One of my mum's biggest sellers in her antique business is textiles and in particular tablecloths, traycloths, etc,that have been carefully embroidered by hand. Each piece bears witness to the time and patience of the person who stitched it and their desire to create something beautiful to enhance their surroundings. In the 1920s and 30s, women's magazines often contained embroidery patterns that could be marked onto the background cloth of your choosing and stitched over in embroidery thread. Skills, such as the various stitches techniques, were passed down from one generation to the other and either you made these things for yourself or you went without. My mother remembers wearing jumpers as a child that were knitted for her by her grandmother - and how itchy the wool was worn against her skin - but that this was all that was available at the time. This perhaps goes some way to explain why, when mass manufacture of these goods came into being later on, people like my mother were happy to embrace this alternative. As the general standard of living increased during the 1960s and 70s, so did the availability of ready-made jam, jumpers and tablecloths and you were able to save yourself "the bother" of making it yourself! By the 1980s, when I reached adulthood myself, conspicuous consumption was the order of the day and - by contrast - making things yourself was viewed as rather second rate, the result of too much time watching Blue Peter on the telly. Now, thirty years later, buying mass manufactured goods has become the norm, and many of the skills which encapsulate the 'home-made' and 'handmade' sections of this blog have fallen by the wayside. Before I get lots of furious comments from lifelong knitters, quilters and jam makers, I must stress that I am trying to describe a general trend here, which is that the majority of people no longer partake in these activities. More worryingly, I find, is the collective loss of confidence in being able to do so. I come across this particularly with making jam. I often get into conversation with ladies on checkouts who wonder what I'm going to do with the large quantity of sugar, say, or reduced clementines that I'm buying. When I tell them it's for jam/marmalade they often look at me with a kind of awe and ask "isn't it really difficult to make your own?" I'm not sure that they ever believe me when I tell them that it's quite the opposite!
For a while now, though, I've sensed that the tide is beginning to turn. Retail therapy and 'reality' television may have become todays national pastimes but how much satisfaction do we get from either and what exactly do we have to show for them afterwards? I am tempted to suggest 'credit card bills', for the former, as they are the most enduring part of leisure shopping! Our pleasure in our purchases quickly fades, as does the memory of the tv show, so that we are looking for a further fix soon after. I'm not being patronising here. I remember the feeling only too well; the joy of flexing that plastic being rapidly eclipsed by worry over how much I'd spent. The length of time it finally took to pay off my credit cards is still what remains uppermost in my memory. How much more satisfying then, perhaps, to find ways of investing our time, rather than simply looking for ways to spend it. Apparently, environmental and ethical concerns about rampant consumerism and its bedfellow, waste, have led to something of a resurgence in home and hand making but the greatest incentive, it seems, has been the credit crunch. Deprived of disposable income, the concept of making it yourself has developed a whole new set of followers and what might have started out as a way to save money has actually resulted in many other benefits as well.
Learning something new and becoming succesful at it can make you feel really good about yourself. I only began taking photographs with any commitment when I wanted pictures to illustrate this blog. Knowing that I couldn't ask Si' to spend hours snapping the shots I'd styled meant that I had a choice; I either persevered and improved or I produced a blog without pictures. There was no contest really and digital photography means that you need only ever save your best shots. I find, too, that once I have embarked on a session of making it myself - be it photography, cutting up peel for marmalade or sewing sock monkeys - I find myself totally absorbed in the activity and time seems to whizz by. Psychologists call this 'flow', a sense of totally 'losing yourself' in an activity; studies into this have reported that participants felt most satisfied and described themselves as happiest when engaged and engrossed with an experience. Looked at like this, the act of doing can be viewed as just as important as the result.
