How do you go about making your own version of a vintage apron.
Old sewing books
The first rule, to making or adequately purchasing an “authentic” apron, is proper research. There’s no better way to validate authenticity than by acquiring knowledge of what a particular apron was or wasn’t during a particular point in time.
A good starting point is visiting your local library and browsing sewing books and newspaper and magazine archives from sources such as the San Francisco Call, the Examiner, the San Francisco Herald, Omaha Bee, Delineator, Home Journal and Pictorial Review.
Old sewing books, as a must, are primary sources of information due to aprons favored status as a must-do project in wifery and home economic classes.
Lastly, go to the Internet. Focus on sites providing solid information related to the history and making of aprons. Not all web content is creditable. Pick sources carefully.
How do you actually make an authentic version of this symbol of the home? Use an apron pattern of an authentic vintage apron, use a vintage apron as a template or use instructions from an old newspaper, magazine or book.
If you’re using a vintage sewing pattern, printed or unprinted, be prepared to tweak the pattern and make adjustments.
Not all old apron patterns are user-friendly and as well-written as those of today. Most will not work without ingenuity.
Graded patterns weren’t sold until 1863, after Ebenezer Butterick and his wife invented them in their home and began selling the patterns door-to-door. Even then, patterns were crude cardboard versions made solely for men.
During this time most women and a great many men had more than basic knowledge of sewing because sewing was such a vital part of society. Especially for woman who didn’t have many opportunities outside of the home in terms of employment.
Ebenezer’s patterns weren’t meant to eliminate the need for seamstress and tailoring skills. One needed more than general knowledge of sewing to work effectively with the patterns. Armed with that knowledge and Ebenezer’s “professional” template, home sewing became simpler, more stylish and less inconvenient.
With advance skills, one can use an actual apron as a template or follow print instructions from an old newspaper or book.
Stuffs, notions and other useful things.
A good seamstress works from a muslin prior to starting garment projects. The same rule applies when making intricate aprons.
Admittedly, muslins aren’t necessary when making simple plain half aprons without bells and whistles. A scrap piece of fabric, needle and thread suffices.
In making full-size kitchen, work and garden aprons, such simplicity and unattractiveness would not do. Nor was it recommended when making fancy work half aprons: tea, chafing and sewing aprons.
Women took pride in making even purchased aprons their own. Often adding fancy work, embroidery and applique to enhance the apron’s beauty; regardless of its practical usefulness, which was as important as beauty and daintiness.
Because of these facts, muslins save considerable time, money and effort.
Invest in vintage fabric, vintage fabric reproductions or fabrics true to the period of your chosen apron.
Doing so greatly improves authenticity.
Leaf through old sewing books, magazines and newspapers, in addition to quality on-line sources to get a solid foundation on what materials and prints were available and used during your apron’s period of creation.
The most popular apron materials were gingham and muslin. Percale, dimity, dotted Swiss, linen, organdies, batiste, calico, denim, flowered lawn; crepe de chine and even silk were also popular.
At the early turn of the century and prior, while aprons could be purchased from mercantile, general and stuffs stores, no one apron was alike.
Even so, the preference was to make your own.
No authentic vintage apron is true to form without elements of hand sewing: hemming, embroidering and appliqueing.
Fancy stitching such as old-time shadow embroidery and hemstitching or lines of embroidery (perhaps initials worked in one corner of a linen apron) add to the artistry of your apron and aura of self-sufficiency.
The beauty, for a beginning seamstress, lies in knowing those crooked stitches and minor imperfections add to the charm.
Embroidery and applique designs are quite common on old aprons. Search old pattern books and visit online store and auction sites which specialize in transfer and applique patterns.
When it’s all said and done, authenticity lies in the details. Search thrift, yard and estate sales for leftover buttons, thread, snaps, ric rac, binding, braid, lace and ribbon.
These special touches and improvisation to individual liking make your apron your own; whilst remaining true to the authenticity of the past.
Photos: Calandra Ferguson