did her part to encourage others to participate in the campaign by making sure to always be seen with her knitting bag and feverishly knitting away. As a result, she earned the title “First Knitter of the Land.”
Examples of creativity from the WWII campaign
During the time of the Make Do and Mend campaign, Americans found creative ways to reuse textiles and fabrics.
- Clothing exchanges: Rather than buy new clothing for their children, women participated in clothing exchanges. Parents could turn in clothing their children could no longer wear in exchange for points to be used for “new” clothing others had handed in.
- Shoes: People were encouraged to wear shoes until they fell apart and, then, have them mended. Additionally, advertisements encouraged consumers to “pet and polish” their shoes to keep them looking their best rather than buying new ones.
- Hemlines: American hemlines were shortened from three inches to two inches due to a government-mandated reduction in fabric usage.
- Patches: After the Great Depression, only those without money patched clothing. Until the WWII Make Do and Mend campaign. During the campaign, patches were seen as a “patriotic badge of honor.”
- Sewing: Women across America and Britain were strongly encouraged to learn to sew or strengthen their sewing skills. History Net explains, “Mending and making became community projects, with help at hand. Just three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Pratt Institute—the Brooklyn university specializing in art and design—began three-times-a-week classes for city residents that taught them how to reuse clothing remnants; some 400 women enrolled in the first semester.” Additionally, homemaking courses, where sewing was the main focus, became popular in local high schools.
- Knitting: Along with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Americans saw the benefit of learning how to knit blankets and clothing.
- Feed sack fashion: During the Great Depression, feed sack or flour sack dresses were popular. Their popularity came back in fashion during the Make Do and Mend campaign. The National Museum of American History explains, “By the 1940s the bag manufacturers were turning out bags in bright colors and printed designs. It was felt that these designs and colors would boost sales, because the woman of the house would always select the brand with the most attractive fabric. During World War II, there was a shortage of cotton fabric for the civilian population, and the recycling of bags became a necessity, encouraged by the government.”
Modern-day make do and mend opportunities
While the Make Do and Mend campaign of WWII focused primarily on clothing and textiles, the idea behind the campaign was really to find ways to reuse household supplies before you tossed them. Moreover, in disaster situations, this concept is key to survival. You will have to make substitutions and find ways to make your limited resources last.
One key takeaway from the campaign is the necessity of learning how to sew. Not only will sewing come in handy for repairing clothing, but it will also save money. Sewing is a great skill – whether you need to hem pants or repair a tear in your tent. Likewise, knitting is a worthwhile hobby. Knowing how to make your own blankets or warm weather gear will come in handy.
Also, it is good practice to look for ways to overcome obstacles using limited resources. That’s what the women of the Make Do and Mend campaign practiced. Beyond mending, what are some ways you can make do? For example, do you know how to use a compass and a map if you have to make do without your GPS device?
Having a Make Do and Mend philosophy goes a long way toward becoming self-reliant. Here are just a few examples of substitutions that inventive survivalists make following this philosophy:
- Duct tape for sealing your home windows against hazardous materials, patching holes, or creating slings.
- Borax for making your own laundry detergent.
- Bleach for disinfecting water.
- Vinegar for cleaning surfaces.
- Towels for making tourniquets.
- Baking soda for putting out fires.
Lastly, we can use the general idea of the Make Do and Mend campaign to help us assess whether we need to replace or repair household items. In the past, if a home appliance stopped working, we contacted a repairman. Today, people rush to replace the appliance rather than repairing it. That’s a problem. During a disaster, you won’t be able to order something from Amazon. Instead, you’ll need to learn how to make do with what you have and use basic DIY repair skills.
Make do and mend, friends!
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply