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Make Do & Mend


From June 1941 until 1949, buying new clothes was rationed in Britain. It was part of the Government's campaign urging people to repair, reuse and reimagine their existing clothes during the Second World War. 

The government needed everyone in the Second World War to support and take part in the war effort. This included the people back at home as well as the soldiers who were away fighting.  People who stayed in Britain and carried on working, along with children who carried on going to school and everyone else who went about their daily lives, were described as people on the ‘Home Front’.


The war caused a shortage of clothes and high prices for those that could be found in the shops. It was no longer possible to get supplies of clothes from abroad, and clothes manufacturers in Britain had to make things needed for the war such as uniforms and parachutes.

Clothes rationing made sure that everyone had a fair share of what was available. Everybody was given a ration book with 66 clothing coupons that had to last for a year. Each item of clothing that was rationed was worth a certain number of coupons, for example one dress was worth

eleven coupons. People still had to pay for clothes, but they had to hand over the right number of coupons each time they bought something.

The 'Make do and Mend' campaign was introduced by the government to encourage people to get as much wear as possible out of the clothes they already had. Posters and information leaflets gave people advice and ideas about how to do this. Evening classes were set up to teach people how to make new clothes out of bits of worn out old ones, rather than throw them away.

Make do and Mend

My mother, Anne was still a teenager at the outbreak of the second world war. She had just started a course at the Domestic Science School in Manchester ( known as the doh school). She learnt a little bit about everything to begin with, cooking, cleaning, waiting at table, etiquette, housekeeping and dressmaking. She then chose to concentrate on dressmaking, tailoring and sewing for the home. A year at teacher training college set her up to teach all these skills in a girls school and in the community. As the war went on, buying new was severely restricted by coupon limits and no longer an option for many people. The ability to repair, renovate and make one's own clothes became increasingly important and Make do and Mend classes were available across the country.


Very soon with the progress of the war the theme of ‘Make do and Mend’ became prominent and Anne became quite inventive in her sewing and designs. The government issued leaflets with instructions of how to look after and mend your clothes. I was always intrigued by the wooden mushroom in my mothers sewing kit, she could darn a sock or a stocking very efficiently to extend its lifetime. The tweed suit my mother made in college was to last many years and was spruced up to become her wedding outfit in December 1945 with the addition of a jaunty hat, a fur muff and home made silk flowers.


Rationing both of clothes and food restricted life right through to 1949. In order to have a wedding cake my family saved up food coupons for several weeks to be able to purchase the ingredients for a cake. The cake was small and looked very insignificant with no marzipan or icing. It was hidden under a larger fake cardboard cake decorated with plaster and paint that looked very grand. When the time came everyone had a taste of the real thing!

The rationing scheme worked by allocating each type of clothing item a 'points' value which varied according to how much material and labour went into its manufacture. Eleven coupons were needed for a dress, two needed for a pair of stockings, and eight coupons required for a man's shirt or a pair of trousers. Women's shoes meant relinquishing five coupons, and men's footwear forced the surrender of seven coupons. When buying new clothes, the shopper had to hand over coupons with a 'points' value as well as money. Every adult was initially given an allocation of 66 points to last one year, but this allocation shrank as the war progressed.


The coupon allowance was at its lowest from 1945 and 1946. For the eight month period from 1 September 1945 to 30 April 1946 only 24 coupons were issued, effectively allowing the shopper only 3 coupons a month. New mothers were also given 50 coupons.


Although the war was over in 1946 there was a shortage of everything and when my brother was born he spent his first 6 months sleeping in the bottom draw of a chest of draws for a crib. Make do and mend continued and most of his clothes were made from other clothes or as knitted garments as old jumpers could be unravelled and re-knitted. Other savings were made with bedding: worn sheets would be cut down the middle and re-sewn so the worn areas went to the outside, or they were made into pillow cases, worn blankets were stitched together as a patchwork. The black material of blackout blinds could be used to make clothes. Every little bit of lace, ribbon or trim was saved and reused, I have inherited a box full of these things. Although frowned upon now a fur coat in the family was a great asset, it could be handed down, refashioned and the big cuffs and collar reused and its life extended far beyond that of a wool coat. Some fur coats were even made into a warm lining for a lighter weight garment. I also remember my grandmother still repairing her shoes in the 1950’s as most households had a cobblers anvil and would repair their own shoes in the war by adding rubber soles or metal heel tips.

