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The Old Apron, The New Apron

posted Apr 30, 2017, 6:10 PM by James Nennemann
By Sherry Perkins

One of the first articles of clothing I was allowed to iron when first learning how, was an apron.  I practiced my skills on many of Mom’s aprons.  She put on a clean apron every morning and if company drove in, she might quickly put on another clean one. The aprons were tucked into a kitchen drawer along with the dish towels and tablecloths.  That made for six to eight aprons, which were sprinkled down with water and placed into the ironing basket every Monday.  I am sure the apron was chosen so that if by chance I didn’t do a great job of ironing out wrinkles or heaven forbid I scorched a spot---it wasn’t the end of the world.  I (at the age of eight or nine) could easily iron the long ties and simple lines of an apron even though the irons of the day were pretty heavy for a child.

My great--great-great grandmother’s (late 1800’s) apron was of muslin, ankle length and had a pocket where she carried her pipe!  I’ve often wondered if she burnt a hole in her pocket? The plain apron kept her dress dry when she did laundry on a scrub board and carried wet dripping clothes to hang on her fence.  Her apron gathered garden produce, carried baby chicks and eggs, wiped kid’s noses and shooed away flies and mosquitos. Just as aprons did in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50's. 

Then along came the slacks and blue jeans that were acceptable for women to wear and the aprons were put away.  Why have more to iron?  Ladies left the life of ‘Housewife” for that of”career” woman. The apron was tucked away at the bottom of drawers, cedar chests and in dusty attics.  Many were cut into quilt pieces to be used in making warm blankets.  Today there is the resurgence of the apron.  They bring hefty prices at antique stores to be hung on from hooks in fashionable, country kitchens.  Even if only for decoration.  One can find crocheted aprons, lacy aprons, and pure 100% cotton, feed sack aprons which are prized.

Sewing machines are once more edging colorful cloth with bias tape and rick rack. Today I don’t need to iron the apron.   Permanent press fabrics have pretty much eliminated the iron.  Apron patterns are a top seller in the fabric department of our favorite stores.  Today’s apron wearer is just as apt to be a male as men have taken their place in the kitchens of America.  They cook for their families or fire up the bar-be-que for hamburgers and hot dogs. Different generation---- but same useful garment.

The history and stories that are tied to aprons of yesteryear are memories for sharing—some nostalgic —some funny –some unbelievable but memories we all share.  These stories will be shared by daughters, grand-daughters, aunts, cousin and friends if you attend the “If Aprons could Talk Tea Party” at the Gathering Place in Sidney, Iowa; Saturday May 13.  Sponsored by the Fremont County Historical Society, the day begins at 11 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. with a luncheon, silent auction, and apron stories.  Tickets are $15 a person, proceeds go to the Historical Society.  Come and enjoy conversation and stories and wear your favorite apron, if you want.