Fleeta Cunningham

Fifth generation Texan, mother and grandmother. Been writing since the age of eight. Spent twenty-five years as a law librarian. Retired to write and have published five books with a sixth in the works. Lives in Central Texas among the Longhorns and Bluebonnets. Quilts and does needlework when not tied to the keyboard. Loves to travel, especially by ship, and goes anywhere at anytime if there is an invitation.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing my new short story CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH A CRUMPET make its debut. I’m particularly pleased with this story about a proper young Boston librarian who makes a tour with a septuagenarian group across England and in the process meets her unique ‘someone’. The story is close to my heart for many reasons, not the least of which is that I spent my honeymoon in the United Kingdom almost thirty years ago. I’ve made a few trips back ‘across the pond’ as they say, and never been disappointed.  In the course of putting this story together, since I am primarily grounded in the vintage years of the twentieth century, I kept dipping into first hand accounts of lives lived against the nightmare of World War II. My admiration grew with every story and every personal encounter. Along the way, I picked up a small book entitled MAKE DO AND MEND, a reproduction of the official Second World War instruction leaflets issued by the Board of Trade.  The subtitle, Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations, pretty well tells the story. Take a look at what the staunch ladies of the British Isles were doing for the fifteen years rationing was in effect.

1. Cooking — Never light your oven to cook a single dish. With a little planning you can easily prepare an entire meal while the oven is hot, as well as a pudding or tart that can be eaten cold the next day. Turn out burners directly the food is done–it will keep hot in the oven for some time.

2. Bathtub economy– Limit yourself to one hot bath a week. Use a bowl and sponge on other days. Never have the water in the bath more than 5 ins. deep.

3. Your household linen has got to last!  Storage–If you have some linen which is not in use, store it away–but not in a hot cupboard and not if it is starched. Wash, mend and air before putting it away. Refold at intervals to prevent wear at the creases. Only store clean linen. When sheets get very thin, turn sides to the middle by cutting them lengthways down the centre, and either oversewing the outside selvedges together or joining them with a run-and-fell seam. Trim away the torn parts of what are now the sides of the sheet. Turn in the edges and hem them. Towels–thin places and small holes can be reinforced by machine darning or by hand darning with soft mending cotton. Large holes should be patched with the sound parts of other old towelling –never use new material. Patches on towels should be tacked in position without the edge of the patch being turned in. These edges should be stitched on to the towel with herringbone or cross-stitch.

4. Knickers ( women’s panties) renewed– One good pair from two old pair–here’s how to manage it. Usually it is the gusset that’s worn–so cut a new gusset from the good side of the second pair. Shape the new gusset, which should then be stitched into place. The raw edges should be cut down and blanket stitched closely on the wrong side to make this as strong as possible.

5. To keep pace with a growing girl– Last year’s yoked frock can be enlarged by unpicking the skirt from the yoke, dropping it to waist level and inserting a contrasting band to make the lower part of the bodice. Use bands of the same colour to enlarge the sleeves. The frock will still be too tight across the chest so insert a contrasting band from the waistline to the neckline.

6. Expecting a baby — A suggested layette

4-5 gowns (material) to be used by day and night, 22-24 inches long, taking up to one and a half yards of 36 inch material each

4 vests (undershirts) woven or knitted

3 matinee jackets (diaper shirts) 2 oz. wool each

3 pairs bootees – 2 oz. wool

2 medium-sized shawls – about 8 oz. wool each

Muslin napkins ( diapers) never buy more napkins than you really need, remember fair shares!

7. Adapting your ordinary clothes for maternity wear – Try to avoid spending coupons on special maternity clothes. Almost all your existing clothes can be altered easily so that you can wear them comfortably until the baby is born, and you can wear them again afterwards. For instance, why not put in an attractive matching or contrasting gathered or pleated panel in the front of the dress?

The leaflets gave advice on everything from mending torn buttonholes and making slippers from cardboard and rags to saving fuel and mending chair seats. I’ll bet today’s recycling supporters could even learn a few things from the economies of the period.

What about your family? Do you remember World War II or have family members who do? Share a story with us, leave a comment, and I’ll be choosing someone to receive an epub of  CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH A CRUMPET  at the end of the day. Love to hear from you. And now that I think about it, all that interesting research suggests another story. Looks like I’m in an England frame of mind.

