Thursday, January 12, 2017

Aprons Now and Then

Daughter Gina and I were doing the washing up after Christmas dinner when she announced, "I'd love to have you make some aprons for my birthday present if you have time."
With Gina's birthday on 17 January, I have had time. I'm not clever at shopping for gifts, especially given the constraints of a frugal retirement budget and limited places to shop.
I was delighted that she had requested something I could happily produce.
The apron pattern I've used most often for more than a decade is designated as a 'one size fits all.'
The illustration shows a happy couple--man and woman--brandishing kitchen tools and wearing 'chef' style aprons.  I've had issues with this pattern. 
An apron meant to cover a manly torso is not a good fit for a woman--unless she is tall with a sufficient bosom to prop up the apron bib!
The pattern needs tweaking.
Since our move to the farmhouse most any sewing/crafting project entails a certain amount of rummaging through bins and containers for fabrics and tools.
[I have as yet no designated and outfitted sewing room!]
Several years ago at a local charity shop I picked up two linen blend dresses in large sizes--25 cents each--with the thought that at some point the fabric could be repurposed into sturdy aprons.
By the time I ran these to earth, rummaged in a frigid closet for some remnants of decorating cotton, collected the pattern and thread, I was frustrated at the time which had been spent in what my Grampa Mac would have termed 'getting ready to commence.'

Deconstructing the two linen dresses into usable lengths of material took more time--removing buttons, picking out hems and seams, pressing the fabric.
I needed to take advantage of center seams, tucks and darts in laying out the pattern pieces.
For the apron on the right [above] I took advantage of the border print for the deep divided pocket which Gina specified. 
Cutting out the floral apron in the center was quicker as I used a length of decorator cotton.
The fabric used for the apron on the left showed some wear, needing a tiny spot of zig-zag darning.
I worked on the 3 aprons in assembly line fashion, making the ties and pockets, then finishing each apron in turn.

Gina works in a residential care home.  When she is in the house with the clients she wears an apron with deep pockets to hold keys, iphone and other small items while she prepares meals or cleans.

The apron on the left is mine.  I redrafted the original pattern to fit a petite female.
The apron at right--for Gina--has an extra deep pocket.

Three generations of my grandmothers--and a great aunt--display aprons in this photo circa 1910.
At the far back is g-g-grandmother Ann Rebecca--her apron, like her long calico dress, is a dark color.
Standing with her is g-grandmother Eliza. Her costume seems to be a dark skirt and light shirtwaist with an enveloping bib apron snugged at the waist.
G-aunt Minnie, seated in the little rocking chair appears to be wearing a long pleated  smock to protect her shirtwaist and skirt.
My grandmother Helen seated sideways on the porch steps is perhaps wearing a half apron.

When I was a girl, aprons were still a familiar part of women's at-home attire, tied on over a 'house dress' and worn for all kitchen and cleaning chores.
If an unexpected visitor arrived, the apron was whipped off to reveal a clean and tidy dress.
An apron might be made from a sturdy 'feed sack' print, the edges neatly bound with bias tape. 
The ample skirt of an apron could be hastily folded to serve as a pot holder, or gathered up to carry garden produce. 
There were dainty aprons with ruffled hems, fancy pockets and flirty sashes--for Sunday best, or serving at a church social function.

Circa 1926
My mother and her older brother with their grandmother Eliza and mother Helen.
The ladies are in everyday garb, aprons keeping them tidy.

I have a number of Grandmother Helen's aprons, too fragile now for me to wear.
I unpacked them last week and gave them a gentle washing.
I think the spots on this one were once black or navy blue--faded now.
The apron was made in three panels, machine stitched but with the seams over-cast by hand.

This dainty apron is made from a fine lawn fabric. 
The border trim is faded.
In the 1910 census Helen, age 25, listed her occupation as 'waitress, private family.'
No family story has survived to elaborate on this--Helen's maternal line were well-established in town and have been described as 'prosperous.' 
The area population swelled each summer with an influx of wealthy folks who had built 'summer cottages' or came to stay for weeks in the several boarding houses and hotels.
Catering to 'summer people' provided extra income for many families.
Perhaps Helen had a supply of dainty aprons made especially for this short term job.

Another of Helen's fancy aprons.
I think both these aprons would have been starched before pressing--the wide ties are long and  could be fluffed into a perky bow.

The ties on this apron are short.  I think this was made for a little girl, perhaps it was Helen's when she was a child. The fabric is a shirting with fine lavender stripes.
I've had another request for aprons--so I'm not finished creating.
With several dark rainy days ahead, it will be good to have something to show for 
hours spent indoors. 
I can take pleasure in carrying on a frugal and tidy tradition of aprons!

Circa 1942.
My dad's sister, [left] and his sister-in-law, wear aprons at a family picnic.


  1. Fascinating, the history of the apron in your family, and they are very pretty as well. Think you have inspired me to make some.

    1. Thelma; My mind regularly trails off on tangents--in this case, a search for old family photos. The fact of the women wearing aprons certainly wasn't uppermost in the photos, but I remembered they were there.

