Make Do and Mend

Now that most of us are holed up inside until the virus has passed I have no excuse for not keeping up with my blogging. First, I sat down and caught up with some saved posts from some of my favourite bloggers. Having time to enjoy reading them and to add a comment is a novelty. So here’s my latest offering for you to read at your new-found leisure!

I grew up with the expressions ‘Make Do and Mend’ and ‘Waste not Want not’. After a suggestion from my friend Ina, I decided to bring make do and mend up to date. Now we know it as recycle, reuse , repair but it’s not a new idea. Make Do and Mend was the title of a leaflet published by the UK government during World War 2 after clothes rationing was announced. It’s based around clothing for that reason, but the principle has taken on a new, wider meaning now that we are all trying to be more environmentally friendly.

Some of these points have been covered in earlier posts on this blog. Call it recycling!

So, does anyone remember any of these?

Dusters and floor cloths made from old cotton underwear.

For many years I only ever saw dusters made out of discarded cotton vests. Floor cloths were cast off cotton pants. Cotton fabric does make the best household cloths and back in the 1950s all underwear was made of a cotton knit fabric.

 Stale bread and stale cake being used to make puddings and savory dishes.

Puddings were an important part of the British diet in the 50s and 60s. If you look back in a recipe book of the time it’s surprising how often you see stale breadcrumbs or stale cake listed in the ingredients. Many sweet and savoury dishes were bulked up with stale cake or bread. Now you can actually buy frozen breadcrumbs and trifle sponges are still available for dessert making.


bread and butter pudding    bread recipeshoney-bread-pudding-recipe  RECIPES-HEADER

A few old recipes using stale cake and stale bread crumbs.

Unravelling old knitted jumpers to reuse the wool for a new one.

I can remember my mum and my grandmother doing this. Unravelled wool has kinks all the way through it and I remember my mum winding it around a glass bottle, wetting it and allowing it to dry out – which removed the kinks.

Darning socks and woollen jumpers.

I can remember my mum teaching me how to darn using her wooden darning mushroom. Jumpers, cardigans and winter socks were all made of wool. There were no synthetic yarns or synthetic/ wool mixes in the 1950s and wool, although warm, is not as hard-wearing as man made fibres. The heels and toes of woollen socks went into holes as did the elbows of sweaters. Clothes were not cheap and disposable as many are now and were less easy to come by. Woollens were mostly hand knitted which was labour intensive and not to be discarded just because of a hole. When any garment eventually had to be thrown away because it was beyond repair, reusable things like buttons and zips were removed and saved for future use.

darning mushroom




Returnable glass drinks bottles and jars.

There was, of course, the good old milkman. I do still have doorstep milk delivered in glass bottles but there aren’t many milk rounds left! It was a very early form of recycling. I didn’t live in a town but in the depths of the countryside. There were no milk rounds there but there were plenty of farms. We went to a nearby farm every evening as they were doing the milking. We always took washed out glass bottles with us, those with the swing-top stoppers, and the farmer would tap it straight from the cooler into our bottles. Pop bottles were returnable in those days and you got a few pence for each one returned to the shop. My mum used to tell me that even further back, in the 1930s when she was a child, all glass jars and bottles had returnable deposits on them. She used to be able to go to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon with her friends and pay with empty jam jars! Glass jars were saved throughout the year for holding jams, pickles and preserves. There were also the beloved Kilner jars used year after year. I still do all that as I make jam and chutney in the autumn. Once refundable deposits on glass containers stopped, it was another few decades before glass was being sorted separately and recycled. I nearly forgot to mention the good old soda syphon! My mum and dad thought they were the height of sophistication when they bought one of these refillable glass soda makers.

vintage-glass-soda-siphon-syphon-waters-robson-artesian-abbey-well-morpeth-northumberland-british-syphon-company-limited-circa-1950s-2086-p[ekm]320x720[ekm]           swing top bottles



Kilner jars were originally developed and produced in Yorkshire from 1842. They can still be bought and are as good as ever although not made in Yorkshire any longer.

