Sunday 25 October 2015

Frugal hero(ines) 6

No prizes for guessing the last frugal heroine in this short series - Mother.

Sometimes I resented the frugality of the fifties, the decade in which I spent my childhood.  One economy which I really resented was "sides to middling".  If a sheet from their double bed got worn out the two sides would be joined together, the worn out middle bit would be cut away and the new sides hemmed to form a "new" single sheet - very economical.  The trouble was that the French seam used to join the old sides was right up the middle of my bed and not very comfortable.  I longed for new sheets (but I liked the super-soft hankies made from the remains of the worn out middles).

Christmas was a time of more extravagance but the phrase "stocking filler" was not to arrive in our language for many years.  We had a single present from our parents and maybe something small from the various aunts and uncles.  Selfish little horrors that we were we took it for granted that adults didn't get presents - I think we believed they had everything they could possibly want anyway.  However, I remember that as a small child I was not allowed to unwrap my presents until a grown-up had removed all the sellotape for me - the paper had to be saved for next year.

Mother never went out to work but she worked very hard at home.  She made all clothes for my sister and me and she even learnt shirt making but I think she decided that making shirts for my father was not successful.  However she would unpick the collars and cuffs from his worn work shirts and "turn" them, extending the life of the garment considerably.  She was always knitting or darning, unless the garden needed her attention.

In many ways I had quite a privileged childhood.  My father was a white collar worker, mother was always at home when I got home from school and I was always loved and cared for.  I had properly fitting shoes (always bought new, even if quite a lot of clothes were had-me-downs from various cousins) and I could always go on any school trip.  In retrospect I know that much of that security came from Mother's hard work.

But Mother often said No to demands from my sister and me.  No new sheets, no ripping off wrapping paper, no cheap clothes from the shops.  I suspect that sometimes I sulked and was "a little Madam" in the face of many noes, but because of her constancy in making everything last there I was aware of no hardship and there was no debt.

Thanks, Mummy.


  1. My Granny did that with sheets, instead of French seams I learnt to whip stitch with such tiny stitches that the seam went flat when ironed. The edges were strong so did not get pulled by the stitching and the "worn thin" bits became hankies and drip cloths for jelly and cheese making.

  2. This post makes me so happy. Hearing of how very hard your mom worked and how you now look back and feel so cared for, I love this! I also love reading about a different time. Many of your posts help keep things in perspective for me. I receive a great lot of encouragement from you my friend. Thank-you.

  3. What a great post it transported me back to my childhood and so many things I have probably taken for granted. My mother was from India and the only thing she could do when she came to the UK was sew. Her machine skills were fantastic and she could make something out of nothing. Although sewing fell by the wayside as she got older, she knitted outfits for all the grandchildren right up until she died at 68 in 1992.

  4. I think your childhood sounds really lovely. You were better off than we were financially, but I think the previous hard war years made everyone treasure what they had in the 50's - I think most people turned sheets and saved wrapping paper. String - even post war - seemed akin to gold dust and metal pot menders still repaired worn out saucepans. (This all rubs off - do you, like me, have one kitchen drawer filled with 'bits'?)

    My mother died when I was very young, but like your mother she hand sewed dresses for me and her. Her attempts at dyeing - paper thin - curtains were pretty dire though - everything became a murky mauve.

    I recall her making me a 'doll' out of one of my dad's old socks and you are right about most children generally only getting one Christmas present. Mine tended to be necessities like pyjamas or the suchlike. A relative who recently retired from a junior school tells me that many children now mark up in catalogues all that they want to receive!

    1. I wonder how they will remember their childhood? Sad, isn't it?