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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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    Apr 12, 2011, 07.16 PMby ibeno64

    I love aprons and other vintage notions, so I would love to win this book.

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    Apr 12, 2011, 07.14 PMby coco-fid

    When we visited Grandma in Nebraska, she always seemed to be wearing an apron – cooking (always from scratch), cleaning, crocheting. I miss her so much! I wonder what happened to all her aprons and would have liked to have inherited one. I made an apron from a kit, just to remind me of her, and would like to continue creating the vintage look.

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    Apr 12, 2011, 06.58 PMby heidim

    I just love to read about aprons and what how they’ve changed over the years. I wear them myself, have a fun collection of vintage and modern aprons and I love to make them as often as I can!

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    Apr 12, 2011, 06.53 PMby janks

    I love to read anything about aprons………..I have loved them forever……actually I have a small sewing shop called “Apron Strings”…….I have used many of my grandma’s vintage aprons to decorate my shop…..the ones that she made from gingham with chicken scratch embroidery are my most favorite and my customers always comment on them as well Thanks sew much for your article and the free pattern download!!

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    Apr 8, 2011, 06.42 PMby atrinka

    I use aprons everyday! Mine are very humble, no delicate fabrics or decorations, more like a laboratory apron (I’m an engineer so….) . I’m always paying attention to the hazards in the kitchen!. I also have an unused apron from Nicaragua that has very deep pockets all over (including two with zippers). I’ve been told the ladies over there use this kind of aprons to sell in farmers markets. Thanks for the chance!

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    Apr 8, 2011, 05.41 PMby patchworkmama

    Thanks for the pattern, Amy! Can’t wait to make one. I saw you speak at Sew Expo in Puyallup last year and it was wonderful!

    I have several aprons that belonged to various ladies in my family, and my two faves are from the 40s or 50s. Calico, pretty but very utilitarian, too.

    My favorite that I made was this one (hope the link works) that I designed all by myself: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=137825&id=673433513#!/photo.php?fbid=381936093513&set=a.235222743513.137825.673433513&theater

    Thanks for this article!

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    Apr 8, 2011, 05.35 PMby gabbix

    I call my aprons my “Cooking Dresses” (even when I also use them do dishes) Afortunately, I got a few that my grandmas passed onto me, they used to take such a good care of them and are made out of such a nice and great quality fabric, that they look like brand new! So I never really need to make one, but now I think its a good idea to start sewing for the next generation. Will my nieces use my aprons one day? I hope so!

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    Apr 8, 2011, 05.27 PMby dearedna

    Fantastic post! I’ve always loved aprons, but never read a history of them before. Very interesting. I’ll be busy sewing up a bunch this very afternoon actually, as I make and sell a variety of styles in my Etsy shop. www.dearedna.etsy.com Thanks again! ~E

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    Apr 8, 2011, 05.12 PMby bodicegoddess589

    I absolutely love the little 1916 quote – especially the bit about the ruffle “catching” flour! I never knew that there was a purpose for ruffles. Thanks for the post!

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    Apr 8, 2011, 05.08 PMby all8garden

    My grandma always wore an apron in the kitchen. Her’s were more of the smock type with big pockets. I also have an apron that I found at a local antique store. The person that it was made for had to be shorter than I but I plan on taking a pattern from it and adjusting the holes for the ties to go through so that they at least hit my waist but probably a little lower than that for comfort. I love an apron that will cover the whole front of me. Thanks for the pattern! I’ll have to give it a whirl.

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    Apr 8, 2011, 03.05 PMby vickles

    An apron was the first thing I made without any help! I wear it often as I’m a terribly messy cook. I’d love to make a Christmas one and a cute little waist tie one too.

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    Apr 8, 2011, 11.47 AMby Imogheena Farandel

    For my 24th birthday my Granny bought me a sewing machine. She was a pragmatic person and thought I would get good use from it, seeing how I was forever borrowing my mothers sewing machine. As a thankyou, I wanted to sew her something. She always wore an apron when in the kitchen. I made her one out of blue seersucker (practical, didn’t need ironing, and she loved wearing blue) It had yellow flowers on it, and a ruffle round the bottom. That is the most special apron in the world for me. I am 35 now, still using the same beloved sewing machine, most of the clothes in my wardrobe have been sewn on it. Granny died later in the year I was 24. I miss her still.

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    Apr 7, 2011, 11.54 PMby ravenjasmine81

    I have one apron; it’s just an old tea towel that I sewed some ribbon across the top of to make ties. It works to keep me from wiping my hands on my butt when I get ingredients on them, but I need to make something that actually covers my shirt, too…and a pocket or two would be nice as well!

