Vintage Aprons

The Finished Product/The Original Product/The Finished Product

apron-triptych

Left to right: PSL apron; original vintage apron; 2Spooky apron

Level of Authenticity: I used an authentic vintage pattern and techniques I believe to be historically accurate, but I used modern tools and materials.

Who: My Mom made the original aprons, one for herself and one for her mother-in-law.

What: Vogue 9050, View B.

When: I interviewed my Mom to obtain her recollections about this pattern.  She didn’t have an exact recollection of the date but thought she might have made the original in 1975.  My online research suggests the pattern was first available in November/December of 1974.

Where: My parents lived in Calgary at the time, but my grandparents-to-be lived in an area which was well outside the city limits at the time, on lands that now form part of Canada Olympic Park.

Why: The apron for my Grama was given as a Christmas present.

How:

Materials: The pattern calls for “soft or crisp fabrics” and lists options such as batik, brocade, chambray, eyelet, embroidered fabrics, polished cotton, gingham, pique, satin, voile, organdy, batiste, denim, or border prints.  My mom made her original aprons out of a nice high thread count cotton with both an all-over print and a larger border print.  When I read the list of possible fabrics there were a few major surprises there, like brocade, satin, voile, and organdy.  I’ve always viewed an apron as a working garment and the few times I’ve had the misfortune to get stuck wearing an apron that is not made of a natural vegetable fiber in a tabby weave, I’ve felt like it was useless for wiping or drying my hands on.  I used a selection of contrasting quilting cotton prints and solid-colour linens in my aprons to incorporate some visual contrast.  Although these are fiber types and weave types that I’m sure were available in the 1970s, I don’t feel that the prints are necessarily a good match for what was available in the 1970s, although the PSL apron is at least in nice earthy 1970s-like colours.  It’s sort of irrelevant for the current project, but it’s a good reminder that pattern and colour preferences can change pretty quickly in a culture, and you might want to look at a whole bunch of images from 1475 to make sure you’re getting close before you use an embroidery pattern you’re not sure you can find before 1516.

The pattern also calls for interfacing in the waistband.  I chose not to use any because in the past I’ve found that a layer of linen and a layer of cotton have a sufficient level of structural integrity for my taste.

I don’t know what kind of thread my Mom used when she was making her aprons, but I do know that when I was young and learning to sew from her, we always used polyester thread so I’m going to assume that’s what she used.  I actually don’t know if any other thread fiber types were available in Western Canada in the mid 1970s.  My preference in thread is silk, because I find cotton tangles and/or snaps much too easily for my taste and polyester melts if you’re ironing at a high temperature to get a natural fiber fabric to do your bidding.  However in this project I was using up a bunch of random leftover bobbins that I found in my sewing machine, so I’m not able to say that all of the threads I used were silk, and in some cases I’m not even sure what material they were.

Tools:  My Mom used a printed pattern, Vogue 9050.  Incidentally, she appears to have paid $2.00 for it.  I used the same pattern and the same size, although I’ve altered the pocket pattern piece so it has a contrasting lining and outer shell, which the original did not have.

I totally forgot to ask my Mom which sewing machine she thought she had when she made the original aprons.  I know she went through several inferior models from major Canadian department stores before shelling out what were no doubt then big bucks for a fancy Husqvarna (I think like this one) with interchangeable cams that let you sew about 30 different decorative stitches and also, importantly for me as a child and beginner seamstress, a low gear for sewing only half as fast.  Up until only a few years ago, I would have been perfectly able to sew my aprons on the very same machine if I had wanted to, but sadly she went to use it a couple years ago and discovered that the one plastic part in the whole machine had cracked and they were no longer manufacturing it.  If only she could have held on long enough for 3D printers to be invented, we could have reprinted the part and still be using the machine!  Since 2001, I’ve owned a variety of newer-model Husqvarnas and the one I have right now and used for this project is the Emerald 116.

Techniques: For cutting out I used shears and pins, which is what I learned from my Mom within 10 years of when she made the original apron.  For marking I used a combination of tailors’ tacks, which I learned from my Mom, and a chalk pencil and a seam gauge, which I don’t recall her ever using.  I followed the instructions given in the pattern pretty closely, but I did take off on my own initiative in a couple of places.

Because of the width of some of my fabric and because I was in some places piecing my aprons for colour contrast where the original pattern was all in one piece, I wound up with some exposed seams, which don’t occur in the original piece.  My Mom taught me to finish my edges either by zigzagging them beforehand or by making French seams during construction.  I never was able to perfect my French seam technique and because of my long experience with attempts at historically accurate costume, I don’t like the look of a zigzagged edge.  I didn’t want to do any hand sewing on this project so I used a modified French seam technique in which I turned the raw edges inside the seam allowance together and topstitched them after the seam was done.

In addition I topstitched all of the edges of the bodice to encourage it to lie flat, and to reinforce the seams which had been clipped for turning right side out.  In order to stitch the inside of the waistband down to cover the raw top edge of the skirt, I used a technique my Mom taught me under the name of “stitch in the ditch”.  Using these techniques in combination allowed me to complete the entire project on the machine, without using any hand stitching, which is the way I learned to sew from my Mom, again within 10 years of when she made the original apron.

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