Make do and Mending: Crafting Sustainability

Winchester School of Art (WSA) is hosting the 2nd Fashion and Sustainability Forum today. Alongside this WSA Library has collaborated with Associate Professor of Fashion, Dr Jo Turney, who provides our guest blog below, to curate an exhibition of items from its collections around the theme of ‘make do and mend’.

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A selection of patterns from the Knitting Reference Library

The term ‘make do and mend’ is a familiar one; it conjures notions of thriftiness, enforced austerity, and women in wartime making dresses from flour-bags. It imagines a culture that is home-made, reliant on the skill and imagination of amateurs and instruction from ‘Mrs Sew and Sew’ rather than fashion houses or designers.

In the contemporary world, Make do and Mend is undergoing something of a revival. This is partly a response to craft lifestyles and the resurgence of interest of the skill of the hand, of human endeavour, creativity and knowledge in a digital age, but also because the term and its ideology resonate with the experience of everyday life now. Our world is unpredictable and unsafe, and this instability leads to a climate of fear and a quest for the stable and known. Make Do and Mend, as a scheme arising from earlier traumatic times is an ideal point of reference for those seeking solace and escape from demands of contemporary living.These concepts were central to A/W 2017 couture collections in which garments were presented as dishevelled, patched, darned and mended, or oversized and expressively cosy, offering sanctuary indicative of nurturing and homeliness.

The Knitting Reference Library is located at Winchester School of Art Library and the Knitting Collections are held by Special Collections at the Hartley Library on the Highfield Campus, University of Southampton. They are also home to In the Loop, the series of international, interdisciplinary conferences held bi-annually since 2008. Winchester School of Art is therefore the ideal location for a discussion of the value of Making Do and Mending both historically and in the present. The objects on display here are representative of the connectivity and value of knitting as a pastime, buts also of a sustainable lifestyle; of ‘Making Do’ as ‘Making a Difference’.


Items from the Winchester School of Art Library collections

In a world of increasing and confusing mass communications technology, of grids and webs, knitting offers an analogue alternative, literally making connections between people and things via a single looped thread. The symbolic potential of this thread should not be under-estimated, representing a lifeline between the known and unknown, simplifying and solidifying the complexities of the virtual world. We can knit, unravel and re-knit and therefore we can eradicate the knots and problems that we encounter along our journey.

Make do and Mend most obviously though, is a vehicle for expressing and making material, the aims and intent of sustainable lifestyles. By consuming less, we make more sustainable choices; by consuming better, we acquire longevity, and by gaining skills, we can transform, customise and re-use our goods. We can find a creative voice, develop skills, express ourselves, through re-negotiating what we already have. In this respect, the austerity of ‘Making do’ might be reconsidered as ‘Making Up’ and ‘Making Better’.

Dr Jo Turney, March 2017

The exhibition at Winchester School of Art Library opens on 15 March 2017 and runs until 31 March 2017. To make an appointment to view any of the items from the Knitting Reference Library please contact