The inspiring Jen Gale created the successful Make Do and Mend Year blog in September 2012. It all began as a one year challenge to buy nothing new in which she documents her experiences. The challenge officially ended at the end of August 2013 but the ethos and the blog live on!
Jen’s wonderful blog contains a wealth of hints and tips on thrifty living, upcycled craft ideas and scrummy recipes. We asked Jen to tell us more …
Where are you based?
I live in Wiltshire, with my husband, and our two fabulous boys, aged 6 and 3.
Do you run this project as a business or as a hobby?
As I write, it’s a hobby, but I have a new website www.makedoandmend-able.co.uk, and “Back to Basics” Make Do and Mend e-book, both ready to launch in the next month, which will (hopefully) mean it will become a business!
What first inspired you to undertake this project?
Our eldest son was 3, but I remember being very aware of how quickly he had become a mini-consumer. At the same time, I read a magazine article about someone who was on a “Secondhand Safari” and spending a year buying nothing new, and I thought it sounded like a great challenge!
When did you start Make Do And Mend Year?
The year officially started in September 2012, although we did have a practice month in the August!
Have you continued past your first year?
The general ethos has certainly continued, but we are less strict now. We consume, and purchase, much more consciously now. The year started just as a challenge, but the longer it went on, the more I learned about the impact of our Western lifestyles on the planet. It would feel hugely hypocritical to go back to a life where we bought things with little or no thought. I haven’t bought any new clothes (except for pants, and these were from the brilliant social enterprise Who Made Your Pants!) since the start of My Make Do and Mend Year.
Are the whole family involved?
Yes! And no! As much as I wanted to emerge from the year with 2 children who shunned anything new, in that I have failed! They are pretty good, but they are still normal kids, and the appeal of new Lego, and new toys/books in general is strong! Having said that, they are often just as happy with a ‘new’ toy from a charity shop. But I am still trying to wean them off this seemingly in built need to acquire more ‘stuff’ all the time!
My husband is brilliant and has always supported the project. He is the chief fixer, and is really very good at ressurecting things when they have broken!
Are they supportive of the project?
On the whole! Our eldest, who is 6, does seem to ‘get’ it, and if I explain to him why he can’t have a certain thing, he is pretty good. The 3 year old is another matter all together..! Hubby is fab. He has been really supportive, and stuck to the ‘rules’ for the whole year! Even now, with the official Buy Nothing Year ended, he does his homework, and tries to see if he can buy something second-hand first, and if not, then he looks for ethical alternatives.
You have several crafty projects on your site, do you have a main craft?
Not really. I started off learning to sew about 6 years ago, but have only really done things like bunting and cushions, as well as some curtains for the house. I really want to be able to make my own clothes, so have set myself the task of making an item of clothing a month for 2015, in the hope that it will force me to learn some new skills!
I learned to crochet about 3 years ago, and have just re-started making some things. I am quite addicted at the moment!
I also love general upcycling, and making something from nothing, or from something that other people might throwaway.
But I think the one that makes everyone smile has to be our egg box Christmas tree!
Can you tell us about the first upcycled piece you created?
Gosh, I can’t remember! The first bit of sewing I did was an owl door stop! And then I think I quickly started doing things like covered tin cans, and I turned an old pair of jeans into a skirt (which I still wear now!)
Do you have a favourite creation?
I am still totally in love with the pompom Christmas tree that we made for Christmas 2014. It was great fun to make-hubby and I would sit in front of the TV making them! And it looked great-exactly how it looked in my head! (Many of my creations look great ‘in my head’, and then not so great once they’re made…!)
Have you won any awards?
I’m hugely honoured to have been awarded Volunteer of the year, by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, for my work with them setting up a Repair Cafe in my town, and running Swishing (clothes swapping) events.
I was also flabbergasted to be presented with the World Wildlife Fund’s Hidden Heroes award in the Community Champion category in January this year. It’s amazing to have even been nominated for any awards, and to win some, is truly humbling.
Other notable achievements?
I’m totally amazed at the success of my little blog! Since starting it, I’ve given a TED talk, been featured in the National Press, and written pieces for The Guardian-all things that I would never have dreamed of!
It’s been so brilliant to watch a whole Make Do and Mend community spring up around the blog-we have a regular #makedoandmendhour Twitter chat every Thursday, and have a really lovely and supportive Facebook group, where everyone can help each other, and show off their Makes and Mends!
Starting up the Repair cafe and the Swishing events in my town has also been fab, as I’ve been able to have an impact in my local community, as well as my online one.
Why do you think there has been an increase in the upcycling trend?
I think that people are getting fed up with our disposable culture, and with buying things that get thrown away after a few weeks.
People are starting to re-engage with their creativity, and are learning, or re-learning skills that were once commonplace. As more people learn to craft and make, so they start to think about how things are made, and what they are made from, and who made them. And then it is impossible not to be aware of the huge imbalance in lifestyles between us in the West, doing all the consuming, and those who are making these cheap products.
More and more people are also becoming aware that we live on a planet with finite resources. And that we have to start making better use of what we have.
And it’s such a wonderful feeling to give something a new lease of life!
Which artists/crafters inspire you?
I am a little bit in love with Kirstie Allsopp! I love the fact that she has been able to bring crafting, and upcycling to the attention of the mainstream media.
I think the most inspirational people are those that I ‘speak’ to during our #makedoandmendhour twitter chats, and in the Make Do and Mend-able Facebook group. People who are Making Do and Mending every day. People with a huge wealth of knowledge and experience, and who have such brilliant ideas! They really are walking the walk, and it’s fabulous!
Do you have any advice/tips for those interested in this philosophy?
Have a go! That’s what I love so much about Making Do and Mending, is that very often, there is little to lose! If you are using a charity shop duvet to make a skirt, or upcycling a free table from Freecycle, then financially it will cost you very little. And everytime you do something, you learn. So even if you make a mistake, you have still gained some experience.
Where do you see this project going?
I have a new website launching, hopefully in the next week! My aim is for it to be a ‘One Stop Shop’ for all things Make Do and Mend. As well as a blog, and loads of resources and tutorials, it will also have a Directory of classes, workshops and events, so that people can find places near to them where they can go and learn new skills.
Where can we find out more?
Come along and join us on Twitter every Thursday from 8-9pm GMT for #makedoandmendhour!
Do check out the new website www.makedoandmend-able.co.uk when it’s live, and keep your eyes peeled for the launch of the first Make Do and Mend-able e-book, Back to Basics – Your essential guide to Make Do and Mend!