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An Apron Display

Aug
2


A few months ago, I had the pleasure of browsing through and photographing about two dozen vintage aprons that belonged to my Great-Aunt Ruby. She had aprons of every size and type—long ones, medium ones, short ones, ones for every day wear and ones for Sunday best and company. A complete apron wardrobe. Who has such a complete apron wardrobe today? A collection of aprons that extensive is a slice of Americana and, I found, a huge source of nostalgia when I posted photos of those aprons. (You can find that post here.)

Ruby’s aprons were being prepared for a historical society display in Glenville this summer. I’m sure when my great-aunt was donning her apron every morning of her life, she never imagined anyone would want to display the utilitarian garments she put on to keep her dresses from getting dirty.

The display is open now and through the fall at the Gilmer County Historical Society, located in the beautiful Holt House in Glenville, West Virginia.

I took Georgia and Morgan to see the display one day last week. Georgia’s sister, Marion, is a volunteer at the historical society and spearheaded the display, which includes nearly 100 vintage aprons and fills several rooms.

The fact that these old aprons on display speaks to the sentiment and longing we have today for a time that has disappeared. As much as we don’t want to go backward in many ways, we do have a wistful streak for a time when there was that central stalwart of warmth and comfort in the home. We knew who she was—she was the one with the apron.

The basic function of the apron was to keep her dresses from getting dirty, but the apron served so many other purposes.

The apron’s deep pockets held eggs gathered from the chicken house. Kindling for the wood stove. A rolling pin at the ready.

Vegetables from the garden and apples from under the tree. It hid pieces of gum or candy for the children, and a tissue in case you needed it. Shy children could hide behind its voluminous folds, or trail along behind holding the strings.

The apron wiped away tears, polished furniture, dried sweat. It could be waved as a flag to call in the men from the field. It could even be thrown up over the face to signal the wearer was taking a nap in her rocking chair now so leave her alone!

The old, classic aprons were often made of flour and feed sacks or other inexpensive materials. The women who wore them sewed their own. They could do it all, these apron-ladies. Their aprons were worn and torn and stained—and worn some more. A faded apron was a loved apron.

The embroidery on this one is gorgeous.


In the middle of the last century, an apron represented the perfect mother and television shows frequently showed women wearing them, but as time progressed—and the role of women in society changed—aprons became a sign of menial labor. Many—if not most—women stopped wearing them, even if they didn’t stop cooking and working around the home.

Aprons are making a comeback now and they can be found at exorbitant prices at craft shows and online, but aprons are just as simple to make as they always were when our great-grandmothers made them without so much as a pattern. There are free patterns available online, and calicos and other vintage-style fabrics can still be found.

Georgia, checking out the aprons on display at the historical society.

The Gilmer County Historical Society is located at 302 E. Main Street in Glenville. If you’ll be in the area and you’re interested in viewing the display, you can contact the society at 304-462-4295 for hours of operation and to request a guided tour.

An apron is truly powerful, and maybe a little bit magical. You should probably go get one. Or better yet, make one. I am! I finally got my material and I love it. I wanted something old-fashioned and pretty, flowers in a small print with a vintage feel. Here it is:

I’ll be using this pattern (minus the piping and with deeper pockets), which is very similar to most of Ruby’s daily mainstay aprons. Who wants to make an apron with me? Get a couple yards of material and get ready!

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on August 2, 2010  

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  1. 8-2
    1:25
    am

    Those Aprons are just lovely! Thank you for sharing them with us. Suzanne, your fabric for your apron is very pretty! I can’t wait to see it finished. :fairy:

  2. 8-2
    1:58
    am

    I have my great-grandma’s flour sack apron. It is one of the few things that I have of hers and I feel like she is with me when I’m wearing it. :happyflower:

  3. 8-2
    3:09
    am

    I’m with you on the apron. I like the one 8 pictures down, far right, top. that looks simple and exactly what I had in mind but with pockets. I have to find some fabric and then I’m on it.
    Yours is my favorite blog to read and I love that you post every day.

