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Knitting and Sewing

Crafts are coming back into fashion again, but rather as a hobby than a necessity. In this post, my Mum looks back to the knitting and sewing during the war and post war years.

As it was after the World War Two, new clothes were not plentiful as they are today. Second hand shops, church hall sales or people wanting to sell on clothes no longer wanted, was the norm for those days. There were the clothes in shops but it was not the price that put people off from buying them but more so if they had enough “clothes coupons” left to buy anything. The local Post Office/shop at Weston would have a bit of everything to sell including tea sets, cutlery and men’s heavy working leather boots and shoes.

Go Through Your Wardrobe from the book Make Do and Mend
Go Through Your Wardrobe from the book Make Do and Mend

Sometimes my mother would send me bits of fabric to make things for the children. She was excellent at making things for them. At least she had a sewing machine. She would buy an old coat and from the best parts cut out and make warm coats for the children. That gave me the idea to make what I could make out of any fabrics of any old, but serviceable material. Even to making pinafores, with frilled edges, out of the backs of shirts when I could no longer use bits of it to replace the shirt collars when the original one was worn. The backs of shirts in those days had long tails to tuck well into the trousers for warmth. That tail end bit was sacrificed to make new collars using the old collar, carefully unpicked from where it was attached to the shirt, then pressed flat and used as an exact pattern. The difference being that I did not have a sewing machine. It called on all my skills in hand sewing, hemming, pleating, run-and-fell etc, that I had learned as a teenager. I was always proud of my results. It was quite a few years later that I acquired a sewing machine because my husband worked overtime when he could, and saved the money till he had enough. It was an old crank handle sewing machine that you had to keep turning. I was so grateful for that machine and it is a wonder I never wore it out with use. I realised then that I could buy dress patterns and make a new dress for myself which fitted better and with the length that I wanted.

I was also pleased too that as a little girl my mother insisted that I and my elder and younger sisters learned to knit. Being able to buy wool during the war years was a godsend as it meant having a nice warm jumper or cardigan for the winter. Wool was bought in skeins, not the ready-to-use balls of wool that we can buy today. It was mostly all 3ply wool. It took two to wind the wool – one with two hands apart with the skeins hooked over the back of the hand and between the closed fingers and thumbs. I know because I was the one holding the skeins up on aching arms whilst my big sister did the winding as she was more experienced with the winding than I was. After about the fourth skein I often protested and was allowed to rest my arms. Often the wool winding was done without a light on because of the blackout times. The wool was wound by the light of the coal fire which gave enough light to see by.

Our age and size determined how many stitches we cast on to make jumpers and how long the length had to be before it reached from waist to armpit and then the relief of having less stitches to work on after the armpit. The ribbing was my main bugbear. Often after reaching the required length of ribbing, my mother inspected it for mistakes. I always made mistakes and so the knitting was taken off the needles and the work pulled undone till it reached the mistake and then I had to thread the stitches back on again in the right order and do the unwound work all over again. I remember one day the postman bought a huge parcel for my mother. When she opened it, it was full of skeins of wool. It was a present from my father’s brother in Australia who had a sheep farm. The wool from the sheep was dyed and sold but he kept some of it back to send to us to make a jumper or cardigan each. In fact it made all of us each a matching jumper and cardigan for all 3 girls and for my mother. It did mean going through all the arm aching chore of holding the skeins for my big sister to wind.

How to Darn Holes and Tears from the book Make Do and Mend.
How to Darn Holes and Tears from the book Make Do and Mend.

I took full advantage of the ability to knit before and after our marriage, to be everlasting knitting for my growing family, the Matinee coats, bootee’s, little bonnets, jumpers, pullovers, gloves, woollen socks for adults, baby shawls, baby blankets, tea cosies (we used them in those days) and, in fact, anything that could be knitted because it was needed. It was a wonder I did not drive your father crazy with the incessant clicking of needles every evening when we sat down after the children went to bed. He never, ever, minded because he knew that I was doing everything I could to care for all the family needs in keeping them warm, neat and tidy. Many years later I did manage to buy a knitting machine but the results were not as good as hand knitted garments, so I sold it.

There was always the mending to do to patch up clothes. Another skill I learned as a teenager was the darning of socks and lisle stockings with the aid of a wooden “mushroom” which one would push inside the sock till the hole was located and then the hole was darned. Sometimes it meant darning over the previous darn or pulling the worn darn out and redoing it again which called for all my expertise so as not to pucker the material around the hole but for the material to lay nice and flat. If it was puckered it would rub the skin and cause a blister. Do we darn socks today? No way. We either discard them or buy socks that last.