I found this book when I needed to rediscover the pleasures of a handmade life. Which is why I’m reviewing it ten years after it was first published. It’s practically retro. And like everything retro, it’ll never go out of style.
What is it?
Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life is a book by Jenna Woginrich, published by Storey Publishing.
In it, Jenna chronicles the early days of her quest for a more authentic, sustainable + simple existence. It’s part practical manual, part collection of anecdotes. At times it’s heartwarming, sad, inspirational and downright useful.
Who’s it for?
Anyone who needs to reignite their passion for a certain kind of life. In the UK, we call it ‘The Good Life’, and fondly recall the TV show of the same name. It might also be called ‘living green’ or ‘returning to simpler times’.
One of the things that immediately warmed me to the book was Jenna’s situation: yes, of course she wanted the farm and the acres and the livestock. But she didn’t have the cash to live the dream right away. These stories are set on her rented smallholding, not owned land, while she holds down an office job. Relatable.
Things I love about it
Jenna has a way of putting things simply and yet making so much sense. It’s like she’s summarising stuff I already knew but had half-forgotten, but in her beautiful, easy writing style.
For example, she reminded me that I absolutely love buying second-hand, vintage and antique stuff for my home.
Since I moved back to Somerset from Lancashire and left my favourite vintage shop behind, I kind of lost my thrifty mojo.
We used to get heaps of cool things second-hand. There was the genuine American-style yard sale in Norfolk where we got most of the tableware for our wedding.
And at Teatime Vintage, we bought a set of six turquoise drinks glasses that I still love, and a proper wooden rolling pin that my Gran would have approved of – without breaking a twenty.
There are a lot of really good reasons I run to the past when I need something as utilitarian as a cheese grater: things were made better, looked prettier, and lasted longer before plastic took over.
— Jenna Woginrich
I couldn’t agree more. I love the old tea, coffee and sugar canisters a friend gave me one long-ago birthday more than I’ll ever love the sleek stainless steel things I now put my loose green and rooibos teas in.
Buying from secondhand shops helps me support the local economy and is a kind of recycling. But I also go vintage because I want my home to be full of awkward, loveable items that are ingrained with memories…
— Jenna Woginrich
Jenna reminded me that real vintage shops (not overpriced charity shops or fancy interior design places that look homely but cost the earth) are a cheap, very low waste, fun way to shop + I love them.
I also love that she shares her successes + her downright failures, at no time giving a sense of crunchy over-optimism that belies the hard work, wasted time, and steep learning curves of raising animals, growing veg, keeping bees, and making from scratch.
Things I don’t love about it
Be prepared – there are some sad animal bits. As a country girl, I understand that animals get sick, get eaten, or get messed up by human mistakes. But it still makes for tough reading sometimes.
I’d highly recommend this book, especially if you’re just starting out with alternative living, or, like me, rekindling an old dream that you had thought was unattainable.
Get dirty, work hard, and slow down.
— Jenna Woginrich
There are lots of takeaways with this book – great advice about caring for chickens, how not to kill your beehive, and making your own clothing among them.
I feel inspired to shop more wisely and look for quality second-hand goods to join our rag-tag household collection, rather than plumping for throwaway plastic items that aren’t likely to see the year out.
I’d like to follow Jenna’s example and get more things that we can power by hand – a hand-cranked radio and a coffee grinder, maybe. I think it’ll be comforting to know that we can survive a power outage or an apocalypse and still have great coffee – at least until the beans run out (homegrown coffee plants take years to develop drinkable beans – better start now!).
I’d also like to place more emphasis on repairing than replacing.
Finally, we’re going to get our little veg bed ready this winter. I’m determined to eat my own homegrown food next year! Look out, courtyard garden…