Equally, in the course of everyday life, we come under a lot of pressure from the mass media to be perfect in everything we do. Not only is this incredibly stressful but it seems to me to be leading us all to 'sameness'. Mass manufacturing processes are designed to make lots of things to the same standard, which might be reassuring but they will also be exactly alike. Where is individuality and uniqueness in all of this and if we can all have just the same thing doesn't it rather lose its value and desirability? There are no rules of perfection in making your own, just the liberation of knowing that eveything you create is a one off! In her book, The Gentle Art of Domesticity, Jane Brocket encourages us to think of the home made and the handcrafted as the 'art of the possible'. We are not forced into pursuing them out of necessity, like our grandparents, and with the option to pick and choose that which appeals to us most and, with no formal training needed either, the pressure is most definitely off.
In the January issue of Homes and Antiques magazine, Katherine Sorrell suggests that "If the early 2000s was a time of buying, then the 2010s will be an era of baking and making, dancing and deadheading; of taking up nostalgic hobbies that involve those precious commodities - actual time and effort." Although we may all have vastly differing incomes, the one thing we all have in common is the same 24 hours in a day. And since time is such a precious commodity, perhaps it is the greatest gift you can give to someone else to show them how much you care. I have had more exhuberant thank yous - both verbal and written - from this years largely homemade Christmas presents than I ever did when spending heaps of cash on them in the shops. One of my aunt-in-laws rang me in the middle of the afternoon just before Christmas to tell me how delighted she was with the box of homemade sweets that had arrived through the post that morning. I had already had the most brilliant time making Turkish delight, fudge and marzipan logs - amongst others - so to hear her excitement on the phone really was the icing on the cake.
So if you are new to 'make it yourself' and this post has inspired you to have a go, there is plenty of information out there to whet your appetite. Jane Brocket's blog 'Yarnstorm' is good, as she pursues a wide range of what she terms 'domestic arts' and as she has been blogging a while there are lots of archived posts to look through and her pictures are amazing. Similarly, the stylist Jane Cumberbatch has a blog called 'Pure Style' which has links to YouTube videos from her Make and Do series. The National Magazine Company has one site that encompasses all its titles called 'All About You'. This has a range of projects for home makes from beginner to more advanced. You may also want to pay a visit to your library. I currently have the book Homemade by Elspeth Thompson and Ros Badger on loan from mine. The projects are grouped according to season and many of the ideas are very conscious of cost. Other good authors are Jane Cumberbatch (sewing), Debbie Bliss (knitting), Gloria Nichol and Thane Prince (jam making), Kaffe Fassett (quilting/patchwork) and Peggy Porschen and Kate Shirazi (cake making/decoration).
As this blog is all about spending less, I'm going to echo Elspeth Thompson's sentiments and suggest you begin with materials that you may already have. Woollens that have felted in the wash, clothes that no longer fit but that have sentimental value or even some jam jars without lids can make great starting points. The ribbon - shown above - came wrapped around a present and the buttons were from a job lot I once bought cheaply from a box outside a sewing shop because I liked the colours. The bow took minutes to make and it went to adorn a basket of primulas in matching colours that I was giving as a gift myself. Once you get into the habit of saving bits and pieces like this you will soon have plenty to work with. Charity and secondhand shops - and even car boots - have boxes of buttons and knitting needles at a fraction of the price to buy them new, likewise cake tins and remnants of fabric. If you do need to buy new then it pays to shop around. Recently, my sister told me she was looking for some embroidery hoops. I was able to get her some from our local branch of Boyes for a fraction of the price she'd seen them on the Internet. Ends of lines are often reduced for quick sale on both food and non-food items. Between Christmas and New Year, I bought five boxes of cranberries from M&S that were reduced to 20% of their original price. They have all been weighed out and frozen ready for some muffins and a few batches of Ruby Grapefruit and Cranberry Marmalade.
As you can see, making it yourself ticks all the boxes for me - saving money, a sense of achievement, originality, caring and sharing, recycling. In fact, to coin a phrase, the possibilities are endless! My mission this year is to encourage as many people as possible to start making it themselves. Are you going to be one of them?