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Sewing Bees in Wartime

We hear a lot about ‘Make do and Mend’ during Wartime, especially when clothing rationing was in effect,  but maybe you haven’t heard about sewing bees. Quilting Bees were popular in America in the early 1800’s, as a way for women to meet others and tackle large quilts that would be cumbersome by themselves. They provided socialization, friendship, wisdom and sharing of supplies and tools,  and basically involved a group of women getting together and sewing.

The first mention I have found of a wartime Sewing Bee is in this article from December 1939 –

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30 December 1939 Australian Woman’s Weekly

Red Cross Sewing Bees see to become popular in Australia.

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27 April 1940  Australian Woman’s Weekly

Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) was probably the one who began to make Sewing Bees popular in England and Australia during the War, forming a Red Cross Sewing Bee for the women of the royal household at the palace each week from as early as November 1939.

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15 June 1940 Australian Women’s Weekly

You can also watch a little video her Great Sewing Bee of 1939 here.

This article from the American Woman’s Weekly in March 1942 is a little different, as rationing is not really mentioned, and the ladies are sewing more for themselves than the troops, but it is interesting to ‘see’ these ladies in action at their sewing bee.

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sew2

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Sewing Bees are obviously meant to be a cooperative event. There is a recent British TV show called ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’ which is a reality TV contest type show, which to me loses the point of sewing bees, but you can watch it here.

Have you joined a Sewing Bee or thought of doing so? Tips for joining an online sewing bee can be found here.

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About thewartimewoman

I love history, fashion, art and design, especially of the 1930s to the 1960s. I am also a mother, wife, interior decorator & a treasure hunter who wishes she could drive a 1933 Delage. I studied Architecture at Melbourne university, briefly, and completed a Diploma of Art in Interior Design at the Melbourne College of Decoration in 1991. I have worked on an off as a decorator ever since, in between stints as a florist, balloon artist, having my five children and helping my husband in his law firm. in my spare time I love researching history, blogging and gardening.

5 responses »

  1. Sewing has taken off again in the UK (hence the TV programme), supposedly in answer to the crash. I never stopped and my daughter sews too.

    Reply
  2. I never stopped sewing, although beetling along at a million miles an hour on a high tech machine doesn’t fit into the genre of genteel handsewing. Cheap labour in the third world has replaced the sewing bee, methinks

    Reply
    • You could be right. I am planning a sewing bee with my children this weekend as they want to make chair covers for their chairs at school – something you can’t buy easily. Quilting is still popular, or again, and quilting bees pop up here and then too. I have a few friends who want to learn to sew, so maybe I should start my own sewing bee group!

      Reply
  3. I’ve always sewn, but my grandparents lived through two world wars and a Depression, so making due was just part of life.

    In the 1990s I collected about six portable machines and stored them at my dad’s little inner-city church. We had sewing lessons (do they count as sewing bees?) every Saturday morning. We started off with housecoats, as they didn’t have to be perfect, and it gave plenty of practice. We went on to skirts and children’s clothing. I always saved the larger scraps, and then between Thanksgiving (late November ) and Christmas, we made doll clothes, so each young lady got at least two new dresses for her own “babies”.

    Had a grand time!

    Reply

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