The WAR-TIME trend

January 29, 2010

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with T.  Just when we thought the coast was clear, there’s one more, sneaky, cheeky trend to look at. Let’s check out at the current vogue for all things WAR-related.

Now, this trend is HUGE. And it isn’t miserable, despite the harsh realites of war – rather, it’s quite a cheerful look, channelling the (real or imagined) optimistic war-time spirit of 1940s Britain. As we witnessed with the recent rash-like spread of the now-unavoidable-yet-strangely-still-appealing-particularly-if-it’s-not-in-red KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON poster, the time is apparently ripe for battening down the hatches, putting on a brave face, joining together and reviving the traditional British ‘stiff upper lip’ in the face of adversity. We’re all trying to save money, waste less and stay cheerful. A bit like we were in the war. And so, a trend is born.

Let’s start with flags. Unless you’ve been living under a stone somewhere, you can’t have failed to notice a lot of Union Jacks all over the place – bunting, posters, cushions, teacups – it’s something we were chatting about last spring. The likes of Becky Oldfield (with her flag quilts and vintage medals) are cashing in, and last year the high street was awash with flag-tastic accessories. There’s no getting away from them – for 2010, designers have swapped the usual red, white and blue for floral flags with a crafty look. Check out the new Tesco tins above, and the Portmeirion place mats.

It’s not just patriotic flags we’re luvvin’. Reassuring wartime poster slogans and plucky Government mottoes have become the norm for prints and have been reproduced in their millions.

There’s KEEP CALM of course, but many more including AN APPLE A DAY, DIG FOR VICTORY and, perhaps the most British of all: TEA REVIVES YOU. If there’s a war on, or a recession for that matter, have a nice cup of tea and everything will seem a lot better, ducky.

Our cooking habits are being influenced by the war years, too. Wartime recipe books are being re-printed and are soaring in popularity as people look to save money by using up leftovers and spending less at the supermarket. I read in The Times recently: “Moves to recover the lessons of the war can be seen on the forums of MoneySavingExpert.com, where various contributors have begun to offer tips salvaged from wartime cookbooks, or on Amazon, where the works of that great wartime cook Marguerite Patten are displayed beside books by Gordon Ramsay.” Even Waitrose now stocks cheaper cuts of meat such as pig trotters and sheep brains.

From top left, working clockwise: A cute purse from Rosie’s Armoire with a weekly family food budget printed on it; a vintage ration book; Cold Meat And How To Disguise Ita fantastic collection of war-time tips, recipes and ephemera; and Economical Cookery, and a war-time recipe book I inherited. Bovril eggs, anyone? Our attitude to shopping has changed, too. Check out the interior of this fabulous new shop our editor Isobel found in Brighton. It’s called Utility, and I’m definitely going to pop in next time I’m down that way:

Utility takes it’s ‘name and inspiration’ from the World War II scheme that produced everyday goods with a minimum of wastage, and the website helpfully explains to us, (the ignorant yoof!) that this is ‘because raw materials were in short supply then’. Utility sells ‘simple, but always functional and hardwearing’ home accessories, which ‘stick to principles’ and the founders claim to be ‘waging a war’ on ‘tut’. Shops such as this are evidence of a huge shift towards a simpler, more meaningful way of life that many of us crave after the plastic fantastic eighties and fat-cat-buy-buy-buy nineties; we’re more aware of the environment and we also want to save money, so when we shop, we want to buy simple, ethical things that will last.

(Of course, buying anyTHING when you don’t absolutely NEED to, whether it’s simple, eco and functional or not, kind of demeans this whole philosophy – Utility is, after all, still a shop, selling lovely accessories that are not exactly essentials – but let’s not nit pick or we’ll be here forever. And this is a shopping blog, so who am I to talk!!)

