Make Do and Mend Projects: Intro

This month's theme is all about being content with what you have, and what better way to tangibly express that than to have a make do and mend project?  It doesn't get any better than that! 

Whether through necessity because of a lack of finances or fabric rations, women back in the day made it a habit of altering the clothing they already had to make it feel fresh and new again.  To me, this is a lost art!  How many times, before discovering vintage, did I throw out a garment because it got a hole in it?  How many vintage pieces do we overlook because of fading or discoloration, relegating it to the dreaded "as is" pile?  Well, no longer!  This month I will be going through the steps of a major make do and mend project, and I'll be sharing what I learn with all of you!  I'll also have a couple smaller ones as well.  Hopefully they'll inspire you to refresh the items you have in your wardrobe already, too!

I'm going to show you the garment I'm going to majorly alter in a post coming soon, but today I want to talk about the kinds of alterations that were common in the first half of the 20th century.  Women used lots of creativity to adjust sizing, cover up repairs, and bring new personality to old garments.  Here are some actual vintage garments showing the ways women embraced "make do and mend":

They crocheted, knitted, and sewed new cuffs, collars, trims, and hats to accessorize plain dresses.  (Source)
This dress shows how women took dresses and added bits to match new trends.  The photo shows the woman on the right wearing the dress in the 20s, and sometime in the 30s she added a cape to fit the new, more feminine silhouette.  Isn't it cool to see a garment on its original owner?!  (Learn more about the garment on the University of Georgia Historic Clothing & Textile FB page.  Photo credit for dress picture: Charity Calvin)

They also made accessories out of old items.  This lady took old shoe laces and made floral corsages out of them!  (Tutorial here!)
GASP, they even cut new garments out of old ones!  Heaven forbid!  (Source)
Here's a video highlighting some other ways women revamped their clothing.  The robe made of scraps is my favorite!
I think we vintage wearers live with this idea that women bought new clothes to follow all of the latest trends.  While I'm sure many wealthy ladies did just that, the vast majority of women, especially in the 30s and 40s, were digging in their grandma's attic to find clothes to re-do!  They reused beaded bits from old 20s dresses, the trims from their grandma's Victorian clothes, and added waistlines back to their flapper dresses when the 30s came around.  While I'm not a huge proponent of the idea that we should alter all the vintage... we should use these skills to save vintage that might otherwise be thrown away, unwearable, or homely looking due to aging.
Not to mention, there are no holds barred when it comes to altering the pieces we've sewn from scratch!  I know I've made several projects that just don't work anymore, and I'd love to give them some updates.  These classic make do and mend tips can help us learn to be content with the items we have while unleashing the creativity!
What garment(s) just isn't working in your wardrobe right now that could be revived with a little creativity?  What is your favorite vintage make do and mend solution you've seen on a garment?


  1. I do this to the majority of clothing I find in thrift shops. So many dresses from the 80's and 90's just need the bottom hemmed up a few inches to look like dresses from the 40's and 50's. I've also gotten really creative with turning just about anything into a brooch. I look forward to seeing your projects.

    She Knits in Pearls

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  3. Oooh exciting! I've actually just been reaffirming my commitment to ethical fashion, and realising that the element I've really been missing is this one. I've decided to embark on a mission to make my wardrobe 100% wearable. I look forward to getting make do and mend inspiration from you - I think I'm going to need some!

    My biggest issue is a dress I bought online that just doesn't look right on me, and I'm not sure exactly why!

  4. Oh yes. Looking forward to this. I've done a bit of mending and refashioning, but it's something I want to do more of. I fixed a button and tear on one of my husband's shirts last night, whic he was very happy with. He said before we got married he wouldn't have known what to do with it.
    I also have a few early handmade dresses that I don't wear anymore that I am going to disassemble for the fabric.
    Being newly wed, and a student doesn't leave a lot of space for sewing adventures, so I need to be creative. I'm going to finally try a handpicked zip this week, because i've run out of invisible ones, and i decided it was better to learn a new skill than to buy something new.

  5. Wonderful post! Honestly, you know, I really like making do sometimes. There is something very liberating, I find, about stepping away from the constant stream of consumerism. I love shopping, don't get me wrong, but at this point in my life, my closet and small home alike are not bare in the slightest and sometimes its down right fun to reconnect with what you already own, spiff it up if needed, and breath new life into your possessions without just running out (or to the web) to buy something new.

    ♥ Jessica

  6. A dress that I have that could definitely use some reworking is a me-made 1940s swing dress. I made it in a formal length a few years ago, but since I made it the fit has become a bit off. I'm just waiting to find the perfect coordinating material to transform it into a new dress.

    I can't wait to see what garment you will transform Emileigh!

    the Middle Sister and Singer

  7. This is going to be an awesome series I bet! I'm not currently make-do-and-mend-ing with old clothes, but with new ones that won't go right! I almost had to bin my next sewing project {again!} because the fabric is a jersey knit, and I made some serious boo-boos cutting it out... (TT ^ TT) Thankfully, with a bit of creative thinking, I THINK I managed to save it! *whew*

    Making do certainly requires you to be flexible with how you approach your problems, and I will be really interested to see what tips and techniques you come up with Emileigh! ❤

    bonita of Lavender & Twill

    1. I personally think that altering existing things or "making do and mending" is a LOT harder than doing something from scratch! It takes a lot of ingenuity and problem solving, just like you said!

  8. I've already jumped ahead and read the other posts on this exciting little adventure. THIS WILL BE TOTALLY AWESOME!! Sorry Grandkids, Disney movies.. sayings get stuck in your head and come out in real life :)