Arts and Crafts for 1950s Kids

After too long a break I am back! This time I’m thinking about the large amount of art and craft activities we did as children in the 1950s. If it was dry we were outside, if it was a wet day or if it was winter and the evenings were dark we were inside and occupied with various games and activities – imagination games, board games, reading books and dressing up. One of my main memories however is of art and craft activities.

We always had paints, crayons and paper in the house. We also had a wide range of crafts we enjoyed, some were ones shown to us by our mum, others came in kit form. Art and craft kits were very popular gifts, especially for girls.

We all (including my brother) learned to knit very young and also to do cork work – known to many as ‘French Knitting’. My dad used to put metal staples into used wooden cotton reels for this activity and we made miles of the stuff using oddments of my mum’s knitting wool. The tubes of knitting produced have limited uses!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA       knitting-kits

Most of our activities were home-grown but here are some of the kit activities I remember being given as presents;

basket-weaving, raffia, plaster model making, painting by numbers and embroidery. My brother used to be given model soldiers to paint, Meccano and Airfix models to construct and paint.

basket weaving.jpg    beads   embroidery

paint-box

We always had Plasticine around too. We called it clay. It was SO hard to mould compared to modern materials such as Play Dough – but we didn’t know any different!

plasticine      sewing             vintage-1950s-mccalls-golden-make-it-book-kids-crafts   wood-burn   meccano  paint-by-number-kit

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I loved receiving a new paint tin as a present! The tins often had lovely pictures on the top. Best of all. however, was the inside with all the pristine squares of water colour paint each one with its name printed underneath it. I loved those wonderful words – Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Cobalt Blue, Burnt Umber and Prussian Blue are some I remember well.

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Home Made Clothes and Entertainment

When I was a teenager in the mid 1960s my friends and I were all caught up in the fashions and music of the times. We lived in a remote area,  money wasn’t plentiful and as we were still at school we didn’t have spending money apart from a bit of pocket money.

The latest single (known as a 45) was saved up for or, if you had a birthday coming, up you might be bought it as a present. At home, my dad bought a reel to reel tape recorder, I remember it was a Grundig TK14. We used to tape pop songs from the radio (I believe it was illegal but we didn’t know that) by holding the microphone near to the speaker of the transistor radio. The quality must have been terrible but we were happy! You had to be smart on the record button to make sure you didn’t get the presenter’s voice at the beginning and end of the song.

dansette01      TK14 good pic

My brother, sister and I used to have fun pretending to be radio presenters and putting our own commentary on the tape in between songs.

I loved Honey magazine and used to read each issue cover to cover many times. My mum was an excellent knitter and sewer and made most of our dresses, jumpers and cardigans. Once I spotted a delightful green dress in my magazine and showed it to my mum. She copied it for me by combining three different dress patterns and I was SO proud of it! I think I wore it all the parties and dances I went to that year. The picture and the patterns aren’t the actual ones but similar.

green dress                    Dress5                         mccalls-8755

I had a lovely pair of cream T-Bar shoes for best which I wore throughout one year with a camel coloured A-line dress. The following year camel was out and turquoise was big so I bought a Lady Esquire shoe dye and dyed the shoes turquoise. My sister and I also used to use Dylon dyes to give clothes a new look.

60s shoes                                     shoe dye

One winter, when capes were in fashion, I longed for one. My mum had an old policeman’s cape which had belonged to my dad’s policeman brother. She cut it down for me, put new fastenings on it and lined it with emerald green satin from one of her old dance dresses. I thought it was fabulous!

 

cape

Dressing Up

All children love dressing up. Dressing up outfits are plentiful and cheap nowadays. My two grandsons, aged five and three, love to be dressed as Power Rangers, Storm Troopers, Spider-Man and Iron Man.

Image result for dressing up outfits for kids       

When I was a child dressing up at home involved whatever we could find – Mum and Dad’s clothes and shoes, drawn on beards and moustaches, Nana’s hats, any belts and bags from around the house plus various other props. One year we (that is me, my brother and sister) were given a dressing up outfit each at Christmas. Mine was a nurse’s outfit, my brother’s a cowboy one and my sister’s was a cowgirl’s costume – cowboys were huge at that time in films, books, comics and on TV. We thought they were amazing and wore them for as long as we could squeeze into them as we grew. When I wore my outfit and had my red, plastic pince-nez on the end of my nose (they hurt me, but I didn’t care!), I really felt like a proper nurse.

