victory gardens / mend and make do

I’m very inspired by World War Two imagery around Victory Gardens and Mend & Make Do campaigns. I’m also fascinated by the Land Girls / Womens’ Land Army, and the way WW2 changed work life for women in the West forever.

I recently had a pile of WW2 social history books out of the library and wanted to share with you some of the images. (Sorry I didn’t have the time/patience to scan them, so they are photographs of book pages. Not ideal. Forgive me.)

I don’t at all idealise the 1940s. I’m know it was a very hard time, a frightening time, lots of death and fear and sadness and people worked very hard just to keep their houses clean and keep their families fed. All the same, I enjoy the parallels between the Victory Garden movement and the 21st zeitgeist of backyard chicken farming, raised bed gardening, community gardening, CSA schemes, Seed Banks, recycling, upcycling etc….the similarities are strong.

There’s a great shop on etsy which sells modern day ‘victory garden’ posters – great witty designs. It’s called ‘The Victory Garden of Tomorrow’. I so want to buy something from the shop for my kitchen, but I can’t make up my mind which one I like the best!

Here are some of my favourite WW2 images from the books:

Women darning their tights….


In today’s world of ‘from sweat-shop to landfill’ fashion, I’m proud to say I DO mend my clothes…as below…


Dig for victory NOW!


I would join this girl gang of happy gardeners!


Have you ever seen a sugar beet? Not the most inspiring of vegetables…. 


The lawns of Kensington Park in London were dug up for food production….


Love the way the word ‘FOOD’ is made from vegetables here… 


Even Yardley face cream got in on the victory gardening trend for it’s advertising… 






reality check at the vintage clothing sale


I went to a vintage clothing sale recently and had a lot of fun time-travelling through the decades as I looked through the racks. One thing really struck me though – the majority of the clothing was 1980s! Shoulder padded, two-toned, inverse triangle shaped, taffeta ball gowns….80s, 80s, 80s! And a bit of 90s. Which makes perfect sense, of course, because the 1980s are now 20+ years ago. It made me feel kind of old, however, as when I first started op-shopping – the ‘retro’ clothing was from the 50s, 60s, 70s, with majority of stuff from the 1970s. It was still possible to find an incredible 1950s cotton sundress or silk evening dress. This is extremely rare these days.

So much of the 1980s fashion is just not that attractive! While a fifties circle skirt has a timeless appeal, a 1980s two-tone cotton overall with massive baggy pockets? Well, it’s ‘quite a look’ as one of my friends says. (Translation: ‘What the hell is that person WEARING?’)

My favourite era for vintage is the 1970s and I guess that is because I was a child then so I have a lot of nostalgia for polyester evening dresses, silver floor length skirts, shirts with extremely pointy collars, floral velveteens, Laura Ashley-style cotton sun-dresses…..*happy sigh*

I didn’t end up finding anything for myself at the sale, although I did find a couple of great things for a friend. I did, however, find the above polyester dress at the op-shop recently.

Some people hate polyester and I understand that. It feels weird and plastic-y if you aren’t used to it. But here are some reasons I love vintage polyester – it keeps it’s colour, doesn’t fade, it is extremely easy-care – you can treat it mean in the laundry room and it keeps on bouncing back. It dries super-fast – twenty minutes on the line and it’s good to go, and you never, never, never have to iron it! It’s true that polyester doesn’t feel that nice against the skin, but you can get around that by sticking to polyester skirts, or wearing cotton singlets under dresses.

I’ve been wearing 1970s polyester skirts and frocks since the 1980s. I guess I always will, until there are no more 1970s artefacts to be found.


little blue shoes


I op-shopped this pair of little blue 1970s leather shoes recently, for a friend who had a just had a girl baby. I had a pair just like it when I was wee. I remember wearing them with white knee-socks and one of those woollen kilts with the white cotton top attached. (Does anyone else remember those?)


This little shoes conjured up the weirdest feelings in me. I had them sitting on my window-sill for a long while, so I could contemplate what the feelings were.

