How many strings has an apron?

Nancy Whelan takes a look at the history of the apron

At certain shops in Qualicum Beach, I volunteer from time to time, and one of the perks of my hours there is admiring, handling, and perhaps trying on some of the unique items for sale. It often takes some stretch of willpower to leave these shops empty-handed and without a lightened wallet.

Recently, I became enamoured with a selection of aprons; not because I needed one — the hooks on the pantry door are forever entangled with a more than adequate selection of these ‘protectors’. But sometimes an apron, through its glowing fabric or chic design, conjures up visions of serving an elegant dinner to diners admiring my kitchen garb.

While fondling one such example of cuisine artistry, I came across a paper neatly folded in the apron’s pocket. Ever curious, I opened it to read, “The History of the Apron.” This ode to “… that old-time apron that served so many purposes” tugged me along through the memories of the many practical (or not) aprons in my own life.

The first recollection was a painful one. At about age 10, I had seen an apron in the Woolworth’s window which I dearly wanted to buy for my mother’s birthday. The catch was not a lack of cash, my horde was adequate, but I was deathly afraid of making a purchase all by myself. That meant actually talking to an un- or very slightly known clerk to express my mission, and of such bravado I had none.

Days, maybe weeks passed, and the apron was still on display. I took the plunge one day after school and rushed out with the pink apron abloom with purple pansies. I hope my mother realized the terror that apron cost me … my first foray into consumerism.

One year a friend and I, with bits of leftover material from our early sewing efforts, went into the production of our own glamorous aprons. I made two; one was of black felt carefully embroidered with golden flowers, the other a little pleated number of copper-colored ‘shot’ taffeta trimmed with lace. Carefully stashed in my cedar chest, I carried those little tummy-covers through the countless miles of my life, never once daring to actually wear them … for how would one ever wash such frivolous bits of nonsense?

When my own children were little, they (lucky for them) always wanted to cook — especially cakes, cookies and pies. This was not a neat business, so my apron-building skills came to the fore again and tiny aprons were raised to counter height on stools or chairs. No sleek fashion fabrics here — more likely old sheets, pillowcases, or towels.

When eldest son took to helping his dad in carpentry projects, a new style of apron buzzed forth from the Singer. No frills here, but sturdy canvas-like material sporting multiple pockets for nails and screws and handy loops for hammer and square.

This practical handyman style prompted similar fashions for myself — with still sturdy but more feminine fabric and amply supplied with pockets to be stuffed with hanky, a potholder, pencil, notes, or safety pins. Today, I wear the same handy version at my semi-annual garage sales — separate pockets for bills, loonies, toonies …

When the grandchildren started hanging around the kitchen, more aprons were in order and the same old sewing machine kept churning them out. Once the grandson began following in his father’s hammering footsteps, he too, demanded a “man apron.”

Just a few Christmases ago, my granddaughter presented her mother and me with aprons she’d made herself, and that most useful item of outer wear came full circle. To quote the Apron History again, “It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that old-time apron …”


— Nancy Whelan is a regular News columnist



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