  2. Well done with those lovely aprons. My mum always called them "pinnies" - which I suppose derived from the old term "pinnafore". She always wore one - the wrap-around sort with a slot in the side to pull the tie through to the back. I have the practical chef's type for cooking in, but being built like the figurehead of a ship, they are rarely large enough to cover my ample "top"!! I should really make my own, but have other calls on my time these days.

    I am sure that Gina will appreciate the ones you have skillfully made for her.

    I LOVED the old photos, and your family aged well - or were child brides as they don't look old enough to be "great" anything, let alone g.g.g. !!

    1. Jennie; I've heard aprons referred to as 'pinnies'--and recall a pretty one in a green plaid on white that was made for me as a child by a family friend.
      I'm trying to visualize how the wrap and pull tie worked--it sounds like a sensible way to customize the fit of the pinafore. I'm thinking many apron styles of the day provided very complete coverage 'saving' the frock beneath.
      If I continue to play with apron patterns I need a 'model' with an ample bosom--none of this 'one size fits all!'
      I've had a post in mind re the grandmothers--eventually it will get past the mulling stage.

  3. Most of the women I remember from childhood were rarely seen without their aprons, usually with pockets full of clothes pegs I seem to recall.

    1. John; I think aprons remained a staple of a country woman's attire for many years. An apron without big pockets would be nearly useless!
      Now you have me remembering the clothes pin 'bags' constructed to look like a miniature apron. Nostalgia!

  4. I need to find a good apron pattern now that I have a sewing machine. Maybe I can find some at the thrift stores, I'll have to look the next time I visit one.

    I just had an idea for making one, and will have to give it a try. :-) I'll post about it if it turns out.

    This was another interesting post and I thank you for taking the time to write it out, gather photos and post it.

    Love & hugs ~ FlowerLady

    1. Rainey; I took a break from the sewing machine and looked at aprons online. I was amazed at the price tags on some very similar to those I'm making.
      I found numerous tutorials for different aprons and quite a selection of 'vintage' patterns available through etsy and ebay--often a wide range in price for the identical pattern.
      My pattern has instructions that make the hems very easy and accurate.
      I shall keep an eye out for other items at charity shops which can be repuposed--long full skirts or dresses in mid-weight natural fabrics work best.

  5. So interesting, loved the photos. I can remember my grandmother wearing an apron, but not my Mother, except at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    1. Janet; I love the old photos that have been handed down to me. My mother wore aprons frequently when I was a child. She returned to teaching after my youngest sister started school. After that she kept a few half aprons for cooking and baking.

  6. I feel you pain in the "getting ready to commence" stage as I spent 2 1/2 hours yesterday untangling and rolling a skein of yarn. By the time I finished, I no longer was interested in knitting the mittens.

    Very cute aprons! Guess it was worth the frustration. I always intend on sewing some new ones, as I wear aprons when cooking. Wearing a lot of woolens which are very time consuming to wash, an apron is just the thing to protect them from getting dirty. Probably why ladies of earlier times wore them too. Well, now that you have things up and running, I hope you have many pleasant times at your sewing machine!


    1. Jane; I can relate to your frustration with the yarn--although I don't knit or crochet.
      Often our frugal habits of re-purposing and salvaging don't make sense time-wise--I surely don't put a monetary value on my projects in terms of time spent to reach a thrifty goal.
      My mother and her contemporaries did wear woolen skirts often in the winter--and the effort was made to keep them clean and avoid dry-cleaning expense. A fresh blouse wasn't an issue, but a winter skirt needed to see many wearings. The 'house dresses' of the day weren't adequate for the many months of a New England winter.

  7. I'm 84 and wear an apron every day of my life. I started wearing them in the early 1950s when I would come home from work and start making dinner without even taking off 3-inch heels. I wore the apron to protect my working clothes. Loved these picture and your stories of your family. Lillian at Lillian's Cupboard

  8. Lillian; I find I'm more often wearing an apron in the kitchen--maybe because I'm becoming more apt to splash and drip in my cooking ventures! I need to throw away several aprons that are a disgrace and wear some new ones.

  9. Aprons seem to be making a comeback and deservedly so! This was such a charming post with your sweet sewn aprons and vintage photos and aprons from the women in your past. I collect vintage aprons (and new ones, too). I remember my Grandmothers in their flowered aprons over their house-dresses pinning clothes on the line and cooking in the kitchen. Sweet memories and nice to see the tradition continues. Lovely aprons that you have sewn for your daughter! Such a good idea to use the thrifty dresses for fabric :) xx Karen

  10. Karen; I've been remembering the 'fancy' aprons that appeared on the sale table at the annual Ladies' Aid fund raiser. It seems that these would have taken considerable time to sew--unlike the very utilitarian everyday aprons. Perhaps the creation of the special occasion aprons was a relaxing and satisfying break from the mending and making of 'everyday' clothing.

  11. My Grandma always wore a wrap round apron, a sort of overall,but with ties instead of buttons probably the only time she would be without it was visiting us on Christmas day and walking into town for the shopping

    1. Sue; I read English novels and it seems someone is always putting on an 'overall' to work in the kitchen--I've wondered if they are similar to what is called a cobblers' apron. I'm trying to visualize your Grandma's apron. Wearing a cover-up of some sort makes good sense!