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While an apron-like garment can be traced back to ancient Egypt, aprons, as we know them, evolved from the middle ages and their use by tradesmen – blacksmiths, cobblers, butchers, etc as protective gear. As other trades began to adopt the apron in their practice, they began to be made from cloth (versus leather for the rougher trades such as blacksmithing). And, as cloth began to establish itself as the material of choice, colors began to appear, denoting specific skills – barbers wore a checked pattern; butchers and porters, green; masons, white. The word “apron,” in fact , is a more modern word coming from the French word “naperon," meaning napkin or small tablecloth.

During the mid 19th century, in the wild, wild United States, aprons were beginning to be used by an increasing number of women to protect clothing from the harshness of their daily chores and tasks. However, as the century came to an end, and prosperity swept across our culture, aprons began to be seen as class related garments and were frequently relegated to use by maids, cooks and others serving the upper class. There was a brief resurgence up the class ladder during and after the depression as money was tight and resources to wash clothes were at a minimum. However, times changed, the economy improved and 1920s America reveled in a post-suffrage feminism that viewed the apron as a symbol of domestic restraint. Not to mention that, once WWII was over and domestic machinery production could be re-aimed at consumer spending, the washing machine began to invade every post-war, GI-bill built bungalow from Boston to L.A. (thus making it less necessary to protect one’s clothes with such vigilance).

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In the 1950s and 60s, thanks to Blondie Bumstead, Harriet Nelson and June Cleaver, the apron, again, saw a bit of a revival. This time around, television’s shaping of the perfect woman saw the apron appear as a statement of fashionable domesticity. You weren’t the perfect hostess if you weren’t sporting a decoratively-trimmed, color- coordinated apron. But, social mores changed again and the apron was swept away with bras in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

Sadly, the apron never again took as big a place in the home as it did during the 50’s and 60’s…until today. Sure, the numbers aren’t quite as big, but there’s a lot of aprons being made and worn by 21st century women. Credit the resurgence in sewing, the advancement in technology or the rise of Etsy, but aprons are back in a big way and they are truly beautiful.

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I love aprons! As a fashion sewing entrepreneur (IndygoJunction.com), aprons have always been a big part of the patterns we offer. As well, as the author of Vintage Notions, aprons appear prominently throughout my book. One of my absolute favorite publications in my collection I discovered during my book research. It’s called “Apron Lore, Practical Suggestions About the Housewife’s Best Friend”. This 1916 piece contains a number of wonderful gems:

A waterproof apron of oilcloth or rubber, cut by the simple butcher’s
pattern, while not pretty, is very serviceable, especially on wash day. The
wide cloth is cut in one piece and the cut edges are bound with a bias fold of
muslin. A damp cloth easily cleanses such an apron

(ed) So many wonderful laminates out today that could fit the bill for this
style

and…

If the apron pocket be set at the left instead of the right it is less likely to
catch upon knobs and projections. Another means of protecting it from
tearing is to set it beneath the apron, instead of upon the outside, and to
open it by a lengthwise slit faced back at the seam.

…finally,

Some cooks claim that the best apron to wear in the kitchen is one with
a ruffle across the bottom, as the ruffle stands out and flour or liquid
spilled upon the apron and running downward are deflected and thrown
outward instead of soiling hem of the dress skirt exposed below the
apron.

For those interested in reading the entire document, a PDF of the “Apron Lore” publication can be downloaded by clicking here.

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In my book, Vintage Notions, aprons appear no fewer than four times. And, as I’ve traveled around promoting the book’s release, few have been as popular as the Magic Pattern for making a simple, bias-trimmed slip-over apron. The bias trim makes it easy to add a unique styling touch while the pattern itself is quite easy to make. As a give-a-way to my BurdaStyle readers, if you click on the picture of the apron spread above, you can download a copy of the Magic Pattern for your very own.

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As I mentioned previously, my fashion pattern and supplies business, IndygoJunction.com, has been selling apron patterns for over 20 years. There are over 15 fantastic patterns available, with stylish options and varying degrees of construction. Over the years, each has been popular for its own unique reason:

- Our Afternoon Tea Apron (pattern number IJ837) has a unique back styling that’s very flattering and has proven quite popular.

- The All Day Apron (IJ873) has a great silhouette and is too pretty to be required only in the kitchen.

- The Bon Appétit Apron (IJ715) has been popular due to its use of repurposed, vintage tablecloths in its construction.

- Our Stylish Smock Apron (IJ731) has a slimming front panel seen above in an illustration from Apron Lore.

