Before starting the post, I want to remind you to enter our apron give-away by the end of May. All you have to do is email us at TheSecondHandRoses@gmail.com.
Now, on to our regularly scheduled post.
Hi, my name is Deb and I am addicted to aprons. It started about ten years ago, and the only thing slowing me down is storage. I’m trying to be more picky about what I buy, but the truth is that I love them all! I have thought several times that when it comes time to downsize (shudder) I should try and donate my apron collection to a fashion or clothing museum.
Why aprons? I think it’s an off-shoot of my interest in fabric and linens. I saw a quote about aprons in the excellent book, Aprons: Icons of the American Home by Joyce Cheney, that struck a chord: “Aprons are women’s voices that were mute”–Ellen Rulseh. Most of my aprons are homemade, and they served a protective function, but their makers also made them beautiful, just ’cause. I like the idea of taking something utilitarian and putting your own stamp on it, making it as attractive as you can. It gives you some control over areas of your life that are repetitive, unappreciated, and just plain hard such as housework, cooking, gardening, etc.
The word apron actually was originally napron and mutated into apron (“a napron” became “an apron”). Whatever they were called, they have a long history: “Cretan fertility goddesses wore sacred aprons; ceremonial aprons were worn by Assyrian priests, and Egyptian rulers wore jewel-encrusted aprons …”–Joyce Cheney.
Aprons were important layers of protection in jobs that exposed people to hazards, such as tanners and blacksmiths. Also, consider how difficult it was to wash clothing, and how few sets of clothes most people owned in the days when fabric was handmade and labor intensive, and your clothes were made by hand as well. Wearing an apron while doing dirty jobs only made sense.
These first aprons may have been used by servants while serving meals:
or they could have been worn by the lady of the house. The cotton is so thin that you can see through it even when folded in half; I believe it is called batiste cotton, and it is so soft and fine that I don’t think it could be used for protection. If you look closely, you can see that different strips of material were used in the construction of the longer aprons. It was common to reuse pieces of cloth or old clothing in a new piece of clothing; fabric was too precious to waste. Also, material didn’t come in the same widths as it does today, so necessarily, long aprons had to be pieced. The lace is machine-made, but it’s still a nice touch. I think these aprons are from the 1920’s, although this kind of fabric was used from the turn of the century to the 1930’s.
These next two aprons are also 1920’s and earlier:
The yoked apron on the right is very 1920’s in appearance; it has a narrow cut to match the dress styles, and it slips over the head and crosses behind without ties. It was common to find embroidery on aprons of this era. The apron on the left is probably older since it’s so long, or it’s made to look late 19th century. The cotton is very fine, and the trim is handmade, but who knows for sure. Here is a close-up of the edging:
There is no doubt that this next apron was worn by a servant or a waitress:
Cheney identifies a similar apron as commercially made in the 1940’s, but this one has a different style waistband, and the strings don’t tie, they are pinned together. It was starched within an inch of its life; and I really like the tiny pocket on the left side of the waistband.
The oldest apron I own is made of changeable taffeta (shot silk) and handmade lace:
The tiny bib without a neck tie (you pinned it to your dress), and the incredibly tiny waist ties mark it as from the late 19th or early 20th century. It was stored folded in half for a very long time, which has caused some fabric damage, but otherwise it’s in fabulous condition. Of course, it came from a thrift store.
By far, the most common kind of apron in my collection are gingham with extras:
Okay, a polka dot snuck in, but the way the embroidery uses the dots is very similar to the chicken scratch embroidery (as my lovely mother calls it) on the gingham. I only buy gingham that has been decorated; it’s even better when there is stitching and rick rack (see the brown gingham apron):
These are the epitome of a lowly fabric, gingham, being made lovely by lots of extra work. The decoration does nothing to make it more protective, it’s done just to make life nicer. These aprons were cranked out by the thousands in the late 1940’s through the early 1960’s by housewives, 4-H kids, and Home Ec students. I have them in every color of the rainbow, and pretty much when one comes in, another has to leave.
Here are a pair of fun aprons from the 1950’s:
You can tell they are from the 1950’s because of the full skirt, bright colors, and trim–especially the metallic rick rack on the left apron. What is so interesting about these two?
Reversible! Probably a gimmick, but actually you could get twice the use from the apron by flipping it, and maybe they will match more outfits.
These next three aprons are examples of pieced aprons that make pleasing patterns:
In the picture to the left, you can see the center apron folded up, which is how it’s stored and ironed. I’m impressed by how well the sewers matched up all the pieces; I wouldn’t have the patience to do that–it would make me buggy! I think the polka dot apron is a survivor of the 1950’s and the zig zags are probably from the 1940’s.
