Sunday, 27 March 2011

Make Do And Mend

During the second world war when virtually nothing was available to buy even if you had money, notices were everywhere, exhorting us to Make do and mend. 
Following this advice was by no means easy, depending on what it was that was in need of replacing.  Some people were 'handier' than others.  Some repairs needed only the most basic skills to achieve a near-new effect.
There were local dressmakers who could turn worn seams into almost as  good as new looking finishes. It was common for women to remove and turn their men-folk's shirt collars, giving the shirts a new lease of life. My maternal grandfather used to repair our shoes when we went to Wales for our annual holiday. 
My father made bread, cakes and really first-rate pastry, grew his own vegetables and some fruit but was not a particularly 'handy' man.
Almost nothing was thrown away and if it really was no longer of use for its original purpose could often be adapted in some way and given fresh life.
Toward the end of the war, when nylon stockings first became available, women would wear gloves to put their precious stockings on for fear of laddering them, but, if they did ladder, there were repair shops, usually tiny little box-like premises, where a brilliant needle-woman would sit in the window (for maximum light) and laboriously "invisibly" mend them.
The reason this came to mind was the difference in today's attitude to possessions, particularly childrens' toys scooters, bikes etc. which are either given away when no longer wanted, usually to be replaced by a bigger, newer model, or put out for collection by the 'bin men'.
Although I was a small child during the war, and at school into the early fifties, consumer goods were no easier to come by until I was in my twenties, and by then, the habit of repairing, altering, adapting things was so deeply ingrained that I now feel an almost physical pang when I see something, which looks in good condition casually discarded.
There were of course, people who were financially better off, who were able to buy new things when they wanted, but they were the exception, not the norm, and even they could not buy what simply did not exist.
Rationing and shortages of materials hit everyone, regardless of financial status.
We are now being encouraged to recycle as much as possible for environmental reasons, easier I think, for some of us than others.


  1. What I find difficult to stomach is the never ending obsession people have with gadgets. They discard their current ipad/iphone/iwhatever simply because a newer model has arrived on the market. The cost of the gadget is never an issue. The race to be the owner of the next new ithing is everything.

  2. With technology advancing at such a rate of knots. it seems as though there is a new 'must have' gadget every day, so no matter how up-to-date the fanatics think they are, they will never catch up.
    What is worse, is how these things are to be disposed of. So many of them contain environmentally harmfull ingredients and are
    virtually indestructible.
    While I have no desire to put the 'clock back' I really do feel we are reaching gadget overkill.

  3. My Father was a dab hand at mending shoes - he had a cobbling stand and I can see him now in my imagination, with his mouth full of tacks and a look of extreme concentration on his face as he mended the soles of the shoes for the whole family.

  4. He sounds just like my grandad, who also had a last and held the tacks in his mouth. He used to hum under his breath at the same time too - no mean feat.
    I'm glad to know I'm not the only one out there with these sort of memories - we're and endangered species freda.