More Apron Patterns

vintage Advance pattern

 I have found eBay to be a good source for vintage patterns, if you have the temperment to browse through frame after frame of small photos. Aprons are a way of seeing how our foremothers saw themselves; how culture thought of women; what women were expected to do.

I suppose before sewing machines were a common item in households, most women made patterns from their old clothes, and kept their workday items fairly simple.  Wealthier people had their clothes tailored, and I believe that young housemaids and kitchen girls were expected to make up their own work costumes. Aprons were utlitarian, the clothing that protected dresses and skin from water, soap, dust, mud and food spatters. Maids had work aprons that went over serving aprons; I still do this. I have kitchen aprons that go over the cape and apron or dress apron that covers my dress. (Even on warm days I have three layers of clothing.) By the 1930s women made their own aprons, and while still pretty utilitarian, they were becoming a little more fashionable.

the 1930s woman - looking good in the kitchen

Patterns were available by mail order from newspapers. As dresses got shorter, so did the aprons. Printed feed and flour sacks were used for this kind of everyday garment, or older dresses were taken apart and made into new aprons. Women wore the cocverall kind of apron right through the 1940s, with popular patterns advertising that they used a yard or less of fabric. The Depression shortage of funds for new material and the wartime shortages of any fabric may be why wraparound and coverall aprons were rarely made in those decades.

The 1950s br0ught a new prosperity and a number of “labour-saving” household devices; while my country living family still wore the coverall or bib apron, suburban women were becoming more sophisticated.

a fun little apron, suitable for entertaining at coffee klatsch

 It was in this time, and into the 1970s, that aprons became an at-home wardrobe enhancement, “dressing up” a plain skirt, or worn as a way of indicating hospitality. In some communities, bridesmaids received a gift of a pretty apron for helping serve at a bridal reception. (I gave my two “bridesmaids” vintage aprons when Nicholas and I were married.)

Most of us wear aprons for the old reasons – we have kitchen, house or garden work to do. We need pockets big enough to carry tools. We wear full aprons and the two-piece cape and apron for modesty. While my young friends like an apron for baking or cooking, they aren’t likely to put one on over a dress for appearance or modesty. Nor would they wear one outside the home, or even think of putting one on just because that’s what YOU do. Yet I see young women acorss the continent and in Europe making and wearing aprons.

My friend Bethann made the point in seminary that the apron has been the distinguishing garment of women for millenia; men may have work related garments that cover clothes for safety or sanitary reasons, but women wear aprons as an identifier of feminine competence. An apron says that we are ready for serious work, or at least we might consider it. Even women in the Sun King’s court put on a lacy little overskirt, as if to say, “I could whip up a batch of madelines right now.” Marie Antoinette had a frilly dairymaid’s apron to go over the elaborate peasant costume worn down on her play farm at Versailles.

We are reclaiming the apron. It passed out of the fashion vernacular for a few decades, but it looks like it is coming back.

Plain Men

Nicholas in his madder red festive shirt

I hear now and then that much attention is focussed on how women should dress, how we wear our hair and cover our heads, and that our dear husbands are left puzzled as to how to complement us. (Note “complement” and not “compliment”.) My own husband is just Plain by nature, and has never been much of a clotheshorse, despite a few strange choices as a teeenager.

Nicholas in his handmade vest

A look around the web at Plain-dressing men – Amish, Mennonite and Quaker – shows that Plain for men is simple. It is modest in that the clothing covers the body from neck to ankle, without being tight-fitting; it is unadorned in design and colour. Plain for men is obtainable in most clothing stores, in terms of dark trousers with no pleats or fancy pockets (my husband wears jeans), an average white, blue, black or brown coloured shirt with a pointed collaror no collar, and regular pearl buttons, and braces or suspenders. Shoes – of course, would be workboots or black oxfords. The dress clothes are a little harder to find – the lapelless Mutze or jacket, the simple single-breasted vest in black.  These can be ordered from seamstresses via Plainly Dressed or other sites, and the patterns can be found for local production. The flat brimmed black hat is available from a few mailorder retailers, and the brimmed straw hats can often be found online or even in the local feed store. (My husband’s black hats come from Mennonite Maidens because they are affordable; his straw hats came from the TSC store in St. Jacob’s, Ontario.) Ebay is a good resource for men’s plain hats and suits.

straw hats and plain bonnets

We have been Plain long enough that we can’t imagine ourselves any other way. We aren’t quite as somber as we once were – Nicholas’s vision impairment has moved us toward brighter colours, especially for me. We both enjoy the freedom of Plain.


Herbal Eczema Cream

A few years ago, I made a skin cream for  a friend’s baby that contained hibiscus. The little girl had patches of eczema on her face, and the doctor had prescribed a hydrocortisone ointment. It wasn’t working well. I do not think cortisone belongs in a child’s sensitive system, either, so I proposed making an herbal alternative. I searched all my herbals for something specific to eczema and skin healing that would be appropriate and safe, as well as simple to use. Who wants to put some complicated, messy concoction on a baby?

Hibiscus seemed to be the specific I needed, and I had dried hibiscus flowers in my herbal pantry. So I thought to make the usual olive oil and beeswax salve from them, and then I found out something about hibiscus. It is not solvable in oil. Why? I don’t know. I could let those blossoms sit there for weeks, and nothing happened. St. John’s wort, calendula – any other flower I tried – would release its essence into olive or safflower oil. Not hibsiscus.