  4. 8-2
    5:50
    am

    :snoopy: Lovely post..I adore aprons.Where them everyday.AND yes I will join you in making one..Love!!
    Hugs Granny Trace

  5. 8-2
    6:15
    am

    very nice.. i just picked up an old apron like that – over the head kind. well worn, stained and loved by somebody’s mama or gramma. It was $1.50 in a thriftshop but it’s a treasure to me :)

  6. 8-2
    6:23
    am

    :snuggle: It’s atrange how folks collect certain things. I collected vintage aprons for awhile, but after the housefire of 07, I had to let a lot of things go. I had many old aprons, with smocking and embroidery,and various decorations and fabrics,used way back when. I guess the apron collecting brings back fond memories for many of us.

  7. 8-2
    6:27
    am

    Good Morning from NJ, I work at an Assissted Living Home and one of our coffee hour topics was the apron. Many memories can from this coffee clutch chat, thoughts of comfort from Mom, and/or Grammi. Thank you for sharing this. It will bring smiles to countless folks I am sure.

    Lin

  8. 8-2
    6:28
    am

    What a wonderful post. You captured the women of that time beautifully. I miss my grandma so much! My mom surprised me with one of her aprons a month ago. It is a treasure and comforts me to see it hanging in my kitchen.

  9. 8-2
    6:48
    am

    Love this post,enjoyed hearing about all the possible uses for the aprons back in the old days. I’m glad you took Georgia to see Rubys aprons on display,how special,sounds like a lovely afternoon.

  10. 8-2
    6:56
    am

    And don’t forget how soft they are from being washed so frequently. A well-loved calico apron is so comfortingly soft! What a lovely exhibit they’ve made from these workaday objects!

  11. 8-2
    7:17
    am

    I’ve always loved aprons and have at least four or five, but have felt so old fashioned or as one guest put it, “quaint”, for years. And you betcha, mine range from fancy smanchy for company to God-awful for washing the dogs. I’m so happy that aprons are back and yes, I’ll be happy to join you in making a new one!

  12. 8-2
    7:22
    am

    I enjoyed this interesting post very much. Fun to see all the different fabrics, the different patterns, and wonderful handwork on so many of them. Thank you for taking us along.

  13. 8-2
    7:25
    am

    I enjoyed this post. I’m so glad to see aprons making a comeback. There is just something so comforting when you see an apron. My girls wear them all the time when cooking. The other day I was canning tomatoes and it was really hot in the kitchen. I nixed the idea of wearing an apron because I didn’t want another layer of clothes. Serves me right- I stained the heck out of the cotton top I had on. I need to make an apron. I don’t really like any of the ones we have, so I don’t think of wearing them. At work, I wear a chef coat and only don an apron for certain types of service. My grandmother would shake her head at that! What, no apron? :no:

  14. 8-2
    7:31
    am

    I’m going to make an apron too!

  15. 8-2
    8:08
    am

    Yankee Gal, don’t let that “quaint” comment stop you from wearing your aprons with pride. Not more than a few years ago I wrote a book featuring a heroine who wore aprons all the time. To me, that one characteristic said “this woman is a loving person, a nurturer of others.” Nothing quaint or old fashoned about that. It’s the trademark of a woman who spends a lot of time in the kitchen feeding and caring for others.

    So, yes on aprons and apron pride! I’m feeling the urge to go buy some material right now! Too bad it’s only 7AM. Guess I’ll have to be patient. :turtle:

  16. 8-2
    8:14
    am

    Re: my comment to Yankee Gal, I didn’t mean to sound condescending or to imply that you weren’t proud of wearing your aprons. I just know a few people who have made those kind of backhanded compliments to me and it’s so hurtful (like the friend who looked at the wallpaper I had just spent days hanging and said “Oh, I’m so glad that someone other than me has trouble getting the seams perfectly straight).” Hmmm…what a nice thing to say.

  17. 8-2
    8:29
    am

    I own two aprons, and wear them when I cook because I have a large “shelf” in front, and usually spill on it at least once a meal. Remember my Grandmother was never without hers.

  18. 8-2
    8:38
    am

    I have my material, the cap is cute…
    When do we start? :sun:

  19. 8-2
    8:48
    am

    I remember my great-grandmother and great aunts and grandmother always wearing aprons and I used to think every time I put on of theirs on to help ‘cook’ that it made me a part of them. I am still hurt by the fact that my mom tossed some of the old ones away many years ago. I at least still have the ones my great aunt made for my sister me over 40 years ago. I sent my sister’s to her last spring with copies of old recipes I had found.

  20. 8-2
    8:56
    am

    You sure brought back some happy memories with this post! I can never remember a time when my Grandmas, Mom or Aunts were in the kitchen minus an apron! I blogged about Chickens In the Road this morning…my favorite “farm fix!” You bring a smile to my face and gladness in my heart Suzanne!

  21. 8-2
    9:04
    am

    I remember my Gransma in her aprons. What a great post to remind us of those days!
    I love your material for your apron. It is so sunny and cheerful! Your apron is going to be great!

  22. 8-2
    9:17
    am

    2nd photo, 1st apron on the left…I don’t remember what it’s called, but my great auntie Grace taught me how to do that. You have to carefully pull the gingham threads, then with floss, you overlap the remaining threads to make a floss ” x ” in each opening. I made a set of pillowcases. How fun to see it used in the apron.

  23. 8-2
    9:24
    am

    My mom and grandmas always wore aprons. They weren’t completely dressed unless they had their aprons on. It seemed like they had just as many aprons as dresses. Like you said they had plain and then they had fancy aprons. My mom crocheted, she made my sisters and I crocheted aprons. We wore those on Christmas day. I still have mine, I’m not sure if my sisters have theirs or not. Thanks for bringing back an old memory. PS: I can still remember my mom milking our one jersey cow, apron and all. Have a great day!

  24. 8-2
    9:32
    am

    Surely you’ll be making the matching cap??

  25. 8-2
    9:53
    am

    Good Morning Suzanne, I have several that I love to wear, but I think that I will accept your challenge and give it a whirl!! I will let you know how the adventure unfolds.

  26. 8-2
    10:16
    am

    I’m fortunate enough to have some aprons from my mother…but sadly, none of the bib front aprons my Grandma made from feed sacks made it to any of the grandchildren. Rather than put a loop to go around her neck she took 2 small safety pins and fastened it to her dress. Even though they were worn to pieces, I would loved to have had at least one…I had sat on that lap and buried my head in those aprons so many times they probably had my nose print all over it!! Thanks for the memories!

  27. 8-2
    10:50
    am

    I had no interest in the so called “menial labor” until the past couple of years. I am the daughter of a mother who is well educated in cooking and sewing, but I don’t remember her ever wearing an apron. Luckily I did learn from her cooking skills, but I feel there are so many others I wish I’d learned that are now on my Life List of things to learn. I recently learned canning and I’m so excited. I love these aprons, and wish I lived closer to visit the exhibit.

  28. 8-2
    12:52
    pm

    I’ve got one! I’ve got one! I wear it a lot. A always have an apron hanging in the kitchen for when I want to cook or eat something in my good work clothes. (I’m a sloppy eater, I think.)

    They are good for painting too. I’m always picking up the bursh to fix this or that on a painting while waring my good clothes. All my clothes have a little paint on them, somewhere. I usually wear an apron when painting.

    I like your mateiral.

  29. 8-2
    1:10
    pm

    I love vintage aprons and thoroughly enjoyed the display at the Holt House !!! Please thank Georgia for sharing!!

  30. 8-2
    3:23
    pm

    Both of my grandmas and my mom wore aprons. I wish I had just one of them. Unfortunately I was too young when my grandmas left this world, and I have very little of theirs. My mom, (a 93-year old retired home economics teacher) stopped wearing her many aprons years ago and got rid of them long before I realized their incredible sentimental value. I do have some of my 2 grandma’s and mom’s precious home made potholders, though!

    I’m just beginning my canning experience (at 62) with home grown veggies. Gotta make an apron of my own before all my clothes get tomato-stained!

    Love your posts, Suzanne. I look forward to them every day. Thanks so much! :happybutterfly:

  31. 8-2
    3:51
    pm

    Oh my I love those aprons, and love your website, it is so unique :chicken: just so much fun thank you for sharing all these wonderful old aprons, I have some new material fixing to make one myself, needing to get some straight pins, and some eyelet to go around the edges then I will set out to make my new apron, they are so nice, I have a couple but in dire need of a new one, thanks again for this lovely blog,God bless you, and lots of hugs,
    :chicken: :chicken: :chicken: ♥Known as Mama hen♥

  32. 8-2
    4:29
    pm

    I love making aprons — I have two patterns that I really like that I use over and over. My grandma wore two aprons — a flour sack apron that was her work apron, and then if company came to the door, she’d slip of her work apron and have a pretty, embroidered apron underneath it — her company apron! :)

  33. 8-2
    7:54
    pm

    My mother always wore aprons and had lots of tissue in her pockets. She had a variety and loved to change them for each occasion. Good memories… :sun: :sun: :sun:

  34. 8-2
    8:21
    pm

    Me too! I want to make an apron – I have a lot of them stored away – some my mom’s – some from garage sales. I have a ton of fabric so I’m ready.

