History of Clothing Repair

Before ready-made clothing was available, most people made their own clothing from purchased fabric. Most people only had a few outfits, so they worked hard to maintain them.1 Women would mend clothing to fix holes and tears. They also altered clothing to adjust the size. Sometimes they would purchase extra material when making a garment in case it needed to be enlarged in the future. Children’s clothing would often be sewn with tucks that could be removed to lengthen the garment. If an outfit was too damaged to repair, it could be made into a new outfit. 2

When people had limited resources to get new clothes, mending became especially important. Soldiers carried a sewing kit called a “housewife” which contained basic sewing supplies, such as needles, thread, buttons, and scissors.3, 4 During World War II, the British government rationed clothing and promoted mending clothing through the “Make Do and Mend” campaign. They published booklets about preserving, repairing, and repurposing clothing. However, these were not very well received, likely because women did not have time to spend sewing, or they already were practicing the techniques.5

Whenever a country faces a depression, mending and repurposing clothing gain importance. Many people are reducing their spending and have to maintain a limited wardrobe. Since most clothing is mass produced now, quality of materials and construction has declined, leading to a greater need for maintainance. Due to the economical and environmental benefits, upcycling old clothing from second hand shops has become a popular alternative to buying new clothing or making clothing from purchased fabric.6


  1. Geneva Historical Society, Clothing of the 19th Century, http://www.genevahistoricalsociety.com/PDFs/Tea/Clothing.PDF.
  2. Anita Stamper and Jill Condra, Clothing through American history: the Civil War Through the Gilded Age, 1861-1899, (n.p.:Greenwood, 2011),  152.
  3. Wayne County Historical Society, “Civil War Aritifacts,” WCHS Newsletter, September 2011, 3, http://www.prairietrailsmuseum.org/newsletters/2011september.pdf.
  4. John Aamodt of Cottonwood, Minnesota, “Soldier’s “housewife” sewing kit,” in Minnesota History Educator Resources, Item #267, http://content.mnhs.org/education/items/show/267 (accessed March 31, 2012).
  5. Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska, Austerity in Britain: Rationing, Controls, and Consumption, 1935-1955, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 120.
  6. Leslie Richard, “Girl Reconstructed: Upcycling Old Clothes,” Crafting a Green World, May 23, 2008, http://craftingagreenworld.com/2008/05/23/girl-reconstructed-upcycling-old-clothes/.

One thought on “History of Clothing Repair

  1. I cannot imagine the work people have to go through to survive. Do these people have hard time economically? How do they afford to get the materials needed to sew? I do sympathize the children who have no proper clothing, especially during the winter. I did not realized that the quality of the material has declined. It seems as if only the wealthy can afford clothing of high quality. I also admired the soldiers learning how to mend their own clothing. I also have found a resource that can expand your ideas on the history of clothing.

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