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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

'Make do and mend'
in and after wartime Britain

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In general, people on the British home front during World War Two were innovative in the face of rationing and shortages. The mottos were 'make do and mend', 'Be thankful and never grumble' - and 'Never leave any food on your plate'. This page gives some of the best known examples, but there were many, many more.

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Swapping and bartering

Although selling rationed things for money was classed as Black Market for which there could be a prison sentence, swopping was legal. So bartering came into its own in this time of rationing and shortages. People would swap things, most shops had postcards in their windows saying things like:

Swap two rabbits for a wedding dress.

Babies cot swap for men's trousers.

Peter Johnson

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New clothes for old

Make do and mend poster, WW2

Make do and mend poster. Photographed in Swansea Bay 1940s Museum.

Women were normally expert dressmakers, knitters and tailors, just as their mothers had been, and after the relative affluence of the 1930s, it became quite normal to 'decorate' tears and holes attractively from parts of other worn-out clothes and to cut down adults' clothes to make clothes for children.

Paper patterns for making clothes were fairly readily available to help with dressmaking, but they were relatively expensive in terms of the cost of the finished garments, and women tended to use their ingenuity, where possible, rather than buying a paper pattern.

1940s paper pattern for making women's knickers

1940s paper pattern for making women's knickers. Photographed at Brooklands 1940s Day.

It always seemed strange to me, though, that they came in sizes. There was advice on how to modify them, by putting tucks in them to make them smaller in places or adding newspaper to increase sizes in other place, but there was not a single pattern for a particular style, with different markings on for different sizes. That came much later.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster