I’ve been a fan of Jen Gale since learning about her Make Do and Mend Year. Check out her TED Talk and a Q&A with Jen!
Jen’s most recent project is the Back to Basics ebook. It’s an essential guide to mending and repair, and I’m thrilled that she asked Crafting a Green World to contribute a tute. You can learn how to re-cover a chair or stool cushion along with a ton of other mending and repairing skills from other contributing crafters.
Q&A with Jen Gale from Make Do and Mend-able
CAGW: What inspired you to create the Back to Basics E-Book?
Jen: As a family we spent a year Buying Nothing New, and I started a blog, My Make Do and Mend Year, to document the ups and downs of our journey. Through that I learned so much. Lots of new skills, but also about the finite resources we have on our planet, and how we all need to take responsibility for our choices, and to use these resources responsibly. I also had so many conversations with people on social media, concerned at how we seem to be losing the basic skills we need to Make Do and Mend.
I am so passionate now about spreading the word about Make Do and Mend, how easy it can be, and how incredibly satisfying it is. I think that we are all becoming a bit disenchanted with the disposable nature of modern, Western society, but we haven’t been taught the skills we need to be able to re-use and repair our things. I thought that a book that puts all these basic skills in one place, would be a great place to start!
CAGW: Tell me about The Buy Nothing New Year.
Jen: I was inspired to have a go at Buying Nothing New when I read a magazine article about a lady who had embarked on a ‘Secondhand Safari’, and wanted to see if we could do it too!
After a little bit of ‘debate’ with my husband about whether buying a newspaper counted as buying something new (it did!) we agreed some ‘rules’ and we were off. Our rules were Buy Nothing New, except for food, toiletries (although I did end up making my own deodorant!), underwear (although I didn’t buy any at all during the year), and shoes for the kids (I wanted to know that they fitted properly). We also decided that if something broke, and needed a new part to be fixed, then we could buy this.
One of the things I love about the challenge, is that you can totally adapt it suit your own situation: you can set your own ‘rules’ and do it for however long suits you and your family-a week, a month, or a year (or more!)
It was a brilliant experience, and one I would totally recommend to anyone. It was so much easier than I thought it would be. We weren’t one of those families for whom thrifting and shopping second-hand was a natural thing, so it was great to find all these new ‘alternative’ retail outlets: charity (thrift) shops; flea markets; auction houses; and sites like Freecycle and Buy Nothing groups.
I learned new skills, like patching, and even darned hubby’s work socks. Christmas was a challenge, as I decided to make (rather than buy second-hand) all the presents, and we only started at the beginning of December…!
The biggest thing I learned though, was how empowering it is to take responsibility for my actions, and to feel like I am making a difference to the planet, no matter how small.
CAGW: How did you get started crafting? Has reuse always been important to you, or did something spur your crafting to grow in that direction?
Jen: I am a scientist by training, and would never have been described as ‘arty’ in any way at school! We didn’t get taught sewing at school, and I was genuinely scared of sewing machines, but for some reason, after the birth of our eldest (now 6!) I decided I wanted to learn to sew. I went along to a local class called “Learn to Love Your Sewing Machine”, and the rest is history! Soon after this, I discovered Pinterest (and lost many many hours of my life….!) and blogs, and started to read about ‘upcycling’. I don’t think it had ever really occurred to me that you could make new things out of old stuff-it was mind blowing!
I always thought I was pretty ‘eco-friendly’ (I did my recycling..!) but re-use had never really occurred to me.
Now, I’m so passionate about getting people to re-use as much as possible. Whilst something handmade, will nearly always be ‘better’ on an environmental basis, than something from the High Street, I think we also forget that the raw materials for crafting also have an environmental impact. Conventionally grown cotton has a huge impact in terms of the pesticides and the water needed for it to grow, not to mention the impact of the lives of the farmers and workers involved in it’s production. I try to always use second-hand fabric for sewing projects, or if I really need something specific, then I source organic and ethical supplies.
CAGW: I love your focus on community and on skill sharing! Can you talk a bit about your manifesto and how you landed on The Five Rs?
Jen: I read something the other day, about how governments seem to have embraced the Recycle part of the five R’s, but that they seem to have forgotten about all the others.
For me, Make Do and Mend embraces all of the 5 R’s, and seems a natural extension of it: Refuse-work out ways to Make Do with what we already have, and choose not buy something new; Reduce-Buy Less, Buy Better (or Buy Less, Make More!); Re-use-upcycle! and re-purpose, and Make Do; Recycle-and re-purpose!; Rot-compost and grow your own!
Building a community, and creating value is really important to me, and I really want the site to be a focus for a whole Make Do and Mend community, where people can gain skills and inspiration for Making Do and Mending their own lives. I run a Twitter chat every Thursday from 8-9pm (GMT) called #makedoandmendhour, where people share what they have been Making, Mending, or Making Do with, and can also ask for help and advice on anything they are struggling with. It is always the most inspiring hour of my week, and is so wonderful to see the community come to life and help and inspire each other!
CAGW: Your focus on small changes is so in line with my own thoughts on changing the world. Can you share some of the small changes your own family has made that you feel have the biggest impacts?
Jen: Buying Nothing New felt like a pretty big thing when we started the year, but actually it all boils down to small decisions me make everyday. Choosing each time we needed something, to source it secondhand, and working out where we could buy it, or if we could make something similar, was a small decision each time, but they all added up to a whole year!
And it has had a huge impact on our buying habits moving forwards. We have bought a few new things since the year officially ended, but these have been much more conscious purchases, and we have sourced everything ethically. I haven’t bought any new clothes for nearly 3 years now, and don’t miss fast fashion one bit.
We’ve also made some small changes in how we deal with our rubbish, that have made a big impact on how much we send to landfill. Things like getting a composter that we can put all our food waste in, and working out where to recycle our stretchy plastic!
CAGW: Anything else you’d like to share?
Jen: The new site has loads of inspiration and resources for anyone looking to Make Do and Mend!
CAGW: Where can folks grab a copy of the book?
Jen: Right here!