Old jersey, new knickers

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.

Housewife’s guide to making and mending, 1940, London, by Hulton Press. Te Papa (RB001288)

Housewife’s guide to making and mending, 1940, London, by Hulton Press. Te Papa (RB001288)

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!”

RB001288~page 10-11~

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!”

RB001288~page 14~

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.

Christine Kiddey
Librarian, Te Papa

Find us at the Research library and reading rooms at Te Papa

10 Responses

  1. Vivienne

    I checked BDMs – Given her unusual name I assume this is her: marriage 1935: Ref: 1935/7743 Kiwi Flora; Bride’s family name: Percy CKA Whittall married: Alexander Longwill … & there were quite a few references to A & Alex Longwill in a papers past search. The Nat Lib record said she was born in 1909: Perhaps this is her birth: 1909/22909 Family name: Percy First names: Kiroi Flora Mother’s name: Laura Amy ; Father’s name: Fana Isidore

    Reply
    • Christine Kiddey

      Hi Vivienne
      I’m sure that’s her. I wondered if we might hear from someone in her family, or who knew her. It would be interesting to know how she came to be living in Britain during the war.
      Christine

  2. Sherry mackay

    Oh crumbs this is kind of funny. I am a terrible sewer/mender so we would all have been in rags 🙂

    Reply
    • Christine Kiddey

      Hi Sherry
      You, me, and most other people, I suspect!

      Christine

  3. Victoria Passau

    “Too scratchy!” – I can only imagine. Looks like there is a related MS collection at the National Library.

    Longwill, Kiwi Flora b 1909 : Account book http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22864146

    Reply
    • Christine Kiddey

      Hi Victoria
      She seems to have been someone who was very aware of home economics. We know she died in 2007, so she lived a good long life.
      Christine

  4. adele

    I still have some coupons from WW2, must look them out… I was born in 1943 in London, during the War, my sister was born 1941 in Belfast, Mum was from near Belfast Northern Ireland. I think the coupon book I have or ration book, is for food, I can vaguely remember going shopping with Mum and using them, those were the days no such things as a supermarket, you went to a shop to buy groceries, you only took one basket for the weeks groceries!! Butcher was in his own shop,. similar as green groceries, and the Fish Shop… thanks for the memories..

    Reply
    • Christine Kiddey

      Hi Adele
      Hard to imagine the week’s shopping in a basket rather than a supermarket trolley. In some ways it was probably a healthier diet, even if it was more limited. Much less sugar, I’m sure.
      Christine

  5. Marguerite Hill

    Here she is on the BBC Home Service in 1943 – a Cook from New Zealand http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/schedules/bbchomeservice/basic/1943-04-16

    Reply
    • Christine Kiddey

      Hi Marguerite
      Nice to hear from you! Those broadcasts would have been fascinating now. Probably all about eggless, sugarless, butterless wartime cooking to go with the patched clothes, I guess.
      Christine

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