Fleeta Cunningham

13 Responses to “USE IT UP, WEAR IT OUT, OR MAKE IT DO”

  • Mary Preston [ 12Mar14]

    My Mother often talked about the rationing & the ration books.

    The household linen resonates with me. All our lives my Mother would cut worn sheets down the middle, putting the worn edges to the outside. I grew up with skinny sheets with an annoying seam down the middle.

    Bath towels became hand towels & then face cloths & finally cleaning rags. ( I must admit I still do this.)

  • Fleeta Cunningham [ 12Mar14]

    Yes, my mother stretched the life of towels that way, too, but I missed out on the made-over sheets. Not too sorry. They sound miserable. But we never threw away slivers of soap. They were saved in a bag and used for hand washing nylons (remember those?) and other personal laundry. Thanks for coming by.

  • Ashantay Peters [ 12Mar14]

    Many years ago, my mother came to visit and I took her to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta. They were featuring a traveling exhibit on WWII, including that famous photo of a sailor and woman kissing at Times Square. She shared her memories of how she celebrated V-Day and made do during the war. She talked about Victory Gardens in every yard and how much she’d wanted to join the WACs (her parents didn’t give permission). She still practices many of the thrifty measures preached during the 1940s – and she’s in her upper 80′s! We are certainly creatures of our conditioning.

  • Fleeta Cunningham [ 12Mar14]

    Victory Gardens! You bet. Many women happily sacrificed their beloved flower beds in order to plant vegetables for their families. And canned the produce to get them through the winters. Have to admit I still have a huge weakness for home canned veggies. Thanks for sharing.

  • Barbara Bettis [ 12Mar14]

    What a neat book and terrific ideas! I can remember my grandmother cooking with a mended pan. A small hole in the bottom had a metal plug in it. It was smoothly done and hard to see. She said people used to always mend their pots and pans whenever possible. That one was her favorite.

  • Fleeta Cunningham [ 12Mar14]

    I found a leaflet in the book that actually describes mending pans and kettles, Barbara. It’s amazing how the women managed with what little they had. Nothing went to waste. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

  • Quilt Lady [ 12Mar14]

    I will have to admit people are wastefull today. We don’t try to make thing last. I can remember cutting towels down into washcloths. Softening the last sliver of soap and putting it on the new soap. I also had to ware all of my sister’s hand me down clothes. We can get by with less if we have to and something tell me the way things are going now we are going to have to get by with less.

  • Fleeta Cunningham [ 12Mar14]

    I’ll bet you remember saving all the scraps for quilts, too, don’t you? We always had a bag of remainders, and garments that still had useful bits, put aside for quilting. Those pieces of art are still in the family and are treasured. Thanks for coming by, Quilt Lady.

  • Margaret Tanner [ 12Mar14]

    Hi Fleeta,
    Great post. I can remember my mother telling me about how she coped with all the rationing. Actually, after she died we found her ration book.
    I can relate to the cutdown towels, for handtowels, then face washers, mum never threw anything out, she had been frugal for so long, it became second nature to her.. And what about turning the collars on men’s shirts?



  • Fleeta Cunningham [ 13Mar14]

    Hi, Margaret! Good to hear from you. Yes, I have leaflets on turning shirt collars and cuffs, mending socks, and reinforcing the seats of children’s play clothes before they were worn. Good material for us vintage types. Thanks for adding to the discussion. Hugs, Fleeta

  • Linda LaRoque [ 13Mar14]

    Wonderful post, Fleeta. Those of us who didn’t live through those times are often so wasteful. I heard of ladies who never threw a piece of thread away. If left over after sewing, it was wrapped back around the spool.

    When going through Larry’s mother’s things after she passed, we found ration booklets. Even Larry as an infant had a ration book.

    I remember my mother saying everyone was encouraged to eat every part of the animal to avoid waste. She was big on serving liver once a week. Actually, when cooked right, I love the stuff.

  • Fleeta Cunningham [ 13Mar14]

    Oh, yes, Linda, everyone–regardless of age–had to have a ration book. And coupons were different for children. They had more coupons for milk and cod liver oil and shoes but fewer for meat and fabric. Mothers had to be very creative to keep their families fed and clothed. Thanks for the information on liver–and you can have my share anytime.

  • Paula Blackstad [ 26Jun14]

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