Mending tips from wartime Britain


During WW2, millions of people had to make do as well as they could, when clothing, food and goods were strictly rationed. This gave rise to those wonderfully informative government propaganda leaflets, such as the famous Make do and Mend series. A lot of the stuff in them seems bonkers to us today : would you cut the gusset out of a worn pair of knickers and patch it with material from the unworn part of another pair?
Beyond the slightly amusing concepts – such as how to mend your corsets (never use a safety pin – it will pierce and break the rubber threads!), there are still some real gems of information.

On moths

makedo460Did you know that moths are more likely to attack your clothes if they’re dirty –  always put them away clean. Oh and it’s not the fly-about moths that do the dirty work – it’s actually the little hidden moth grubs – so look out for the little eggs and white grubs.
If clothes are stored for long, wrap them in newspaper and tape the paper shut, or hang them out on the line for a good airing once a month. I remember my own horror on going to wear a cashmere sweater  that was practically new, only to find the moths had got there before me. That’s a big chunk of change down the pan.
The Board of Trade also recommended you “Press with a hot iron over a damp cloth so the steam gets right through the fabric.”

“Remember the grub is your real enemy. Sun, air and cleanliness are your safeguards”.

Of course if you have expensive cedar-lined wardrobes and drawers you don’t have to worry about any of this.

On conserving fuel

“Every citizen – particularly every housewife – is now on the front line in the vital Battle for Fuel”

Everyone got a personal fuel allowance of 15 units (equivalent to 7.5 hundredweights of coal or its equivalent in other fuels) plus each house got an allowance based on number of rooms. Interestingly this was weighted by geographic region : North, Midlands and South, so a 5 roomed house in Manchester would get 140 units, while the same size house in Cambridge got 110 and Londoners got only 90. This seems a much more sensible approach than the current blanket Winter Fuel Allowance payments that take no account of the fact that living in Northumberland means you need your heating on for longer in the year than you do in Bournemouth.

Baby’s bedclothes

Obviously there was no need to buy a fancy cot, when a deep drawer, a laundry basket or a potato sack slung between a couple of chairs would do. For bedclothes, if you lived in the country all you had to do was ask your local farmer to sell you some clean chaff. Bake it in a moderate oven for an hour and then fill a pillow case with it.

Here’s a video fashion parade from the Ministry of Supply

Thanks to the Imperial War Museum for this little gem

Some other practical tips

  • Did you know you should never put a broom away standing on its head? I certainly didn’t.
  • To patch a torn piece of wallpaper, cut a piece that’s bigger than the hole you want to cover and then tear round the edges so that they are rough and irregular – it makes the patch inconspicuous. Paste it on carefully.
  • To extract a nail with a claw hammer, put a piece of wood under the hammer head to give leverage. This makes the job easier and prevents marking the wood from which the nail is drawn.
  • When hand-washing gloves put them on. It helps keep the shape.
  • When sheets get worn, turn them sides to middle by cutting them lengthways down the centre and joining the edges together. Trim away the torn parts of what will now be the edges of the sheet. Turn the edges in and hem them. Bingo.
  • Always sift your cinders. The cinders contain lumps of partly burnt coal or coke  and provide a heat value of  7lbs of cinders to 5 lbs of coal! Bung them back on the hearth to burn again, once you’ve sifted away the ash.

and remember –  you needed clothing ration coupons for your servants’ uniforms – but  hats, fur coats and jock straps weren’t rationed – so that’s all right then.
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One Response

  1. cmdweb says:

    I think now that we have almost 2 full generations that did not experience wartime life or rationing of food and supplies, as a society we’ve become complacent and have lost the ability to be creative about our own consumerism.
    I love the wartime tips. I actually sift the cinders of my barbeque every time I use it to get out the bone dry and useable pieces of charcoal that can still be used. You’d be amazed how much you can get back.

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