Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Life During Wartime

I have to admit a certain fascination for the current economic downturn. Not that I like to see all this financial chaos, mind you, but when you look at the markets across the board, there are some interesting areas that are doing better now than before the (ongoing) crash. Case in point, Spam (the "meat" product. Does anything scream "depression" more?), beans (YAY!), hard cider (yummy), and vegetables (double YAY!). Add to this list: yarn (see this story in the NY Times). As we all know, you can buy some mighty sweet yarn for what a night out costs you in the big city. AND you have a great little handmade item at the end of it, which is generally more than you can say for a night out.

Add to all this the trend towards recycling and you get a fairly potent and interesting mix of situations.

I started thinking about the 1940s, where all of America was asked to sacrifice and chip in for the war effort. Citizens were encouraged to grow their own food (hence the term "victory garden"), women were encouraged to remake what they and their families wore, rather than spend money on new stuff. What did all this add up to? A generation of people who were healthier (thanks to milk and meat rations + homegrown produce), scrappier, and more resourceful than, well, we are. The little number above is from my late dad's collection of Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, dating back to the 1930s. It is full of advice about how to do more with less, but with an emphasis on fun, creativity, and the DIY spirit.

I think this same spirit helped spawn a lot of the booklets and leaflets that many of us with an interest in vintage needlework now hold so dear. And I think our current situation helps these handy little booklets to resonate with us a bit more profoundly. There are tons of DIY sites across the web and tons of people exhibiting "homesteader" tendencies (me among them).
So with all this spinning through my head, I took a look at my WWII books and found some interestingly familiar refrains. Try this one on for size:

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without"

Not a bad motto for today, don't you think? Given the amount of perfectly usable stuff we toss on a daily basis, wouldn't it be nice if we could view our current resource and economic crises as something we could rally around, like our forebears did in WWII? For example, this booklet, aside from admonishing us all that it is in the interest of victory that we all keep as healthy as possible (and we did, as a sidenote. Heart disease dropped during this period), it advised us to make our own stuff, like a market tote bag and a snood. Here are the instructions: And although the recipes do contain a fair amount of what I would consider crap (bologna fingers? no, thanks), there are some wonderful ones in here that seem years ahead of their time. I am intrigued by the honey-orange yeast bread and the carrot-honey cookies with oats and raisins. Yum.

From what I can tell, though, it took a while for the crafty spirit to dissipate. It just seemed to morph into something a little more fun and lighthearted, like the cover image from the 1948 booklet I will leave you with below:

1 comment:

JellyDonut said...

There's a lesson in all this, no doubt. Maybe this is the end of rampant consumerism, or at least more respect for handmade with LOVE gifts. Suits me fine, as I will not go near a mall between Thanksgiving and Christmas.