By the mid part of World War Two pretty much everything was rationed – petrol, food, coal, even clothes. From June 1941 each person was issued with a book of clothing coupons. The thinking behind it was that clothes manufacturing needed to focus on war work. Woollen material usually used for coats and suits was now needed for military uniforms. Silk used for blouses, lingerie, ties, was now needed to make parachutes, even gunpowder bags.
Each ration book contained coupons which had to last for a year. At first there were sixty-six coupons in each book, but a year later this was reduced to forty-eight. Every item of clothing had a value attached to it; a coat required sixteen coupons, you would have to hand over thirteen coupons for a jacket, eight for a pair of trousers, five for a shirt. If your shoes had finally worn through so that not even the cobbler could fix them, then you would use up eight precious coupons.
As a result women developed dressmaking skills like never before. Everything could be reworked and reused. An old coat could be turned into a skirt and maybe a waistcoat too. Shirt and blouse collars could be turned to extend their life. Socks would be darned, an older child’s dress altered to fit a younger one. And it wasn’t only the clothes that were handed down. Sitting beside Mum, watching her work wonders with a needle and thread gave youngsters a chance to learn these vital skills.