Mending is something of a lost art In this day and age – clothes are plentiful and can be bought cheaply. But in England in the 1940s it was an absolute necessity, given that new clothes were limited by the amount of clothing coupons you had. By 1945 an adult was down to 24 coupons per year – a new lined woollen coat cost 18 coupons. It was 1949 before clothing rationing ended, well past the end of World War II. Housewife magazine gathered up its articles on make-do and mend and published them as a booklet, in response to popular demand.
The library’s copy of the “The housewife’s guide to making and mending” was annotated by its original owner, a lady by the name of Kiwi Longwill. On the title page she wrote “This little book was a godsend in the lean war years when coupons were so few. Work was constant & hard & clothes wore out more quickly than usual because of the fact that they had to be washed so often because one had nothing else to wear”. On another page (“Can you patch?”) she says “After 3 years patching becomes hilarious for as fast as one piece is attached another falls off!”
The Guide gives detailed advice on patching – on woven undergarments, outer garments of silk or print, tailor’s patch for serge or tweed, straight tears, triangular tears, elbows worn thin, trouser turn-ups and cuffs (“lousy job”, Kiwi thought), household linen, gloves. It also has helpful hints for recycling. “Refronting your husband’s shirt” worked for Kiwi, but at the bottom of the page she adds “All shirt front and no tail!” She doesn’t have anything to say about smocking or “Pyjamas from Daddy’s”, but there’s no doubt about what she thought about re-footing stockings – “B- awful job”.
If your knickers were wearing out, the Guide had the solution – use the tops of your old stockings to make a new gusset. And if your jersey was past hope, you could convert it into a pair of knickers. Cut off the collar, remove the sleeves, slit the shoulders, shape to form the waist, turn the sleeves into a gusset… We don’t know whether Kiwi actually tried this or not, but she recorded her opinion – “Too scratchy!”
Perhaps someone can tell us more about Kiwi Longwill? In 1942, when she wrote her name in the book, she was living in Shipley Avenue, Newcastle-on-Tyne.
Librarian, Te Papa
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