There was never much money to spare when we were raising the children. Almost everything we had was spent on food and essentials. Admittedly we had no utility bills to pay because the cottage was not connected to mains anything, but still, with all those mouths to feed, and the clothes they seemed to constantly need we had to be careful with money.
Lots of people made their own clothes back then, but some people are just not able to get the hang of it, and I was one of them. My mother was an expert seamstress but no matter how hard she tried to teach me the results were always poor and it just wasn’t worth me wasting the cost of the fabric and cotton if I am honest.
What I was good at was a wool craft, crochet and knitting were no problem, and neither was mending things. I could darn very neatly, sew on buttons and poppers, but that was about it for my sewing skills.
I would try to have a mending session once a month so that I didn’t get swamped with shirts needing buttons and socks with holes in. All the items that needed attention would go into a big wicker basket whilst it waited for my attention. The basket also held stuff that needed to be changed in some way. A grown out of white shirt would become a new item for one of the others when it had been dyed and any threadbare bits repaired.
A sweater could be undone and the wool used again to make something for one of the other children. I saved all the bits of wool to knit up into dollies and teddy bears as birthday and Christmas presents. The kids never seem to mind the assortment of colours on their new toys.
I mentioned dying. I did this with natural dyes. Blackberry juice, tea, and juice from red berries gave beautiful shades of pink. After soaking in the dye the item went into a bowl of strong saltwater to ‘fix’ it and make the colour last longer.
When something really got to the end of its life I would strip everything off it that may come in handy, buttons, poppers, hooks and eyes, and then, if it was a useful colour, like one that matched school trousers, for example, I would cut a few patches out for future use. The rest of the fabric would be cut into small pieces and when I had enough small pieces they would turn into a rag rug. The backing was a Hessian sack that Ernie would get from the farm for me. Small pieces of sacking would be used to make the fronts of cushion covers, exactly the same way as the rugs, with a latch hook, but the pieces of material would be smaller. I would save the made fronts until an old, unrepairable towel or something appeared and that would make the back of the cushion cover. The stuffing would be any bits that I really couldn’t find a better use for.
To make mending easier, so I could find things, I strung the buttons on bits of wire, twisting the end to keep them in place. That way all the same colours would be together and it made life easier.
Bits of fabric for rugs would be in a box to keep them together, and small things like hooks and eyes and poppers I kept in an old tobacco tin. So that they wouldn’t go rusty sewing needles were pushed through brown paper and kept in another baccy tin that had a small piece of fabric in the bottom of it.
It never took more than a couple of hours to do the mending, and there was something satisfying about repairing the clothes, giving them a new lease of life. Getting the wool ready for re-use was a much longer process though.
After undoing the seams and rolling all the wool into balls I would pull over one of the high back chairs we had. One of the children would hold the tail end of the wool on the wood that stuck up above the backrest and then I would go around and around the two uprights, pinning the tail in place…they could let go then. This stretched the wool some. Two bits of wool of a different colour would be used to hold the skein together and then it would be soaked in warm water, cooling naturally overnight. The next day I would hang the whole skein over the clothesline, weighted down at both ends to pull out the crinkles. When it was all but dry it would be rolled back into balls ready to use again. Wool is so much easier to work with when it’s not all wrinkled up from the old stitches.
Often there were bits of wool left from making the new garment. If there was enough, and the toy production for Christmas was already taken care of, the remnants would be crochet into squares and saved until there was enough to sew into a blanket. I always had excess wool because people would ask me to make sweaters and toys, my payment was the excess wool, sometimes there would be quite a bit leftover which always came in handy for other projects.
I always used to make sure each of the children got a sweater or cardigan made from new wool every Christmas. Sometimes I would have to take in a few baskets of washing or ironing to earn the money for the wool, but when one of the better off ladies from the big house just the other side of the village took ill, she lost the use of her left side, her husband gave me all her wool and pins in return for me making her a shawl for her birthday. That kept the children going for two Christmases added to the bits I already had.
The kids were always so excited to have something really new, something nobody else had worn. A simple thing but it meant so much to them.
The children now seem to expect so much all the time, and when they get it they lose interest after such a short time and start demanding something else. It’s sad when you think about it, they never seem to have joy in them for the simple things in life.
My children had a roof over their heads, food in their belly and a warm bed at night and they were grateful for that, anything else was a bonus.
I’d better not get started on all that or we’ll be here forever.
Well, that’s about it for today, remind me to tell you about the first time I tried to replace a zip fastener…oh my, that’s a story on its own.
Love to the family, speak to you soon,