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!