Make do and Mend, with Jill Norman

Make do and Mend

This review is of Make do and Mend (Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations). It is a collection of delightfully reproduced WW2 leaflets, with a foreword by Jill Norman. It’s a beautiful snapshot of the past. It can be easy to romanticise the wartime era, and think that everyone knew how to sew, cook and fix their homes. In reality, the much lauded ‘Blitz Spirit’ was formed and reinforced with a lot of propaganda and hand holding. This included classes, radio shows and detailed leaflets. The leaflets covered home maintenance, fuel conservation, and tips on how to wash, store, and mend clothing.

They could even help you learn how to make do and mend today!

Clothing Coupons

black woollen Utility Atrima dress

Clothes rationing was announced by Oliver Lyttleton, President of the Board of Trade, on 1 June 1941.

People got 66 coupons a year, the equivalent of one full outfit per year.

The Board of Trade produced regular Coupon Quizzes to remind citizens how far their ration might go. 66 coupons – later reduced to 24 – would get you a coat, jacket, dress, trousers, skirt, blouse, underwear, socks, stockings, and 2 pairs of shoes. Woollen and lined garments cost more. Expectant mothers would get extra coupons for themselves and their baby. But were still encouraged to remember that babies “needed less clothes than you might think!”

Dressmaking fabric still cost coupons, but less than ready-made clothes, which helped spur the make do and mend attitude made famous by the war.

Make Do and Mend Campaign

Mrs Sew and Sew

“Never send a hole to wash.”

The make do and mend campaign during WW2 was designed to encourage people to make their clothes last.

After all, clothing coupons were limited and utility clothing was chic, but plain. Dyes, fabrics and embellishments were limited due to necessity during wartime. Some items, such as hats and belts, were off the ration. Otherwise people used creativity to personalise and stretch their clothing. The WVS ran swap shops and local councils set up sewing classes.

The government employed fashion magazines, radio shows and leaflets to help women on the home front. Many of the leaflets feature the stalwart Mrs Sew n Sew. They reassured women that there was “no need to be a specialist” to remake and restyle their wardrobes. And that even an amateur could knit a vest. There was a leaflet on slipper making, suggesting all kinds of fabrics, including old carpet! There’s even a leaflet on how to sew and care for parachute nylon. It begins “The nylon appearing in the shops at the moment is parachute nylon, so don’t expect all the advantages next year’s nylon will offer!” 

How to Make do and Mend Today

Make do and Mend Today

Fast fashion has had an enormous impact on our ecology. In an effort to help the planet and save money, many are embracing a make do and mend ethos today.

Make do and Mend Tips:

  • Never send a hole to wash.
  • Black clothes can often be refreshed with black clothing dye.
  • Use spray starch to refresh limp collars and corsages.
  • Lengthen a short blouse with a band of fabric.
  • Polish and clean shoes regularly.
  • Customise old clothing with new buttons, trimmings or patches.


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