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When make do and mend was a way of life

Posted on 27 June 2016

The days when nothing was wasted

We hear a lot of talk about austerity these days, but for some of us not having much to get by isn’t a new thing. Do you remember the times when mums spent hours darning, when kids lived in hand-me-downs and every plate was left clean?

‘Make do and mend’ was a wartime necessity, but making do was a way of life in the 1940s and 50s. And it’s a mentality that’s hard to shake off. If you grew up during or just after the war, you probably still hate seeing anything go to waste.

Enjoy our look back at when mums cooked leftovers to perfection, dads were dab hands in the vegetable garden, and every girl was a whiz on a sewing machine.

woman-at-the-stove-tasting-a-spoonful-from-the-pan

Knitting and sewing wizardry

Handmade clothes became the norm. It was amazing what magic could be created from an unwanted curtain or a pair of dad’s old trousers.

little-girl-standing-on-a-chair-being-measured-by-her-mother-beside-a-sewing-machine

You’d hear the click-clacking of knitting needles as woollen jumpers, scarves and hats were rustled up. And it didn’t end there… even old cast offs were unpicked to be knitted into something more stylish.

Repairing and re-using everything

When clothes weren’t being made, they were being mended. Anything and everything would be darned – and larger holes patched up. It was the only way to deal with school uniforms that had fared badly in hard fought street battles and playground scrapes.

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Worn sheets were cut (or ripped) up the middle and the outside edges sewn together. This may have made the sheets last longer, but my goodness, it was uncomfortable lying on that seam!

a-woman-sitting-sewing-sheets-on-a-sewing-machine

Everything that could be was recycled. Brown paper would be folded carefully and kept for wrapping paper, or used to get stains out with an iron.

Homemade toys and vivid imaginations

Toys were very often homemade. Dads’ hand crafted dolls houses and used old pram wheels to make go-carts, while mums and daughters made teddy bears from old fabric.

small-boy-on-a-home-made-cart-with-a-boy-pushing-him-and-a-girl-running-beside

Our imaginations were our biggest plaything. We’d turn old rope into a skipping game, wage war with conkers, hold snail races and spend hours concocting perfume from rose petals.

Lovely leftovers

Even after rationing ended, the ‘waste not want not’ attitude lived on. There was never a morsel left on the plate and leftovers were a way of life. Remember bubble and squeak, pies filled with meat from the Sunday joint and trifle made with stale cake?

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Many dads had a patch in the garden where they’d grow everything from carrots to gooseberries. Fruit and vegetables always tasted sweeter from the garden.

man-in-suit-and-flat-cap-tending-to-his-vegetable-patch

Baths with siblings

Electricity, water and heat were never wasted. Doors had to be closed to keep the heat in, and lights were turned off every time you left the room.

Baths would have about 4 inches of water in the bottom and the kids would have to squeeze in together before being lined up by the fire to dry their hair.

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And finally… the joy of hand-me-downs and “you’ll grow into it”

If mum hadn’t made your coat or school uniform, it would be bought in a large size so it lasted as long as possible. This inevitably meant having to wear extra-long shorts and shirts down to your knees.

Younger children lived in hand-me-downs and you could always spot the ones clad in their older siblings’ coats. Only the eldest child was usually lucky enough to get to wear something new.

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Your memories of ‘Waste not. Want not’

We didn’t have much but we made the best of everything didn’t we? We learnt to be grateful for what we had and were soon set straight if we behaved like we weren’t!

How did your family and neighbours make do and mend? And how many ways do you still do so today? We’d love to hear your stories.

If reading this has brought childhood memories flooding back, you might also like to read our article on playing outside or enjoy these memories of growing up in the 40s and 50s.

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