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    Apr 7, 2011, 09.27 PMby ruthw

    Yes, I always “dress in outfits” as diane-s so nicely puts it, so I always wear aprons when I am cooking. I have made three in the last two years. They are useful for practising techniques on before you try them out on other “more serious outfits”. You can practice with your gathering foot, your piping foot, your rolled hem, your seerer’s decorative stitches, etc, etc. There are lots of free patterns on the net too, and the website Tie One On offers a load of galleries full of inspiration. Also, if you wear an apron over your me-made clothes or your RTW clothes, it’s easy to make every day a “Me-Made Day”.

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    Apr 7, 2011, 09.14 PMby Yaviiniia

    Aprons are both fun and practical :) My mom has a particularly clever specimen, with casings for the straps to run through which makes it adjustable to almost any size.

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    Apr 7, 2011, 07.08 PMby Anita Merrill

    I adore aprons. I love trying out different patterns and they’re just so darn handy. I asked to be able to wear one to my new job so I could have pockets and now the manager has me making aprons for everyone that works the floor.

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    Apr 7, 2011, 05.31 PMby MissSewsItAll

    Yes, Aprons! I love that old article “Apron Lore” thanks for sharing it! I’ve been collecting vintage aprons for years, and now have close to 100 spanning from about 1920 through the 1960’s. Each and every one is an inspiration!

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    Apr 7, 2011, 01.06 PMby toasterdays

    I love aprons!!! I love sewing them and giving them as gifts. I have a ton of vintage aprons I’ve found at garage sales! Sometimes it seems I live in the kitchen and I’m a messy cook, aprons are a practical and beautiful way to keep clean!

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    Apr 7, 2011, 12.56 PMby shkoober

    The first thing I ever sewed was an apron, not very beautiful, but extra rewarding. A year later as a Christmas gift, I whipped up 3 matching gingham vintage inspired aprons complete with ruffles and a decorative bow, for myself and girlfriends. I love wearing it, people often comment when I wear it about being ‘a little housewife’, but the thing is, house work has to get done, and I wear my apron I look great while doing it making it easier!

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    Apr 7, 2011, 11.34 AMby tonierenee

    I love TipNut’s 50 free apron patterns:

    http://tipnut.com/56-free-apron-patterns-you-can-make/

    I got MANY free apron patterns from there! I especially love the 1950’s one I did and posted it on here in my studio. (http://www.burdastyle.com/projects/1950s-aprons)

    Although no one I knew as a kid wore aprons except on tv…I am using them in my kitchen with my family. It does make for a perfect gift (in their favorite theme).

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    Apr 7, 2011, 09.12 AMby mccit

    my mother wears aprons, and actually so does my dad when he washes the dishes. i never really understood that, but whenever i visit and do the dishes, my mom makes me wear one. i did discover that it is a great gift for my parents, since they love aprons.

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    Apr 7, 2011, 09.10 AMby anlusaro

    Thanks for the free pattern. I really like aprons, I have not made one for myself, but I made one for my husband’s grandmother for Christmas, she was quite trilled about it.

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    Apr 7, 2011, 09.05 AMby zenica

    Oh, this brings back memories. My father’s mum used to wear aprons that were a bit like sleeveless jackets… I bet there are pictures of her with it somewhere. I remember a period as a girl when I discovered my mum’s stash of old aprons and absolutely wanted to wear them to kindergarten. And all of a sudden, my friend was wearing one too. The two of us walking to school must have been a real sight ;-)

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    Apr 7, 2011, 03.21 AMby runningwithscissors1

    OK, I have been meaning to make myself an apron, but other projects get in the way, and I need to look for fabric that I want for it. My mom had a Christmas apron she made and needleworked for herself. That is about the only apron I remember her using. As for me, I could use an apron overhaul. I have a gifted “Hairy Potter” (!!) apron and a Christmas one I bought at a craft sale a few years ago.

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    Apr 7, 2011, 03.06 AMby diane-s

    I love aprons! My mother and grandmother wore aprons every day-they always dressed in outfits(not sweats and tshirts!) and so wore aprons over their clothes. When my mom passed away last year I inherited her aprons-and I wear them proudly and remember her cooking in her kitchen-I feel like she is with me when I have one of them on. I would love to have a couple apron patterns to make for my daughters….

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    Apr 7, 2011, 01.20 AMby qsogirl

    I have a vintage-style apron that my husband surprised me with for a birthday gift a few years ago. It has a lovely shape, and I like it so much that I traced it and made a second for a friend :)

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    Apr 6, 2011, 09.40 PMby nehmah

    Thank you for your free download. I do have a question; can this style be cut in oilcloth (today’s version)? I’m very familiar with Indygo Junction patterns, only on a much smaller scale. I have many of IJ’s 18" doll patterns. Cordially, Nehmah

    • This is a question
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