I called this group the crazy pocket aprons:
It’s hard to tell, but I think that at least two of these (the striped ones) are commercially made. The blue harlequin apron could go either way; it could be one of those printed kit aprons that you cut apart and stitch, or a store-bought apron. Kathy has the road runners on pieces of fabric, so we think that someone bought these and stuck them on an apron because they couldn’t think of any other way to display them.
I bet you are now wondering just how many aprons does this crazy woman have? Well, you should be worried because I’m grouping them in categories. The next are some of my crocheted aprons:
I think that they are from the 1940’s and 1950’s; definitely the two center ones are 1940’s because of the colors. These were pretty much the hostess aprons slapped on as the food was served, as an accessory. They might give your good dress a little protection, but those holes will let a lot of gravy through.
These aprons are in the decorative category also; I think they are all handmade:
The left most apron is my hankie apron. There are several ways hankies are used–sometimes as pockets, sometimes the whole apron is hankies, and sometimes just as decoration. The organza fabric is a clue that these three aprons are decorative; organza wouldn’t stop water, much less sauces and that impossible stain, gravy. The apron on the right is made of a ribbon-like fabric which you might not notice because of all the pom-poms. I hereby assert that anything with that many pom-poms cannot be considered functional.
The reason this next set is in my collection has to do with the fabrics. They are so fun, that they had to come home with me:
The three home-made aprons (orange & black, Mexican print, and barn dancing) are from the 1950’s because of the fabric and styles. The Mexican print apron has a pocket that was carefully cut so it features a sombrero (see red arrow), while the barn dancing apron has the word HIS mysteriously applied in white letters (inside red circle). It certainly looks like a lady’s apron. The two bird aprons are from the 1960’s or 1970’s because of the fabrics. The rooster apron (blue) has a million tiny pleats that were guaranteed to last, but didn’t hold up to repeated washings.
Besides wearing some of my aprons, I use them to decorate:
I made my valence by attaching aprons by their ties and pinning them. I have quite a few Christmas aprons, and they are displayed in the kitchen and dining room during their season.
While I have tons more aprons, it’s probably time to look at patterns before your eyes glaze over:
These are from the 1940’s and 1950’s for the most part. I like looking at the fabrics, poses, and the dress and hairstyles on the models. I get these at garage sales and only rarely at thrift stores.
Finally, let’s not forget our dolly friends. Kathy made me this apron for my birthday:
The patterns are new and are supposed to be Christmas ornaments. Eagle-eye Kathy realized that they were fashion doll size and whipped this one up. Sadly, Vero doesn’t look all that happy to be modeling an apron, but she’ll get over it.
Thanks for wading through this long post; it barely skimmed the surface of what I have stored away, which is a scary thought. I haven’t forgotten that another installment of crazy vintage craft patterns was promised, so keep on the look out for that post.
My name is Connie and it has been 6 months since I last bought at apron. I too, am a member of the ‘apron collection’ tribe. Like you, storage has become an issue and so an apron has to be very special (and vintage) to wedge its way my kitchen. And thanks to my mom, I have inherited a darling, crocheted, child’s apron. (I bet that at some point, both my sister and myself wore it while helping mom in the kitchen.)
Hi Connie! You should probably be my mentor, since I bought some in the last month! Love that you have your Mom’s aprons.
I think we should have an afternoon where we don a favorite apron, drink tea (or coffee) from bone china cups and place a vintage napkin across our laps. Wouldn’t that be great?
It’s a date, maybe a beautiful morning after I’m back from vacation. I’ll wear a very girly apron.
I have my mom’s and grandma’s aprons . . . plus the first one I ever made, when I was 8 or so! And all my daughters-in-law LOVE aprons, so now I’m having fun making them for gifts! Love this fun post! 🙂
How wonderful to have your family aprons; the memories tied up in those pieces of cloth are irreplaceable. Plus you know that all of your aprons will be loved by the next generation too. Thanks for reading!
Kathy, these are wonderful! I have only a few vintage aprons. I did inherit several vintage apron patterns from my mother’s collection of sewing stuff. She made many smock-type aprons which I wear when I cook. I should wear one all the time because food has a way of getting on me.
I loved this post!
So glad you enjoyed the post! Kathy gives all the aprons she comes across to me and I’m the holder of “our” collection. 😉 I should certainly wear an apron with a bib when eating because stuff usually ends up on my “balcony” as my friend’s grandmother calls it.
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Do you sell any used aprons?
I have some aprons for sale at my Etsy shop. I have more to list, so you should check back. https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheSecondHandRoses