It wasn’t too many years ago that every woman doing any kind of domestic work wore an apron. Clothes were scarce, laundry difficult and household chores were often quite messy. Aprons were such a practical part of femininity that grandma’s apron was just a part of her – no one questioned it. They wore them until they were threadbare, adding patches to places that gave way to a burn or constant rubbing – whether on tables or the wash board. And they were beautiful. Aprons were made from sack cloth or leftovers – although I’ve rarely seen one made out of patchwork except the modern versions.
We don’t wear aprons too much anymore. Of course we don’t cook quite as much as previous generations did either, do we? And we have so many modern conveniences that maybe we are able to be a little neater in the kitchen (well I’m sure you are all neater in the kitchen, can’t really claim that myself!). And, I suppose that the ease with which we launder clothes, and the number of outfits we have hanging in our closets make us a little less concerned with spills and spots. But can you imagine how valuable the scrap of fabric tied around your waist would have been to previous generations?
In Replacing Ann I opened with Winnie in tears because she’d torn her only decent dress – and it was a pitifully faded rag. This is the very kind of garment you’d want swathe in a protective layer.
We’ve often talked in our stories about how rare and precious pictures were to earlier generations so women would usually have on their best clothes and certainly not their working apron when they posed for a photographer. Therefore it’s sometimes hard for me to get a good image of the aprons. But some of them got handed down – and mothers made aprons for daughters both while they were at home and when they moved to their own homes. So some of those aprons have survived – and what treasures they are now.
Recently my 102-year-old Great Aunt Willie gave me a little apron she’d made – and used – many years ago. As she did she said, “Grandmother Livesay always wore an apron.” Willie may have forgotten how often I saw HER in an apron. And when my little Ruthie wrapped up in this one it made reminded me that this humble accessory needed to be documented.
My Aunt Roberta kind of collects aprons and it was her collection that supplied the pictures for today’s article. She has old aprons, “Mom may have made this one,” she noted as we looked through the stack. And she has aprons she’s made recently which of course she shares her with all of us. And so the tradition continues I suppose.