I am very affected by pictures and by objects. For me, it’s sort of like certain images or objects emit a frequency that only I seem to tune into. That probably sounds a bit crazy, but I can’t think how else to describe it. I have a heightened awareness of the ‘energy’ of objects and the emotional states of people, which can make life….interesting at times.

I’ve tucked the shoes away now, to send to my friend when her daughter is a bit bigger. It was good to be with them for a while. They gave me back some inexplicable sensory experience of my childhood.

moving back into the sleepout

We have a sleepout, which I use as a studio/making space and is also our guest room. The previous owners, when they converted the old garage into a sleepout, laid carpet directly onto the concrete garage floor – so by the time we bought the house, the carpet was mouldy and damp and the room smelled bad.

Late last year we hired a friend who is a ‘wood whisperer’ and building artisan, who has built his own house with only his innate skills and imagination (in other words, he is not a trained builder) to source some second-hand wooden floorboards and build us an elevated floor in the sleep out, to fix the damp problem and also make the space more attractive.

We could have gone the cheap route and used a composite product like mdf for the floor, but I felt strongly that I wanted to recycle and I wanted a floor that would be beautiful by itself and not need another product (paint or carpet or lino) to cover it up. This strong opinion lead to much more work and money, but I think it was worth it!

When Dave first showed up with a pile of rather unpromising looking wood from the building recyclers, I had a doubtful moment – but I needn’t have. He did an incredible job with what was initially some pretty poor-looking boards, full of staples and nails and holes. He is amazing at bringing old wood back to life! He did a wonderful job.

Then, Fraser patiently and lovingly puttied holes and sanded and sanded and sanded (this took many weekends), then together we varnished it with a combination of linseed, wax and varnish.

Now we have a beautiful floor and because I know the history of the floor and the work involved, I love it all the more.

I’ve just moved back in over the last couple of weeks. It’s been wonderful getting re-aquainted with my stuff, which has been in boxes in our hallway for nearly six months.

And the first thing I did, was to make up the guest bed in the room:

so I went op-shopping again…

Yes, you can take the clutter away from the girl, but you can’t keep the girl out of the op-shops. To be fair, where I used to op-shop weekly (even daily when I had a small baby I needed to walk to to sleep in the pram and we lived two blocks from an excellent op-shop) – I’m now go perhaps once every two months. I enjoy it a lot more for going a lot less, too.

It had been so long since I went, I had a great time. I saw an old mattress base with this incredible 50s fabric on it, which I didn’t buy but photographed for your enjoyment:

I bought some very useful work-clothes in the op-shop’s half-price sale and I also bought these sweet, and useful Agee jars. I’ve never seen the little lidded ones before. I have a soft-spot for Agee jars – they were always what bottled peaches and plum jams came in when I was a kid and people used to preserve more. I love the old-fashioned font – it might say ‘Agee’ but it says ‘Happy’ to me.

& they make sweet vases, right?

the things you keep which are not yours

A little more on stuff…

…I just read THIS BOOK. In it, the author Corinne Grant explores the roots of her hoarding habits. I found this description of her intertia around organising her possessions interesting:

‘The fear of doing something I might later regret overruled any desire to throw something out. If I threw out an old placemat, I might all of a sudden find myself completely unmoored from my past. If I threw out a cardigan my mother had given me for my twenty-third birthday, I might destroy the family bond that held us to each other. We don’t call our possessions our ‘belongings’ for nothing and … it felt like my belongings were the only things holding me together.’

I understand her attachment to the thing which links you to the person it represents. I utterly understand it. I understand wanting to keep a thing out of some misguided sense of respect for the person who gave it to you. In the past, I’ve hung on to gifts for years, thinking I was honouring the friend who gave it to me, only to have, in one case, him mock the very object and when I protested that he had given it to me in the first place, he responded: ‘God, did I? For god’s sake get rid of it. It’s hideous.’

Once Corinne Grant begins to declutter and sort out her life, she catches the decluttering bug and becomes addicted to her new fixation, spending a whole winter going through her stuff:

‘I was an archaeologist excavating my own life, determined to dig myself out of the rubble.’