Even our reading matter is war-related at the moment. I love all the reproduction Government-issued pamphlets from the war years that are being re-released, so I picked these up in the Tate Britain shop, but you can also buy them on Amazon. In the 1940s, handbooks were given to soldiers going abroad advising them on the peculiarities of the ‘foreigners’ they would soon encounter. The guides were intended to lessen the culture shock for those embarking on their first trip and the instructions are a wonderful interpretation of the differences between the allies.

Here’s a priceless extract from the Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain book: “The British don’t know how to make a good cup of coffee. You don’t know how to make a good cup of tea. It’s an even swap…”

For me, it’s the war-time craft revival that’s my favourite thang…mmmmm, check out my vintage LEARN TO TAT poster! (You’ll find the MAKE DO AND MEND print at the Keep Calm Gallery.) I like nothing better than to sit about wearing bright red lipstick and a 1940s-style tea dress from TopShop, sipping tea from a vintage teacup, knitting socks for the sheer pleasure of it rather than the necessity. How absurd. It’s 2010. I could buy them in Primark for heaven’s sake, five pairs for a pound. But I and many others choose to buy wool instead and hang out at ‘Make Do And Mend’ pop-up crafting nights from the likes of iKnit and Smack My Stitch Up – ‘Customisation for the Nation’, in case you’re wondering. Ten years ago, if somebody had suggested mixing cross-stitch with DJ-ing, they’d have been locked in a secure unit. Now, such combos are the norm and, thanks to the massive revival of all things homemade and handmade, ‘making do’ and ‘mending’ has never been cooler.

(I couldn’t resist this VICTORY “Wonder-Sock” pattern when I spotted it in a car boot sale – it’s ‘the perfect gift’, and the pink reproduction Ministry of Information Make do and Mend book is available from Amazon.) Take the Shoreditch Sisters Women’s Institute group for example – ten years ago, it was not cool to be in the W.I, but now, knitting is not just for grannies. The members are sassy, sexy young women, all crafting, jam-making, and hanging out being cool in a very Shoreditch way. Check out their president and founder, ‘Jazz Domino Holly‘ (yes, this is her real name. Daughter of The Clash lead singer…always the way with rock stars), seen here in her presidential photo, standing in front of a massive KEEP CALM poster. As if I PLANNED it. And her fellow Shoreditch ‘Sister’ is shown here running a ‘Clothing Customisation Station’ at a recent Bust Craftacular event, proudly holding up the wartime slogan: MAKE DO AND MEND.

These trendy young crafters are living proof that wartime attitudes have been embraced by the hipsters (HIPSTERS?! Groan, I must be getting old) of 2010. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a bit of V-DAY-style buntin’, a good vintage propoganda poster or a retro OXO tin as much as the next design-addict, but I do wonder what my dear grandmother would say about all this if she were alive today.  She belonged to a generation who HAD to darn socks, fly flags, use up leftovers, scrimp, save, keep calm and, erm, carry on, out of necessity. I suspect she’d think it was strange that we seem to think that a dip in the economy is in some way comparable to the desperately hard times endured by so many in the 1940s. But I’m sure she’d find it funny that I’m wearing floral tea dresses just like she used to! – Ellie

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We’ve all seen the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, discovered by Barter Books and copied by just about everyone since…but this little mug from Mclaggan Smith Mugs seems more fitting for the economic crisis and it made me chuckle today! – Ellie

Now panic and freak out mug, MS Mugs

NOW PANIC AND FREAK OUT mug, £7.10, MS Mugs

Make do and mend

March 11, 2009

I’ve been writing a feature about thrifty craft for Ideal Home this week, and got sent this fabulous little book called Make Do and Mend. It’s a reproduction of a wartime Ministry of Information leaflet, first published in 1943.

make-do-and-mendIt’s packed full of great advice, a lot of which is still relevant today, particularly the cleaning sections. I love the way it’s written – from an article about banishing the ‘moth menace’ to a classic tip about using the tops of old woollen stockings to make ‘cosy underpants for a small boy’ – it’s wonderful!

Look out for our thrifty craft feature in the July issue of Ideal Home. – Ellie