18 December 2023

Sewing with a smile

During World War II clothing was scarce. Fabric was needed for the armed forces. The British Government launched a campaign, telling civilians that they had to repair and make the most of their clothes. Trousers could be cut down to make shorts, an old suit could be remodelled to make a coat.  The message to the nation was “Make Do and Mend”.  Thousands of Make Do and Mend groups sprang up around the country, where women would meet, sew and help each other keep up morale.

Fast forward 82 years, and a Make Do and Mend group is going apace at DHEF centre Hillcrest in Surrey. Every Thursday morning local ladies arrive with the clothing which needs to be repaired or altered. Under the guidance of Alison, an array of clothing takes on a new lease of life.

Alison, helping repair a nightdress

Alison explains, “I took my inspiration for this group from the wartime idea of Make Do and Mend. I wanted to encourage women to make the most of their family’s clothes. People often have items in their wardrobe which they bought in a sale and don’t quite fit. Or children’s clothes which are perfectly good except there’s a hole or a tear. We don’t need to throw these clothes away; we can mend them.

“Repairing our clothes is very eco-friendly. Another inspiration was Laudato Si, the encyclical by Pope Francis which encourages us to lead a simple lifestyle and look after the goods of the earth.”

Serena came to the group with an evening jacket, which she loved but which was a bit small.  Working with Alison, she experimented with different ways to enlarge and enhance the jacket. Inserting side panels was the solution, giving the jacket a fresh look, and Serena will now be comfortable wearing it.

Serena’s jacket

Serena says, “Alison is so resourceful and creative. Now I have a new jacket! I love coming to these sessions, it’s fun and relaxing and a great way to make friends!”

Repairing a tear

Helen brought along her daughter’s nightdress. It was perfectly good except for a three-cornered rip near the hem.  Under Alison’s tutelage, Helen learnt how to repair the tear. She recalls, “I might have thrown this nightdress away. It was great to see how it could be mended.”

Step one
Step two
Good as new!

Bruno’s dragon

Bruno’s dragon before surgery

Another mum came with her son’s toy dragon.  The dragon’s arm had come off and little Bruno was upset.  Delving into Alison’s box of threads, she selected several reels of cotton as a possible match for the repair.

Hillcrest’s Make Do and Mend group is a hive of happy activity. It seems there is plenty we can learn from the wartime effort.

“I love sewing”, says Alison. “So many people just don’t know how to sew. My aim is to pass on this money-saving skill to a new generation of women. A small alteration can make a big difference to a garment. That can be true of life too!”

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