To see examples of the all of the aprons mentioned above, including the man’s shirt apron from Vintage Notions, take a look at a our Indygo Junction Apron Trunk Show video we just made. It shows a large number of the patterns we carry matched with beautiful, finished examples.

Never fear, though, if you’re simply in a “where can I buy a fantastic apron” mood, there are so many talented folks out there you’ll have no trouble at all adding an apron to you kitchen routine. Here are just a few:

- Valerie Wilson Reed’s hostess aprons

- Pinafore-style aprons at Kitchen “Wear” Aprons

- The stylishly designed, yet very vintage-themed aprons at Stitch Thru Time

Are any of you already sewing aprons? Do you have fond memories of your mother, or grandmother, with her favorite apron? If you’d like a chance to win a copy of my Vintage Notions book, along with your choice of three apron patterns from Indygo Junction, then comment on this post and tell us about your favorite apron, yours or others, and we’ll draw a winner from among the commenters.

Thank you again for letting me share my love of all things vintage…especially aprons.

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~Amy

Amy Barickman is the founder and owner of Indygo Junction, The Vintage Workshop and AmyBarckman.com. She is a leader in the sewing, needle arts and retail crafting industry having sold more than two-million sewing patterns and published 80 books sold throughout the world. Her recent endeavor is the book “Amy Barickman’s Vintage Notions: An Inspirational Guide to Needlework, Cooking, Sewing, Fashion and Fun”, is already on its third printing since its release in September of 2010. Other best-selling titles include: “Indygo Junction’s Button Ware” and, most recently, “Hankie Style”.

57 Comments

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    Aug 22, 2012, 03.41 PMby edelpero

    Thank you for your free download, simply awesome.

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    Apr 27, 2011, 05.32 AMby kg42

    My favorite apron is one my mother made from my father’s old pants. She cut the pants apart, made fabric from the pieces and cut out a simple apron shape, edged with red bias tape, long ties for easy tying. I think of them both whenever I wear it

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    Apr 15, 2011, 01.06 PMby job

    I have used your Bon Appetit pattern to make an apron from old linen tablecloths bought from Op shops. I am embellishing the apron with my grandmother’s hand written recipes, photos and embroidered doilies as a memory piece about her and will display it on a form with her late 1920’s wedding dress.

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    Apr 14, 2011, 08.03 PMby grandmacoco

    I have one of my great-aunt’s aprons. She was born in the late 1800’s and she loved to sew useful things. I cherish that apron.

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    Apr 14, 2011, 03.32 PMby sewchicago

    Every apron tells a story…for years I volunteered as “Mother Goose” to read stories to grades K-3. I always wore the same dress, but I changed my apron each week to reflect the theme for the stories I read to the children. The kids would come in and first thing they’d check my apron for the topic. I made aprons about dogs, cats, health, balloons, holidays, sports, buttons, penguins, outer space, clocks, Chinese New Year, and many more. Just too much fun! I hope to pass on the aprons someday.

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    Apr 14, 2011, 01.57 AMby jessicabiggs

    My county seat, Frederick (Maryland), is not only known for Francis Scott Key, but also as the birthplace of Claire McCardell. Although, lesser-known, her design of the “pop over dress”, some of which came with oven mitts, made her a household name during World War II. She made something as utilitarian as an apron fashionable. She was an inspiration to me and one of the reasons I majored in design in college. It would be awesome to own something of hers, but way more valuable to me is the homemade apron my Grandma gave me. It’s made of vintage 4-H logo fabric, green H’s and clovers on a white background. As a farmer’s wife, she had many aprons and could be seen wearing one whether she was canning or cooking or gardening. She passed away 2 months ago and I cherish this apron with all my heart. It’s a simple reminder of the hard-working, kind, loving person she was and the kind of person I will always strive to be.

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    Apr 13, 2011, 03.28 PMby kmtwriter

    Aprons always make me think of my Grandmother, who was both an apron maker and apron wearer. She sewed professionally for James Galanos, so even if her aprons were pieced out of scraps the construction was always impeccable. She would make Kappogi (Japanese smock) and other style aprons for family and friends. At church events involving food there were always armies of tiny Japanese-American women wearing aprons and kerchiefs, many of them made by my Grandmother. I still have one of her old aprons that she handed down to me as a kid. I keep it for sentimental reasons as I’ve long outgrown her size of 4’ 10” and 90 lbs.

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    Apr 13, 2011, 02.08 PMby Stephanie Nelson

    I love sewing aprons. Thanks for all the information. I remember my mother had many different apron some one was black netting and only brought out for fancy occasions! Not really for cooking but for looking.