    Brendyblue

  35. 8-2
    9:28
    pm

    I love my growing apron collection (though i have made more for friends than myself), i have always found them so useful and wonderful especially being a military wife and mumma with all the moving crafting to make my new home homey, or just our daily baking with my two yearold. aprons are wonderful!!
    i’ve always had them but i’m an old soul!

  36. 8-2
    10:03
    pm

    Suzanne, What a lovely post! I love vintage aprons and these are especially colorful and charming.

    Susan

  37. 8-2
    10:21
    pm

    I love this post! Made me think about my Granny’s aprons, which I hadn’t thought about in a LONG time. Good memories. Now I want to make one too! I also really liked the list of things aprons were used for…so true!

  38. 8-2
    11:28
    pm

    I do, I do! You are so inspiring. I hope you will give a tutorial post on making our own. :shimmy:

  39. 8-3
    6:44
    am

    I am a grandma…….and I wear an apron daily. I like the chef’s style with bib and large pockets across the front. I have worn my four aprons down to the threads.

    This post inspired me to get out that piece of denim and cut out two more. I made one yesterday afternoon, a sort of vintage style out of vintage denim and made on a 1960 Kenmore vintage machine. Almost forgot, for a vintage woman.

    P.S. The denim was really too heavy but should be a sturdy apron for gardening. Did you list gardening as a use? I wear one almost always for that…..keep pruners, my handy knife, set of keys (DH always locks the blasted door when he goes out), seed packets……very handy.

  40. 8-3
    9:08
    am

    This is a wonderful story. It brings back memories of sewing in jr. high school,that was our first project, a apron. I still have mine! Also remember mother-in-law coming home from church and putting on her apron to cook Sunday dinner because evening church wasn’t that long off.

  41. 8-3
    9:55
    am

    Thanks for this post, I love anything vintage. I made aprons for the sisters for Christmas last year, and guess what?? they are “saving” them. I used to “save” stuff, but at my age, I have started to use everything, why put something beautiful in a closet??

  42. 8-3
    7:36
    pm

    ya know. I have a brand new sewing machine but can’t for the life of me figure out how to thread the bobbin if I could.

    Bit I love any old fashioned, rose type prints, feminine patterns. Any of your commenters out there that would like to make an apron for hire (the over the head, crossover in back, pockets kind.. just special for me.. I’d love to chat. Click my link and shoot an email if you’re interested.

    ::swoooooon::::

  43. 8-4
    1:29
    am

    I love the aprons.Iam in I will sew one a long with you.

  44. 8-4
    10:21
    am

    I LOVED the article on the aprons. It brought back so many memories of my grandmother, Effie Gandee, who lived just up Johnson Creek from your great-aunt Ruby. I treasure the aprons that I have that belonged to her. Thanks for the memories!! Would love to see the display.

  45. 8-4
    1:36
    pm

    This is one of those posts that bring back memories and for me a bit of shame.

    I went to work as a young married woman in a factory where I got both myself and my clothes grimey and dirty. I could remove the dirt and grime from myself, but not my clothes. My husband’s grandmother made me three aprons similar to the pattern you are planning to use. I wore them until that job ended. I don’t know what ever became of them, which I hate, but most of all, I don’t know if in my ignorant youth, I ever even thanked her.

    My oldest daughter asked for a homemade apron for Christmas two years ago and I made her one. She says she wears it any time she cooks.

  46. 8-4
    8:07
    pm

    I love your description of the many uses of the apron. It brought back many good childhood memories for me. Many of my, (now passed relatives) wore aprons.
    I wished I could see all of the aprons on display.
    Thanks for the smile.
    Geri

  47. 8-4
    8:25
    pm

    To carry kindling in an apron, lyou wouldn’t put it in a pocket, you would lift the bottom up to make a sling, and stack it in with one hand while you held up the apron with the other. I took Home Economics in 7th grade, and the first thing we made was an apron and matching potholders. I had many dresses made from flour sacks. We could go to the store that carried the printed sacks and try to find enough matching ones to make a dress. I learned to sew on a treadle machine, and those babies can stitch through anything!! My current electric faints at the sight of upholstery fabric. Good luck to you young women, making aprons, and don’t forget the potholders!!

