Wartime Clothes and a Wooden Mushroom

I teach a “Writing Your Life” course for the local chapter of the University of the Third Age. Usually I start the course by taking in a dozen small antique bits and pieces to see who can recognise the items and what they were used for. One is a small wooden ‘mushroom’ and it is usually correctly identified as being used to place inside a sock whilst a hole was darned over.

In the UK in 1941 clothing rationing was introduced with an issue of 66 coupons per civilian per year. This was to fall to a mere 40 coupons in 1943. Pyjamas took 8 coupons, a man’s suit was 26, woman’s coat was 18, shirts, blouses and jumpers were 5 each, vests and knickers 3 each and socks also cost 3 precious coupons, so repairs were essential and  most households had a darning mushroom which was well used in war time.

Wool was also on ration but it required fewer coupons for the wool used to knit socks and jumpers than to buy the ready-made items… some jumpers were knit with the front showing smart contrasting stripes but the backs made from any old scraps you could lay your hands on (with the reminder, when you  went out, to keep your jacket on!)

Women were incredibly resourceful making slippers from felt hats, dressing gowns from old bedspreads, a new blouse by combining two old ones, knickers were re-gusseted, cuffs and collars turned, men’s jackets became children’s clothes, their shirts made into pyjamas, skirts were made from dresses, summer skirts into children’s knickers and blouses, pyjama legs into baby vests, nightdresses into petticoats… the list was endless and tribute to the ingenuity of the women trying to hold the family together under great duress.

And think what the women POWs had to put up with, Betty Jeffrey writing that the Australians only had one sewing needle and there had to be a roster for it!

Reference: Juliet Gardiner “The 1940’s House”, London, Channel 4 Books, 2000, pp190-197.

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