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

 

2-1950s-vintage-the-kilner-Jar-Improved-reg

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.

 

 

Make Do And Mend

Mending and repairing were everyday activities when I was growing up. I remember my mum darning socks and jumpers, shortening and lengthening skirts and trousers, replacing broken zips and my grandmother ‘turning’ collars. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s when a man’s shirt collar becomes frayed around the neck and you unpick the collar, turn it around the other way and sew it back on. Mums and grandmas sometimes unravelled an old knitted garment and re-knitted it into a new jumper or cardigan. I was taught how to darn by my mum as a young girl. She had a darning mushroom (the wooden item in the photos below) and I reckon most houses would have had one.

darning mushroom  sock darningDarningStep4-4

Even as recently as the seventies and eighties, I could still get small electrical items like kettles, radios and irons repaired at my local electrical repair shop. I once saw, in the eighties, an umbrella repair stall in a market in Cumbria. I doubt there are any of those anywhere here now.

People used to, and still can, buy new broom heads and handles, replace spade, shovel and hoe blades and handles. Although you can still buy decent brushes and brooms, there are many flimsier tools, with plastic handles and bristles, which just get thrown away when they have stopped being useful. There was a joke my dad used to tell;

‘This was my great-grandfather’s hoe. It’s had three new handles and four new blades.’

brush  plastic brush

One long-lasting, repairable and biodegradable, one flimsy and disposable.

The term tinker from tinsmith or tinsmithing was originally assigned to those working with tin who mended pots and pans. The words “tyckner” or “tinkler” were used in medieval Scotland and England for a metal worker. The term transferred to travellers who earned their way going from town to town and mending as they went.  These knife-grinders and  tinkers used to repair farm and garden tools, household utensils, umbrellas and chairs. This is how gypsies came to be nicknamed tinkers.

tinker knife grinder

Knife-grinders from the around the 1950s.

There are several factors here. The first one is that things were made to last in the old days from robust materials and by craftsmen and were worth repairing. Most modern day socks would not be worth darning as the fabric they are made from is flimsier and would not support a darn. Also, goods are so much cheaper now (relative to earnings) and far more plentiful so that in many cases it would cost more to repair the item than to buy a new one – even if you could find anyone with the skills to do the repair. Umbrellas, for example. Who wants to pay for a repair when you can buy a new one for £2 – 5? Where would you find an umbrella repairer, anyway?

When my mum and dad bought their first house, in 1955, the people moving out left their vacuum cleaner for us as they said it was getting old and not worth moving. My mum used it for decades As far as I remember, I last saw it in a rented flat of my sister’s in the late 1970s and still in use. My mum had a Hoover man who used to come to the house to do the occasional repair. It was more or less exactly the same as the ones in the pictures and those are described as being from the 1930s. The black canvas bag had the slogan ‘It beats, as it sweeps, as it cleans’ emblazoned on it in white, exactly as shown in the photos below.

hoover 3                               hoover750_1  DSC_3159

 

 

 

As usual, I credit Google images for my photographs. Anyone objecting to my use of an image can approach me directly and ask for it to be removed.