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    Apr 13, 2011, 11.42 AMby llynn23

    Thanks for this wondeful pattern! I’m just getting back to sewing after 30 years of kids and out of the house working at the job…I love this pattern with no pattern! I like to sew gifts for Christmas, birthdays, etc. This one will be a favourite!

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    Apr 13, 2011, 05.19 AMby sherris

    My grandma was very talented in the kitchen—a pie baker extraordinaire, and I inherited her rolling pin when she passed away—and she always wore a pinafore type apron while cooking/baking; it was soft and worn and faded and NOT for company to see. Then, when it was time to serve, she took it off, hung it behind the door, and tied on a ruffly one or a chiffon one or a decorated felt one. I now have about 100 vintage aprons of all sorts—I can’t get enough of them! And yes, I wear a pinafore style when I bake…hope to be as good as Grandma Betty one day!

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    Apr 13, 2011, 05.03 AMby JanMadeIt

    I came across a couple of pieces of fabric in my stash today, a purple with a huge diagonal block, and a green print.They were remnants I couldn’t resist. I have just less than half of the diagonal block, but I had to buy it because it will make the cutest apron. The green is a perfect complimentary print and color. I figure I can use it to stretch the diagonal print enough to actually function as an apron. That’s what I love about aprons. They make all my fabrics so mix-and-matchable! Oh, and they also keep me from wiping my hands on the seat of my jeans.

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    Apr 13, 2011, 04.10 AMby kathasaurus

    LOVE the vintage picts! So great!

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    Apr 13, 2011, 04.09 AMby verdianna

    Just in time I have a stack of materials set aside for spring aprons and as soon as the school semester finishes I aim to whip up a few. I use decorator cottons so they are nice and tough though I have been thinking about a more waterproof one. I got rave reveiws from the apons I gave as gifts over the holidays in december and would love to win any of this stuff

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    Apr 13, 2011, 03.00 AMby nanette50

    I love vintage aprons. I have one that I use from time to time in red and white floral. That seems to be a popular color combo for the time period. An apron was my first project when I was learning to sew about 42 yrs. ago! I am currently making my daughter a half apron out of pink cupcake fabric. She’s a baker and loves cupcakes! I would love to have the Indygo Junction’s All Day Apron pattern. It’s a great ‘updated vintage’ apron and looks comfortable and cute with the bottom ruffle. The book would certainly be an interesting read too.

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    Apr 13, 2011, 02.20 AMby lindzfamily

    I love aprons! Maybe it is because I am inherently clumsy and end up with a mess down my front! My favorite usually is a seasonal thing! Though my fall-to, is my basic butcher style apron sewn in a barnyard scene fabric.

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    Apr 13, 2011, 02.14 AMby xiaowumei

    Love vintage aprons, and have been looking for a pattern to use to make one of my own! So glad this article got posted on here!

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    Apr 13, 2011, 02.01 AMby loloan

    I’m about to make an apron at a sewing class this weekend, so this was perfect timing! I seem to love the aprons that I could almost see myself wearing as a skirt or dress, like Prudencerabbit’s Obi Apron here. This one is amazing too http://icemilkaprons.com/Full_Apron_Rollings_of_Cinnamon.html

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    Apr 13, 2011, 01.32 AMby valoried

    I always feel more efficient wearing an apron. I like aprons with several large pockets, so handy. I worked with a nurse that had a white apron that carried all of her equipment and supplies. She was one person that was always prepared. So aprons aren’t just for the home. I’d like to make matching tea aprons for my two granddaughters and me out of a pretty vintage floral print – maybe for Christmas..

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    Apr 13, 2011, 12.11 AMby cherylchermayn

    When I was first learning to sew in 10th grade Home Ec class, the first item I ever made was a simple half apron. I’ve always been so thankful that I took that class and made that apron—it was the beginning of a very enjoyable and productive hobby. I love that feeling of “I made it myself”! Over the years I’ve collected many vintage aprons from country auctions, and just added eight new ones last week! I would love to win the book! Cheryl Maynard

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    Apr 12, 2011, 11.41 PMby minnieaudrey

    Ohh the bon appetite apron is wonderful looking! My own favourite apron is one I bought a few years ago. It is an original 1940s apron that has a delightful pattern of a scene two ladies in mid 19th dress dancing with flowers that you embroider over. I love it, but it is only half completed, as I am only a beginner and some of the stitches I still have to learn! However I love doing it and I love learning the new stitches. I cant wait till it is finished and I can start wearing it!

