Making and mending clothes in a working class household in the early
Women did a lot of sewing, mending and
darning when I was a child it in the early
1900s. It was common, for example, to see boys with patched trousers and non-matching
Sewing, dressmaking and mending at home at about
the time of World War One. Note the sewing bag, the clothes and the padded
wickerwork armchair. This photo is courtesy of Don Billing and shows his
grandmother, Alice Long who was born in 1855. It is a detail of a larger
photo which illustrates room decor.
My mother would wash and unpick my father's trousers that were no further
use to him and cut out a pair of trousers from the less worn parts to make a
pair for one of my brothers. I had a winter coat which she made from a soldier's
khaki coat that came her way. Other clothes that came her way originated from
cast offs from the children in the big houses. These were given to servants
who passed them on to us, but my mother invariably had to do some needlework
on them to make them fit. She was very industrious.
A sewing machine of the type used in the early
1900s. The working part could be folded under and the lid could be folded
down, so making a small table.
Lynn Schoeffler's great aunt tells a typical story
of receiving a hand-me-down wool coat that was faded and stained. Her mother,
Lynn's great grandmother, removed the lining, picked the coat apart at the
seams, turned every piece inside out, and then sewed it back together for
a coat that looked new.
My mother told us that she had had her sewing machine since the was eighteen
- which meant that it was a nineteenth century model - probably very similar
to the one in the photo on the left. We never asked how she came by it; it was
probably a cast-off from somewhere. It worked by foot power via a foot treadle,
and it was in constant use, apart from in the evenings as it was one of the
things that annoyed my father. Then the working part of the sewing machine was
lifted, a catch was released, and it was folded down and hidden underneath.
Once the lid was lowered, the sewing machine made a table of sorts.
Dressmaking scissors. Note the tarnish because
there was no stainless steel in Victorian and Edwardian times.
A 'button box' which was an old tin in which odd
buttons were kept. It was normal to see working class children wearing clothes
with odd buttons in Edwardian times.
A Victorian or Edwardian sewing box, currently
owned by Rosemary Hampton.
A significant part of mending was sewing on buttons. Buttons were essential
for fastening as there were no zip fasteners and no velcro. Buttons fell
off with wear, so women always kept a 'button box' in their sewing
box, in which
they collected odd buttons to use as replacements.