When my Great-great Aunt passed away, her son asked my mother to come help him clear his mother’s house. Oh my, what a treasure trove! Aunt Dora was born in 1871 and died in 1956 so a lot of what she had was from the late 1800s and early 1900s. And then, too, her mother, my Great-great Grandmother, lived with Aunt Dora after my G-g grandfather passed away. When she moved in with her daughter she brought a lot of her stuff with her. Mom bought some of the furniture, Aunt Dora’s son gave her some things and he also gave me some things. Lots of things! He was hauling out the clothes and putting them on a bonfire and I had to scramble to save anything of that sort. I got a bonnet, a pair of bloomers that came to below the knee, a slip and an apron. When Aunt Dora’s granddaughter came by my house one time she took the bonnet, slip, and bloomers and left me the apron. It is made of flour sacks and used to be longer than it is now. If you look carefully at the picture you can see that there is no longer a hem on it but just a raw edge. I have no idea of why that is unless perhaps Aunt Dora scorched it getting a pan off the stove. She often used her apron as a pot holder is used and she cooked on a wood stove. Aunt Dora wore ankle length dresses all of her life and her aprons were long enough to protect the dress, so you can see that this one has had some fabric removed.
My grandmother wore an apron almost all the time when she was working around the house. In one of the pockets on the apron was a gaily printed handkerchief and she often used that hankie to wipe the sweat, and dirt, from the face of any of us kids when we ran in to get a drink or see if dinner was ready. The apron might be full of peas she was shelling or socks she was matching and rolling, but if not it was used to wipe our faces. She never shooed us away, we were free to lean against her and tell her of the important stuff we had been doing and it was such a comfort to lean on Grandmother. She always smelled of yeast, or vanilla, or some other kitchen scent that seemed a perfect smell for a grandmother. If we had fallen and hurt ourselves our bawling brought forth copious tears accompanied by an equal amount of snot. It didn’t matter to Grandmother that we lay our head in her lap and wiped those tears and snot on her apron, it seemed that is what it was for. It was a comfort, like the woman who wore it.
When it came time for Grandmother to break up housekeeping and go stay with one of her kids she asked me if there was anything in the house I wanted and, of course, there was, I wanted her thimble and one of her aprons. She gave both to me and I still have them. She gave three or four other things to me also and I cherish each item, but the apron is very special. It is made from a flour sack and is pretty fancy for grandmother as it is trimmed with rick-rack.
My mom’s aprons were a bit different from Grandmothers. But they were still used for a variety of things and we kids were accustomed to seeing Mom in an apron. She would take it off just before she sat down at the table to eat. One of the first things I learned to make when I started sewing, and I started sewing before I ever went to school, was a simple apron. Mom said every lady wore an apron to keep her clothes fresh. And it is true that all the ladies I knew growing up wore aprons. If I still used a wringer washing machine, hauled clothes to the line and hung them to dry, wagged them back in by the basketful, sprinkled and then ironed them, I might be more particular with my clothes by wearing aprons even yet.
This apron that Mom wore was made by me for a 4-H project and it wrapped Mom almost all the way around. It only lacked a little meeting in the back and is made from two pieces left over from dresses Mom made for me. I had a pink dress and I had a pink print dress and the two pieces of leftover material worked well together to make an apron for Mom.
My sister, back in the 1950s, wore an apron, but it didn’t look much like and apron. Very popular at that time were cobbler aprons. They looked very much like a loose fitting, button down the front, sleeveless shirt with big pockets at the hemline and not at the chest. This type of apron was very comfortable, covered the street clothes, gave a person pockets to put stuff in and was easily put on and off. The pockets were a necessity because as we women clean house we are forever picking up something that is out of place in one room and putting it into a pocket until we get to the room where the item belongs and then putting it away. Pockets save a lot of steps. Plus, there was the ever-present handkerchief. I know that people today cannot imagine not having Kleenex, but there was a time when we didn’t have throw-away hankies and we always carried a clean cloth handkerchief in our pocket or purse. If I remember correctly, this apron that my sister wore and loved was made by me in Home Economics class, but of course we simply called it Home Ec.
By the time I was keeping my own house, aprons had become almost more decorative than useful. True they still protected our clothes, at least the lap portion, but they had gotten shorter and frillier and more for looks instead of protection. In the late 1950s and early ‘60s, a lot of women still wore an apron but they were worn more like an accessory. There were some pretty fancy aprons being worn and I’m sure the women wearing them would have been dismayed if something had messed them up or gotten them dirty. My aprons were pretty but were more for usefulness than looks. Hence the cobblers apron I made from a feed sack. If you look closely you can see where there used to be some trim down the front of my apron. It was a brown braid type trim and it got ragged so I took it off so I could keep wearing the apron and not feel like I was wearing rags. I still wear an apron occasionally and when I do I wonder why I don’t make a habit of wearing something to protect my clothes.
I came upon my collection of aprons a few months back and wondered how I became the keeper of the aprons, does anyone else care about them and what to do with them now that more of my life is behind me than before me. My sister’s youngest girl and I were talking recently and I mentioned that I had her mother’s apron and what it looks like and she said, “I think I have a picture of Mother in that apron.” How cool is that? So it was natural for me to ask her if she would like to have her mother’s apron and she said she would love to have it. So I mentioned the others to her and she said, “Sure I want the family aprons too.” So there will soon be a new Keeper of the Aprons in the family.
It is so heart-warming to pass traditions along. I may just have to dig out an apron pattern and make an apron for my niece so she will have one to add to the collection for whoever gets the aprons from her. She will be the fifth generation of apron wearer and needs a special one to pass along to whomever she chooses to become the next Keeper of the Aprons.