            

Apart from dressing up at home there were fancy dress occasions. Every town and village had an annual carnival – in some parts of Britain this would have been known as a gala or fete. There was always a fancy dress parade with prizes for the best costumes. The mums went all out to create outfits for the children and often for themselves as adults dressed up too. People dressed up as famous characters past or present, story characters, pirates, fairies, witches and so on. Dressing up as a tramp was always good fun. At that time the ‘tramp’ was a common sight. They were vagrants who walked (tramped) from place to place living on handouts from well-wishers – and their wits. The other name for tramps was ‘gentlemen of the road’. I now know that many of them had been traumatised in the two World Wars and had been unable to settle back into normal life so took to the roads.  At that time Post-traumatic Stress Disorder was unknown or mis-labelled ‘shell-shock’ and with no such thing as counselling they were left to get on with life as well as they could.

     

Anyway, back to fancy dress. My mum was a skilled seamstress (from necessity) and was also very creative. Some of the costumes I remember her putting together are; my brother as a golliwog (I know, they’re not PC now but to us at that time they were just toys), Little Bo Peep (my sister, complete with a big black spider made by my dad and suspended by elastic) and Dr Fuchs (my dad dressed in a duffle coat and wellies accompanied by my brother’s ride-on tractor with the name Sno Cat on a sign attached to the front).For those who don’t remember the name, Dr Vivian Fuchs’ Trans Atlantic expedition reached the South Pole in 1958. The vehicles they used to cross the Antarctic were known as Sno-Cats.

This is a picture of me and my sister dressed for a fancy dress parade. My mum made the costumes on her Singer sewing machine out of crepe paper. We were dressed as the soldier and lady on the Quality Street tin – note, if you can see it, the Quality Street tin my sister was carrying! Next to it I have put a picture of an old Quality Street tin in case anyone doesn’t know the man and woman I’m talking about.

Qual St       Qual St 2

To this day I still love fancy dress and would rather put my own outfit together than hire a ready-made one. It’s more fun!

 

As always, I have used a mixture of my own photos and relevant one sourced from the Internet. If I have infringed copyright I fill happily remove any offending photo.

What we wore – some more thoughts and images.

First, a disclaimer.  All images used are freely available on the Internet. If, however, I have infringed copyright please inform me and the offending picture will be removed.

  

As can be seen in this photo, girls’ dresses were more or less smaller versions of what their mums wore. 



 

Notice the boy’s inevitable short back and sides with side parting.

  

A girl in my primary school had a rabbit cardigan just like this knitted in red and white.  When it became too small for her, her mum cut the sleeves above the elbow to make it bolero style. 



 

Yes, I had outfits just like this!

Puff sleeves, gingham, seersucker, Broderie Anglaise trim with ribbon threaded through, sashes tied at the back, pockets – some of the things I remember from summer dresses of the day.   



 

A pattern which could be adapted to make a day dress, a party dress, a skirt and top, all with a choice of collar styles. Notice the trousers. They weren’t common and were known as ‘slacks’. They were definitely not worn for school.

What we wore – the 1950s

The reason this post is not called ‘Fashion’ or ‘Clothes’ is because I am covering the other side of the story. When we think of clothing and fashion in the 1950s and 60s we picture Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Mary Quant and pop icons such as The Beatles. All this is well documented and easy to research. Being a child in the 50s and a teenager in the 60s, in an area a long way from the large stores, the clothes I wore tell a very different tale.

In my Primary School days I, and all my friends, wore jumpers and cardigans knitted by our mums and dresses, skirts and pinafore dresses sewn on the home sewing machine – hand operated, of course, electric sewing machines were yet to arrive in our homes.

Because most garments were hand made and washing clothes was a once a week event, usually Monday (there were no washing machines), the same jumper and skirt (in winter) or dress and cardigan(summer) would be worn for several days, if not all week, so we didn’t have a huge selection of clothes.

Boys wore grey flannel shorts winter and summer with wool socks up to the knees. A blazer, v-necked jumper or tank top was worn over a shirt and a tie.

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Boys’ hair was cut ‘short back and sides’ with a side parting – no exceptions!

We wore knee-high grey or brown socks in winter, short white socks in summer – no tights or trousers, bare knees all year round!

My hair was exactly like that of the girl in blue. I longed for straight hair with a side parting and a bow, like the girl in pink, or long plaits like my friend Valerie. I was stuck with what was known as a ‘bubble cut’

I will be coming back to this topic as there is plenty to say. I will also be moving on into the 1960s and the clothes of my teenage years.