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    Apr 12, 2011, 10.13 PMby reLYME

    I absolutely adore aprons. It could be because the very sight of them makes me think about helping my mom make homemade pastas or cookies. (I think my mom only made me wear one because she hoped that my clumsy kitchen skills resulted in more flour ending up in the apron pockets than on the floor. I still struggle with this issue!) Anyway, since I loooove baking, I have a fascination with aprons. My current favorite apron is this one from Anthropologie, and I’m hoping I can DIY this apron ASAP: http://www.anthropologie.com/anthro/catalog/productdetail.jsp?id=983503&catId=HOME-KITCHEN-APRONS&navCount=0&navAction=jump&isProduct=true&pushId=HOME-KITCHEN-APRONS&fromCategoryPage=true&color=070&templateType=D

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    Apr 12, 2011, 09.48 PMby bezmommy1

    I love aprons! My mom and grandmother were never apron wearers, but I love Lucille Ball and June Cleaver as well as Ma Ingalls- I was just born in the wrong era. I have a collection of vintage aprons that I’ve collected over the years and love to use for cooking and cleaning. I also enjoy sewing aprons so thisbook would be perfect! I have several favorites, all of them vintage, some with embroidery and my favorite, ric rac :)

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    Apr 12, 2011, 09.19 PMby colerose76

    I have many of my grandmothers aprons from ruffly to utilitarian. One that had her name on it and tied at the sides, I have taken her name off of it and embroidered, “I’d rather be embroidering”. I has three pockets on the front and when I go to my embroidery club I keep sizzors and other things in it so I don’t lay them down and they accidently end up in someone elses things, it’s great. the frilly ones i let my granddaughters wear when they are visiting and helping in the kitchen, it’s a little like dress up and it keeps their clothes clean. we have lots of fun.

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    Apr 12, 2011, 09.17 PMby karinelson

    Started wearing aprons more the last few years as I don’t always take time to change out of “work clothes” before cooking, etc., so the few I have are showing the wear. Can’t wait to make a few new ones for myself – they’re fun and easy to sew, totally useful, they make great gifts, too!

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    Apr 12, 2011, 08.50 PMby Jessica Boustead Aiken

    Love aprons, but none of the women in my family, within my memory, ever wore them. My exposure to aprons was mostly through the old American sitcoms and the British sitcoms on PBS. Love them though. In my world where it’s all wiping noses, fixing food, and cleaning constantly, it’s a truly utilitarian way to accessorize.

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    Apr 12, 2011, 08.41 PMby suebee2

    I love aprons and make my own. I have one with apples that I wear for baking pies. My sister and I went to an apron exhibit and had fun remembering the different style aprons that we remembered. Do you recall the aprons worn in restaurants? Brigham’s and Howard Johnson’s aprons were there as well as Kresge! I love your patterns.

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    Apr 12, 2011, 07.53 PMby missvintagegirl

    I love aprons, though my mom or grandmothers never really wore them much. My favorite TV show is “I Love Lucy,” and I love Lucy Ricardo’s many aprons! She wore one in a particular episode that was a half-apron made from gingham, with a rickrak heart. I loved that one. I want to recreate so many of hers! =)

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    Apr 12, 2011, 07.38 PMby sterstikka

    I love aprons! Great post. :) I have one that I made a few years ago, but my favorite is probably one I bought in Seattle from someone who had made one out of a cloth rice sack! I’m excited to try your slip-over apron and would love to win your book! :) Thanks.

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    Apr 12, 2011, 07.38 PMby pboswell

    Love vintage aprons, i have one hanging in my kitchen as a pretty not for use. I work in housing for low income senior citizens and every May we celebrate Older Americans Month. As part of our activities a staff member and a few residents make simple vintage inspired aprons for everyone. It has become a regular part of our celebration and the aprons are quite popular.

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    Apr 12, 2011, 07.22 PMby braaains

    I absolutely LOVE aprons – I love making them, I love wearing them (in the house and out!), I love talking about them! My all-time favorite apron is a pink dish-towel apron that my mom’s grandmother made. I seldom wear it because it’s getting very old, but when I do, I like to think of all the stories my mom told me about her grandmother, and even though I never met her, I feel like I’m in the kitchen with her, making some of the same family recipes. My current go-to apron for when I’m cooking right now, though, is this apron I got at a tourist souvenir shop when my boyfriend and I recently celebrated our anniversary in Paris…it’s the most horribly tacky thing – butcher style, with red, white, and blue vertical stripes, and a picture of a cat wearing a beret, striped muscle shirt, and neck scarf, carrying a baguette and standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve named the cat Jacques…I didn’t think wearing an apron could be so much fun!

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