Page last updated at 19:17 GMT, Thursday, 3 December 2009

Mary Jane mends her ways - conclusion

A look at the home of a Catholic priest who for the last 30 years has been living a self-sufficient lifestyle

By Mary Jane Baxter
BBC Newsnight

My final week on the road saw me wending my way north to make and mend across the Scottish border. But just before heading to Edinburgh I stopped off in Bradford and Merseyside.

Woman modelling hat
Newsnight viewer Jo's hat was given a new lease of life

In Bradford I showed Newsnight viewer Jo how to convert an old throwaway titfer into something she would be proud to wear to a wedding.

In return, I had a comfy night's B+B. Mission accomplished!

Then I drove west to meet Father Tom Cullinan, a monk and ordained priest who lives a very simple life just outside of Liverpool. He built his house with fellow monks from Ampleforth Abbey, mostly using reclaimed materials.

The place is heated by way of logs from the neighbouring wood, and although there is electricity, there are few other mod cons - no computer, TV, or fridge - and there is silence after 9pm.

Tom gave me one of his rather moth-eaten jumpers to mend, not a task I particularly enjoyed I admit, but I felt I had to try and earn my weekend's lodging.

Tom is in his 70s and his very frugal life is part of his vocation. Most of the food is grown on site and there is no car.

Feeling a chore

I thought I would relish this type of existence, given my Make Do And Mend ethos - but to be honest, I found that doing it someone else's way made it less enjoyable.

Make Your Way around Britain: Frugality or fashion?

Tom isn't living like this for fun, and I learned an important lesson - when you don't have a choice, Make Do And Mend can become a chore.

It was with some relief that I hopped into my Micra (now in fine form) and continued up the motorway to Scotland's capital where I was hoping to "couch surf" thanks to another viewer.

Unfortunately she wasn't well so I ended up booking into a hotel.

Imagine my delight on managing to barter a bed for the night in exchange for one of my hats! I admit that Alexander White, owner of the Claremont, might well have been swayed by my Newsnight connections - but nonetheless, I was thrilled to find that bartering was actually possible.

Like-minded people

Whilst in Edinburgh I dropped in on the Craft Guerrillas at a bar in the Leith area of the city. Clare and Emma started the monthly group in May this year. For a small fee people buy a pack to make perhaps a necklace or a button bracelet, then they can sit and chat and enjoy a glass or two of wine whilst being creative.

People knitting
The Craft Guerrillas meet in a bar in Edinburgh's Leith area

The sisters usually get between 10 and 16 people turning up. In London, similar groups have attracted up to 400 a night!

To someone like me it's perfectly normal of course to sit and sew in the pub - but what's interesting is that it's becoming acceptable for other people to do it too.

Sue Prichard, is curator at the V&A in London. Next year she's putting on a major British quilt exhibition at the museum and she believes that the craft revival is a reaction to the mass consumerism of a whole generation.

"There are only so many things that you can go out and buy. In a way consumerism is a bit like fast food - it doesn't really satisfy the soul.

"What you have with frugality is an opportunity to be creative. It's not about the outcome, it's about the process and the sheer pleasure of making - whether it's stitching, jam making, baking or digging in your garden - there's a pleasure to be had in it."

Allotment craze

So this new frugality isn't necessarily about saving money - in fact it can be expensive. This was underlined up the road from Edinburgh in Kirkcaldy where I went to visit some disused land that campaigners hope will be turned into allotments.

Making and mending on the home front

Just one scheme in Fife will cost the council £4,000 a plot. The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners estimates that well over one hundred thousand people are now on waiting lists in the UK, and demand just keeps growing.

But are councils really willing to shell out during a recession?

It was a question that I pondered as I headed to Glasgow for a final stop, and then regretfully started my journey back down south - my month on the road at an end.

So what had I discovered about Make Do And Mend?

Becoming mainstream

At Top Shop in London, I found the 1940s Make Do Manual selling out on a weekly basis, and at Liberty, haberdashery sales are up 200% on last year.

At Asda clothing HQ in Leicester, their customer survey suggested more than 50% of us are making, mending or planning to soon.

In Nottingham, classes at the Textile Workshop in Sherwood have doubled in a year.

Mary Jane Baxter and hotelier
Mary Jane managed to swap a hat for a night in a hotel

I spoke to a new branch of the Women's Institute in Sheffield, one of 86 formed in the last year alone. Women are searching for a sense of community and taking up domestic hobbies with relish.

At Pickering in North Yorkshire there were record numbers at a nostalgia weekend on the steam railway - fifteen thousand people travelling back to World War II and the glory years of make do and mend.

And finally Fife, and the local council being lobbied for more allotments like many other parts of the UK.

During my trip I covered some 1,400 miles (2,250km).

By making, mending, and selling the odd hat, I managed to pay for my petrol, and thanks to many generous Newsnight viewers, I was never short of somewhere to stay.

There is no doubt that there is a strong element of fashion about modern day make do and mend brought about by the recession, which will no doubt change as the economy picks up.

Economic impact

At the moment some of us are having to save money, and others want to be seen to be doing so.

The current climate makes us nostalgic for a time when we all pulled together - thus the interest in the wartime ethos.

There also seems to be a definite reaction to the mass consumerism of the high street, and a desire to look different - customisation and craft are key fashion trends.

But interestingly, lots of us are shelling out cash to "make do".

Mary Jane Baxter
Mary Jane has taken up knitting while on the road

On the other hand, as Sue Prichard says, once people start making things, they might realise that they enjoy the process.

I found lots of anecdotal evidence too on my trip suggesting women in particular are re-examining their lives.

For some, choice now means being free to choose domesticity.

On a global scale, we're definitely more aware of generating waste than we have been for some time, and evidence of decreasing resources is having an impact on our lifestyles.

So Make Do And Mend? Unless you're made to do it, in which case you have to and it's not much fun, it's the fashionable choice right now.

But there are people out there doing it because they believe in it, and who knows, many more of us may be forced to live differently in the future.

Some of the elements of the resurgence in make do and mend might stick.

As for me - I've taken up knitting. Maybe I'll knit my way around Norway next year. Any offers?

Audio slideshow: The V&A patchwork group
03 Dec 09 |  Newsnight
Mary Jane mends her ways - part five
02 Nov 09 |  Newsnight
Mary Jane mends her ways - part four
21 Oct 09 |  Newsnight
Mary Jane mends her ways - part three
16 Oct 09 |  Newsnight
Mary Jane mends her ways - part two
12 Oct 09 |  Newsnight
Mary Jane mends her ways - part one
06 Oct 09 |  Newsnight
How to make a corsage
08 Oct 09 |  Newsnight
Nottingham's textile heritage
23 Oct 09 |  Newsnight
Needlecraft is sew this year
01 Oct 09 |  Magazine

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