Read the headlines! It's time to pull out your old copy of "How to Live on (Practically) Nothing." It's time to re-learn how to turn the collar on a shirt, how to make a little girl's dress from a man's worn-out shirt, how to turn your old cotton socks into a mop. Those thrifty days that lasted well beyond the Depression are back with us.
I found, at a sale of library weedings, "Sewing Made Easy," by Mary Lynch. The copyright date is 1950. Flipping through it I would have guessed 1940, but apparently 1950 was just as thrifty as the forties. The book is a grim reminder not only of what it was like before the disposable society took over, but also of the rigidity of fashion rules in those days. Old was Old and Young was Young and the sumptuary regulations that divided them were not open for discussion.
Here is a sentence from the chapter on making hats. "The mature woman with soft grey hair will find swirls of veiling (her italics) twisted around a bunch of flowers fastened to a circle of straw or felt cut from an old hat are especially becoming."
Now, leaving aside the dubious construction of that sentence, with one participial phrase fastened to another to another, and an almost orphaned verb dangling at the endleaving that aside, I am struck by how far we have come in our approach to fashion.
That hat was for the "mature woman" (am I there yet?). The mature woman had a certain look. Mary Lynch also gives very succinct instructions for making a young woman's hat. Here are her complete instructions for a charming flowered number: "Flowers, pins, veiling, thread, and a mirror are all you need. Pin everything together for effect, then sew only enough to hold the pieces in place."
So there you are. Your new hat in a nutshell. Are you ready to make it now? Were the instructions sufficiently detailed? All you need is . . .
In the purse section, Mary is much more explicit. She lays out all the information you need to make half a dozen purse (excuse me: handbag) styles. You could make them for peanuts. You wouldn't catch Mary even thinking about paying $35,000 for a good Birkin bag, though that's not a very good example, since the thought of that $35,000 Birkin bag tends to give most women apoplexy. (In fact, if you're willing, I'll sell you my copy of Mary's book for only $1000. Just think of the money you'd be saving by using her directions for making a purse . . .)
In the chapter on toys, Mary Lynch tells us how to make a rag doll. Now, I own (or have owned) half a dozen books devoted to making rag dolls of all sorts. But Mary just says you can either cut the arms and legs together with the body or cut and stuff them separately and attach them with strong thread. That's the extent of her doll instructions. According to Mary, you can make a wardrobe for the doll by creating your own patterns or by buying purchased doll clothes patterns. Obviously she's trying to avoid smothering you with extraneous information. Either she hates making dolls and regrets having brought up the subject, or she has already written a separate book on rag dolls that she wants us to buy.
But don't get her started on tea towels! In this section she lavishes on us all the detail we could possibly need: buy 10 yards of linen toweling, and here's how you fold it and here's how you cut it and here's how you hem it. She gives us the specific instructions that she refused to cough up for a rag doll, some poor little girl's best friend.
Mary also provides detailed instructions for making slip covers for your furniture, mattress pads and dust ruffles (pleated or gathered or plain) and lamp shades. You'll learn how to make curtains of every sort: swagged, sheers, café curtains, or formal draperies.
Coverlets are easy, according to Mary: take two old, worn blankets and put them between a backing and a top. Bind around the edges. Fasten through the center with knotted yarn. Bob's yer uncle!
Mary also tells us how to make a quilt top, should that be your choice for the top of your coverlet. Now, if I once owned six books on rag dolls, let me tell you how many quilting books there are in print today. Seven zillion, that's how many. And they all tell, from cutting the first little piece to taking the final stitch, how to make this or that kind of quilt. Mary shows the same interest in quilting that she has in rag dolls. I paraphrase: take some scraps in small pieces, sew them together into blocks. Sew the blocks together. Try to make them pleasing to the eye. There you are. That's about it for quilts. If you need more instructions than this, then I guess Mary figures you shouldn't even be undertaking the project.
Mary Lynch, "Sewing Made Easy." Watch for it at a Goodwill store near you. As the Big D engulfs us, there will be a run on it, so don't delay!