Jane Robinson nee Shaw - West Cumbria

The Wedding

Lilly's Mother and my Gran were bosom buddies. Gran brought Lilly into the world and was her adopted aunt. It stood to reason that when Lilly's fiancé of four years wrote to say that he wanted to get married on his next leave in four weeks' time, both Mother and daughter turned to Gran. “What can I do, Aunt Nellie? - you know I always wanted a white Wedding." With clothing coupons and restrictions, empty shelves and small town isolation, things looked grim. Her mother had tried to buy a second-hand wedding dress from someone she'd heard about, but after a two-mile walk she found the woman had already cut it down to make a Christening gown.

Gran had an idea: ''Give me a couple of days and see what I can arrange. If I can sort something out by the weekend, go and put the banns up!'' Lilly was adamant - no white wedding gown, no wedding!

Six o'clock that night when Joe Riley came home from work, Gran was waiting for him. "Joe, you know you got me a piece of parachute silk to make our Margaret's First Communion dress?” "Aye, Nellie, she looked a picture’'. ''Can you arrange to get me a full parachute this time? I'll wash it if ifs grubby - just not too badly torn, that's all." Joe whistled and shook his head. “Even though they're no good as parachutes, they won't give them to us; we have to destroy them in case they get into enemy hands, they tell us.'' "Give it a try, Joe", his missus said, "it's for young Lilly’s wedding and Nellie will keep quiet.'' "Tell you what," said Gran, "I'll give you ten Woodbines and a tin of salmon" "Bloody Hell!” Joe's missus said, "a tin of salmon would do our Audrey's 21st 'do’. Five woodies for Mick in the store and five for you, Joe, and everybody's happy.”

The next evening, just after six o'clock, Gran sent me to fetch Lilly's Mam. The parachute was enormous. Soft, white silk with yellow oil marks streaky down one panel. The long, long, slippery silk cords felt beautiful as they slipped through my palms. I so much wanted to keep a cord for skipping, but that couldn't be allowed because Gran said Joe would be in trouble.

Because of its size, the parachute had to be taken to the privacy of our communal yard to open it to its full extent. Miss Irving,


the spinster seamstress, arrived to supervise the picking out and cutting up of the soft pure silk. All the neighbours set to, cutting cords and opening panels and by the time it was dark,

the job was done. Lilly stood on an upturned washtub while Miss Irving took her measurements, licking her pencil and writing in a small red book while everybody watched. 

The silk was so fine every part of it had to be doubled, even the short puff sleeves. The message went out that if anybody had any small seed pearls from a broken necklace, Miss Irving would be glad of them to put a pattern on Lilly's dress. She finished up with more than she needed.

The Banns were put up and read out in church and the customary notice posted on the church notice board.

Then it was decided that because I already had a dress the same material as Lilly's Miss Irving would sew pearls on it and I would be a sort of bridesmaid. I say 'sort of', because Lilly's pal was bridesmaid. I was to walk in front with a basket, with a big handle and strew flowers.

Credit: Text Extract from "The Seagulls Are Silent, Tales From Old Maryport" by Margret S. Poland 2014

My Aunt’s Beautiful Shawl


This beautiful shawl was made by my Auntie Frances Irwin, was Hayton, of Roper Street, Grasslot, Maryport. She knitted this during the war. She was 17 when the war ended. The shawl is so fine and delicate it must have taken hours to make.


When my Auntie passed away in 2014, at the age of 88, her daughter had her shawl draped over the coffin during the funeral service, and afterwards her two daughters, Judith and Susan, gave the shawl to my Mam (Edith Connell, was Hayton), and now it has been passed on to me.


Karen Little


Photo: Karen Little wearing her Aunt’s shawl

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