Repairing broken toys.

We didn’t give up on toys readily back then, either. We had an old baby doll someone had passed on to us. It had a soft stuffed cloth body and a china head. My brother wanted his own doll because I had one and so did my sister so he got it. He decided he was called Billy. When his body started going into holes my mum and my grandmother made a whole new body, arms and legs using old stockings (clean!) stuffed with cotton wool. Then they made him a pair of blue flannelette striped pyjamas using an old pair my brother had grown out of. He was as good as new in our eyes and my brother loved him!

Billy doll

Not Billy but this is the sort of doll he was.

Other assorted things I remember.

Items made using wooden cotton reels. We used to do what we called corkwork, now more often referred to as French knitting. My dad used to hammer small metal fencing staples into the top of wooden cotton reels to make the corkwork spools.

Adult dresses cut down when finished with to make girls’ dresses.

Shepherd’s pie made with hand minced leftover roast beef.

Tab ends of soap bars melted together to make a ‘new’ bar of soap.

Stale, dry ends of cheese (no plastic keeping it fresh in those days!) grated and used in cooking.





As always, I have endeavoured to source images which are listed as free to use. If anyone objects to an image I have used just contact me and I will remove it.



11 thoughts on “Make Do and Mend

  1. All in favour of returnable bottles,used to offer to take bottles back to claim the deposit which I was generally allowed to keep. Also can remember my Dad telling me that Girls school knickers were the best thing to use for shining shoes and polishing your spectacles 🤓

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  2. These history snippets..really cover so much..that..if..we TODAY..think about it..will allow us..all around this do quite a few things..not ‘imagined’..for some 70 ish..years. The unraveling of wool..and bits like small lace trim..rolled/moistened..around a bottle..will allow a new use. Stop any of us..20 days ago..and to..’do that’. What would we say? Why the ‘ell do ..THAT? is becoming so much to why..we might! The new to me..and is a perfect answer to a task..i had not..imagined. It occurs to me to..see ourselves as..all teachers. Taking some of these quotes/old copys of pictures we may be sifting through/tossing out..AND..hand them over..(from a distance of 6 ft. plus) young around where..we live! They may not have actual..books/lesson plans. about we take material..we are familier with..and ..tossing it..over a near fence, making a few comments, perhaps written, or..emails..and ‘teaching up’..these young people..who need of OUR..various experiences/expertise? Just because each of us..may not have a state teachers not mean we cannot..enrich the this dark cloud..swoops over us all. The ..Elders..are the end of the 😉 ina

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  3. I know I have ‘messed up’ posting twice , each of the last two blog topics. After this one..i will pay attention to..ONE posting..and not ..natter on. On some days I simply am..not as alert as I should be..given the 24/7 care..needed here…for jon. I am going to..moniter myself..BUT..after my first post..i rememb. a few things. One..your ‘mushroom’ darning moms was an egg shaped wooden darner. Also..the bread puddings..with stale crusts, lots of milk and eggs..absolutely..delicious! They should be a shining end to meals again..just because they are..delicious. As to darning needles..yuppers. Here I go to jo anns fabrics..but any fabric store..should have a large supply of needles. Now..given that they may made in might want to buy a ..fulsome you can share with another..who may start seeing the reasons..for darning/patching..etc. Nice, quiet activitys..and helps us..return a cherished full, wearing use. ina

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    • Ina, I always enjoy your comments! You can post as often as you like – it’s always good to hear from you. I remember now that there were darning eggs too. Ours was a mushroom which is easier to hold on to but I imagine an egg is better for pushing into a holey sock. I am currently making a blanket for one of my daughters. She has saved all the jumpers and cardigans I’ve knitted for her two children since they were born. They’re 5 and 2. She thought I’d be able to make them into a kind of patchwork. It’s nearly finished. It will be a memory blanket. Good re-use of knitted garments! Of course I cut all the buttons off to use again. Meryl

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