I found this sentence very poignant – possibly the most poignant thing I’ve read around decluttering. Doesn’t this one sentence get to the heart of what decluttering is all about? A sense of having lost oneself? A feeling the the way to find oneself again lies in dealing with belongings and trying to establish what they say about you?

As you know if you read my blog regularly, I spent the summer decluttering my house. It wasn’t that bad to start with – I’m no crazy cat-lady who can’t throw out an empty can or an old newspaper, but I was starting to feel like the cupboards and shelves were bulging and that I was hanging on to a lot of stuff for the wrong reasons – like nostalgia, ‘it might be useful one day’ and my need to be surrounded in creative materials.

I was very thorough and heaps of stuff went – to friends who would actually use it, to opshops, into our garage sale (and I still have a large pile of stuff to be listed on trademe – which I should probably be doing now instead of writing this….). I got rid of clothes I had emotional attachments to but no longer wore, I got rid of my record collection, I got rid of piles of art materials, books I knew I’d never get around to reading, unwanted gifts…I think I did really, really well. However…

there remain two stumbling blocks:

-family ‘heirlooms’ – things which have been passed down to me which used to belong to my grandparents, or great-grandparents – these items range from the useful (a gorgeous green jug that was my maternal grandmother’s, which I love and use most weeks to put flowers in) to the space-taking and useless (a musty fox fur coat, my grandmother’s debutante satin gloves – which don’t fit me, because she had tiny hands) to the precious (cameo rings, war medals) to the sublime (beautiful gilt-edged, leather-bound 140 year old family Bible) to the ridiculous (a small old cardboard box full of my grandfather’s pen nibs. He was a draughtsman and took great pride in his pens. The nibs are completely rusty and useless. The whole artefact is useless and not particularly beautiful. It is my favourite reminder of him, and I love it.) I also have my great-grandmother’s mantle clock. It is large! The key is long lost so I can’t wind it up, making it useless. I can’t throw it out. My great grandmother was not a wealthy woman. She didn’t have much. I feel, tangibly, if irrationally, that throwing out that mantle clock – the only thing of hers I have – would be like throwing HER out.

I don’t know what I think about the presence of these items in my life. Some of it makes sense (the green jug: beautiful, useful, translates to a contemporary setting) some not (the ridiculous attachment to a musty old box of rusting pen nibs, keeping old satin gloves which don’t fit me, worn to a ball by a grandmother I never met.)

The things I love the most from my ancestors are usually quirky things, rather than precious things. I hear from those who knew her that my grandmother loved to tell fortunes, read tea-leaves and cards, so for this reason, I love her tea-leaf-reading cup. It’s one of my favourite possessions. (That’s it above – I always have it on my mantlepiece.)

My grandfather went to India during World War 2 – I love the little wooden deities he bought back from India (below.) These speak to me of adventure and fear and being miles from home, and of thinking of those at home at the point of purchasing these little souvenirs – they speak to me of his war experience much more than his actual war artefacts: his medals and papers.

Ah, family heirlooms! The threads of attachment weaving down through generations…

The other area with decluttering where I have hit a wall, is with my writing papers.

I have writing papers – early drafts, submissions, correspondence, publications, course materials etc etc – dating back as far as high school. They start with my high-school poetry books and the punk ‘zine I wrote as a teenager and then they chart my progress as a writer from there….

All in all, including my journals, it comes to about five big boxes of stuff.

Is this a lot?

Why am I so very attached to it?

Is there any point in keeping it?

If I let it go, what does that mean for all those years of learning and struggle? While I am the sum of those parts – the writer who sits here today – does getting rid of the tangible evidence of my struggles, and travails and triumphs and experiments diminish them?

Does it diminish me?

I don’t know. I really don’t.

I feel very close to being able to let it all go – to be able to throw it all on our next bonfire – but should I? What should I keep, if any of it?

How much ‘rubble’ in the archeology of a life is too much?