Britain returns to thrifty domesticity

A revival of 1950s style domesticity has swept Britain due to the economic downturn. Consumers are applying a do-it-yourself attitude to all areas of daily life by making clothes, growing vegetables and dying their own hair.

Sales of knitting and dressmaking equipment are powering ahead - knitting needles are up by 7 per cent and sewing machines by 34 per cent according to the department store chain John Lewis.

Meanwhile garden centres are reporting strong demand for fruit bushes - up 68 per cent last year - and hardware stores have brought out budget gardening tool ranges. Although the motivation for the return to the thrifty, homely appears to be money, the new habits may stay once the economic good times return, at least according to one expert.

"When the economy starts to recover people will have adopted old domestic skills which they will continue to use. The focus will be on sustainability; people will be more self sufficient," predicted Reshema White, of St Andrews University. One of the easiest ways for people to save money is to colour their hair at home rather than at the hairdresser.

Sales of hair-dying kits are up 17 per cent rise at Superdrug, while Sainsbury's is selling a third more hair dyes. "For the cost of one salon hair treatment you can colour your hair at home for an entire year - and still have change for hairspray," said Daniel Hadley, Superdrug's hair dye buyer.

A new generation of twenty and thirty- somethings are taking up hearth-side social activities such as knitting instead of going out. Knitting clubs are opening across the country, attracting young professionals who are keen to save cash. I Knit London have begun to run three times as many knitting classes for beginners as last year due to a sharp rise in demand.

There is even a social networking site especially for knitters, which is constantly expanding. A big increase in dress making patterns indicates that people are looking for originality as well as value for money in their wardrobes. John Lewis reports that sales of sewing machines were up 34 per cent and sales of buttons were up 39 per cent in the last quarter.

Sales usually rise over Christmas on the website but, this New Year, they have not slowed back down. Sarah Dean, 33, from Shepherds Bush, London, saved around £100 last year by knitting presents for friends and family, especially at Christmas. She said: "Knitting can be quite expensive if you use top quality wool. You can find cheaper alternatives in charity shops". Books on thrift have become a publishing phenomenon.

Waterstone's says readers are buying books that can help them become self-sufficient, such as Vegetable Growing Month-by-month by John Harrison and Katie Bishop's Easy Slow Cooker Recipes.

In supermarkets, shoppers are buying cheaper cuts of meat. Sainsbury's says there has been a dramatic rise in sales of slow cookers.

Can thrift be fun?

Stand up comedienne Jess Ransom knits and makes her own dresses as a fun way to create distinctive garments and save money. The 27-year-old, from Clapham, south London, has taken up both hobbies in the past month, buying cheap material in shops and patterns online.

“One good trick is to go to fabric stores and rifle through the bargain bin of off-cuts,” says Miss Ransom, half of a double act, Girl and Dean. “There are often some really lovely pieces of material which you can buy for a couple of pounds and turn into a skirt”.

Ms Ransom began making her own clothes when she was inspired to make a skirt. “I saw some beautiful material and thought: ‘I want something made of that!’,” she recalled.

“I’d never made clothes before but it is easy to do with simple instructions aimed at beginners. My housemate has a sewing machine, and I learned how to put a zip in and everything. The dress cost about £5 to make and I’ve worn it quite a lot.”

Ms Ransom - who also knits hats, gloves and other accessories - can buy some material and make it into something by the end of the day. She and her comedy partner knitted all of the props for their double act’s show in Edinburgh Festival: “A bloody nightmare.”

“Making your own clothes is good because you can make pieces that fit and suit you perfectly,” she explained.

“You can choose to ignore the pattern and change a hemline or other detail. You can find a simple pattern and turn it into something unique.”

She says she is still a beginner but definitely plans to make more clothes in the future, especially during the credit crunch. She has picked up the skills quickly and hopes to do more detailed items. “I have a friend who made her own wedding dress. I’m not at that level - yet!”

“It is nice when people ask where I got something and I tell them I made it myself.”