I thought some other people might be interested in this book from 1945, which I bought in a second-hand shop in Bournemouth.
‘Economy Knitting and Patchwork’. It’s printed on cheap war-time paper, as an aid for knitters, crochet workers and needlewomen in ‘hard times and scarcity of materials’.
Some of it goes to show that everything old is new again – did you think crocheting bags out of ‘plarn’ was a new idea? And it looked just as good then as it does now, ie. not very.
The patterns are very evocative of a war-torn, cold and shabby Britain – bed socks for ‘these days of icy bedrooms and inadequately warmed houses’
All of the patterns are thrifty and frequently use re-purposed wool, like this Lady’s Two-Colour Jumper.
Notice the bit about stockpiled wool being much better than any ‘on the market at the moment?’ It reminded me of Nella Last’s books. She always managed to make do and mend, creating things nicer than she could buy in war-time.
‘Jessie was so delighted with a dressing gown we partly dodged up…She had a good but very shabby raglan camel-hair coat…Her sister had a nice wine-coloured one, with an overcheck in fawn, equally good but old-fashioned and worn. Between the two, after we had them cleaned at cut price, we’ve made a dressing gown both smart and better than money could buy nowadays. It’s got a deep border, wide deep cuffs, and roll collars of the check materials, as well as big patch pockets. She didn’t want a belt, so I fitted it slightly with darts’.
(from Nella Last’s Peace)
Nella Last was a participant in the wartime Mass Observation experiment, where ordinary citizens wrote down their experiences and sent them off for posterity. Nella wrote over a million pages, and has had three books published of her work so far. She was also made famous by a TV adaptation of her books, called Housewife, 49 (as in her age, not 1949)
I love reading people’s diaries and autobiographies, and Nella Last’s diaries are some of my favourites. But even if you’re not a non-fiction lover, if you’re interested in sewing and dressmaking then you should read this book. She was a inspirational and clearly very skilled needlewoman.
Her speciality was making dozens and dozens of ‘dollies’ – toys which she donated to the local hospital and to children who hadn’t seen a shop-bought new toy in years. She often talks about how making things has helped her to keep going through the war years, and taken her mind off a very difficult and demanding husband.
‘I sit and turn things over in my mind as my fingers fly over my sewing…I honestly think my rag dollies helped me to hold on. There’s a great satisfaction in seeing a thing take shape and form under one’s hands, especially if they are made from oddments into something worthwhile.’
(from Nella Last’s Peace)
So anyway, this book really reminded me of her – she definitely never let ‘one shred of material be thrown away’ without seeing what she could make of it first.
Neither did Agnes, the author of ‘Economy Knitting and Patchwork’, from the looks of things. Above is her special ‘warden’s quilt’, which depicts the bursting of a bomb over an old-fashioned hexagon patchwork made from scraps. Each patch has been signed by one of her fellow fire wardens, and she’s embroidered the signatures. I wonder what happened to this. I hope someone still has it wrapped up in an airing cupboard somewhere.