  48. 8-8
    12:45
    am

    Thank you for this resource.
    I’ve been looking for a pattern for this type of apron (utility) for some time. The butcher style bothers my neck.

    Thanks again.

  49. 8-8
    7:23
    am

    New to Chicken In The Road! I have an Apron question. Was the high bidder on a large lot of vintage aprons and am a little befuddled. They are all bib aprons but do not have ties that go around the neck. The top of the bib is just straight and does not have any button holes, velcro or any other embellishments to hold the bib up. Can anyone shed light on why they were made this way?
    :sheepjump:

  50. 8-8
    10:44
    am

    Aprons are wonderful and I wear one daily because it’s my uniform. My clothes are kept cleaner, I always have a pocket, or three, a towel is always handy and memories are in the making.
    Love this post and thanks to Kathy in KY for sending me here. My family, the Hamrick’s, go back a ways in WV and I love reading WV blogs, many thanks.

  51. 8-10
    12:36
    am

    I collect aprons! I only have about five or six. I love them and wear them to do feeding and work in the garden. One baby goat unties my apron strings every day! I always know where he is!
    My grandmother used to give her handmade aprons away for presents. They always had Chicken Scratch embroidery on them! Sad to say I don’t have a single one she made, but I do have a quilt and one in progress that she started and my mother worked on and I have promised to finish! (it’s all chicken scratch) does anyone know what I’m talking about??
    Awesome post today! enjoyed very much!

  52. 8-10
    12:38
    am

    they used safety pens to hold them up. they were more comfortable that way.

  53. 8-10
    10:51
    pm

    This is such a nice tribute to your aunt, and your photographs are beautiful. Thank you for sharing! I just found your blog tonight but will be coming back – love it!

  54. 8-11
    8:23
    pm

    I will be making a few also…
    Thanks for the great post.

  55. 8-12
    12:27
    am

    Mama put her apron on when she got up in the morning and took it off when she went to bed. She had some gingham checked ones that were so thin from wear that you could see right through them. In fact, I think I’ve got one of them in the drawer with her sweater. One of the last sewing projects I did for her not long before her death was to make her some new aprons, but I had to use the same pattern she’d been wearing for all my life!!!

  56. 8-16
    2:28
    pm

    I just had to say that I was without reliable internet for the last month, and therefore unable to download your blog to my reader. Now that I’m catching up, I am just SO HAPPY. Thank you for being wonderful you!!

  57. 8-17
    6:00
    pm

    The apron display caught my eye. What a great way to celebrate the heritage of women. I go back to this post often and I’ve read the info several times. I see something different and new each time I go back to check it out.

  58. 8-20
    12:34
    pm

    I love aprons! Being a young wife (46), I must wear one to keep my shirt clean. Too many shirts with stains. I am a messy cook. I inherited a whole bag of flour sacks from a wonderful woman. She had used them as dish towels though and the material is kind of greasy. I don’t know how to clean them to use them to make aprons.
    Thanks for your post.

  59. 8-21
    6:06
    am

    I love my aprons . I love to make them too . I love deep pockets for my garden aprons .

  60. 8-21
    3:22
    pm

    At our quilt show three years ago we had a quilt on display that was the owners grandmothers aprons appliqued to the top. It was really nice.

  61. 8-29
    2:59
    pm

    :happypuppy: i think your site is just wonderful! i look forward to seeing and reading each time. keep up the good work! i love it!!!!

  62. 8-29
    4:09
    pm

    If you would like to make a great little holder/hook, to hang your apron on, you might like to make one like I did, Take a fork with a pretty handle and drill a hole in the top then bend the 2 outside tines up and curl them over a little now screw this to your kitchen wall and your apron is always ready to use.

  63. 8-29
    10:26
    pm

    I love vintage aprons! I have collected many and have posted about them on my blog before. My grandmother always wore an apron. I think it is neat that the historical society has a display of them.

  64. 2-25
    1:24
    pm

    I love aprons and I love the way I feel when I wear my vintage aprons. Like that person you described who keeps the home warm and fuzzy. This story would have been a wonderful accompaniment to the display.

  65. 5-3
    5:34
    pm

    Just found this older post – love it! Makes me wish I had signed up for the Apron Making Class at the Retreat! Maybe there’s still time!

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