But if I infused it in water, I wouldn’t be able to make it into an oil and beeswax salve. (Rosemary Gladstar has a nice recipe for a water-based facial cream in her Family Herbal, but it is a bit fiddly and requires a blender, which I do not own.) I went to the cosmetic department at the drugstore and found an unscented cold cream, very basic and old-fashioned, and used that. The hibiscus infusion blended in well, and was a success when used.

This past month I developed an eczema from an allergy to facial tissues, of all strange things. My face, hands and forearms developed the characteristic red, rough, itchy patches. I couldn’t sleep. My clothes hurt my skin. I thought of that hibiscus cream, but didn’t have a supply of flowers.

I did have this, though.

3 Crowns rosehip and hibiscus tea

I thought the vitamin C in the rosehips wouldn’t hurt anything – our skin is made up of collagen, which is based on vitamin C. I made a strong infusion of the tea – 3 teabags to a cup of boiling water and let it steep. (Don’t simmer or boil it.)

While I was at the store, I bought this as a carrier, but any unscented water-based lotion or cream would do. If I had all the ingredients and a reliable way to blend it, I would make Rosemary’s formula:

I alternately blended the base and the tea until I had the consistency and colour I wanted. I used about a quarter cup of the tea and a little more than a cup of the base. This is the finished product:

a pretty pink blend

I have used it for the last four days, and the redness and most of the roughness is gone, along with the itchiness. For anyone who has ever suffered under allergy-related eczema, that would feel like a miracle.

Vintage Apron

the vintage apron on the vintage model

Some of us were discussing aprons back and forth – not an unusual  topic among my jet-set friends – and I thought of this apron. It came to me as an item stuffed into a rag bag in a box of old fabric and patterns. The bias trim was loose in a spot, and the apron had been washed so many times that it is as soft as cotton can get. My husband refers to it as “my grandmother’s pinny.”

the print

You can see that the print is green roses with some sort of little gridded square between – the sort of nonsensical pattern much loved in the earlier decades of the twentieth century. It is edged with a light green bias, very nicely sewn, on an old straight stitch machine. I can’t imagine sewing bias on by hand; tedious and eye straining!

the upper edge of the bib

I am having trouble dating this particular apron – I’m thinking somewhere in the mid to late 1950s. The pattern from which it is made is much older, I think, although it has a rather sweet scallop to the bottom edge, unlike the very utlilitarian patterns of earlier days, and it is not all that long. The maker may have combined two patterns, as the back of the apron is similar to aprons common to the early twentieth century, and very smilar to styles still worn by Amish women.

button closing, tie waist

I intend to draft a pattern from this soon, probably onto an old sheet or muslin, since I think I would use it a lot. I will eliminate the scallops, make the skirt longer and a bit wider, and make the ties a bit wider, as well.

“Sewing Made Easy”

Modern sewing machines make the task too easy. They can be programmed to do anything you might need. But what if you don’t have a new machine? If, like me, your machine is older than your adult children, and you need buttonholes?

BUTTON HOLES!! How do I do that?!

I bought a vintage sewing book. I knew how to sew buttonholes, aeons ago, but couldn’t quite get the hang of it again. And when I need new curtains, I will feel pretty silly buying  a pattern, because curtains are just straight seams, and patterns can be $15 or more, sometimes more expensive than buying the fabric.

My vintage sewing instruction book is Sewing Made Easy by Mary Lynch and Dorothy Sara. It was first published in 1950, then revised for 1960. It contains instructions on how to baste, handsew buttonholes, attach various kinds of buttons, make a pattern, fit a pattern, alter a garment, sew curtains and slipcovers, and make over old garments. Post-war, this was still a concern. Why waste a good piece of wool suiting just because the pant and jacket cuffs are frayed? Take it apart, lay it out, and cut out a skirted suit for a woman. Or use a man’s old overcoat to make a child’s winterwear, and how about that striped shirt Dad has had for years, wouldn’t it be nice as a blouse for daughter?

This book takes you from designing your trousseau to decorating your house and making stuffed toys. This is the material we were once taught in home economics classes, but even when I was a girl, the focus was on keeping us interested in learning to use the sewing machine to whip up simple skirts and tote bags – nothing about tailoring or facing a lapel!

Patterns years ago did not have instructions in them in how to use interfacing, or make a casing, or fell a flat seam – the home sewer was expected to know these things. For those who did not have tailoring classes, these books of sewing basics were available. I find mine useful for so many things – and I wish I had it when I was trying to make a dress with french seams!


The First Prayer Book of King Edward VI

I have received a reproduction copy of the 1549 Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It looks rather like a cheap textbook – generic old books cover photograph, trade size paperback, about as utilitarian as a book can be.  It is “The Booke of the Common Prayer and Administracion of the Sacramentes, and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Churche after the Use of the Churche of England,” anno Do. 1549. Mense Martii.

It contains a preface, “a table and Kalendar for Psalmes and lessons, with necessary rules perteyning to the same,” and all the other general parts of a prayer book as in use in the Anglican Communion. What makes it different, and what makes my heart beat a little faster, is that for the first time in centuries, this was the prayer book in the common tongue of the people of England. The people knew what the priest was saying. They were hearing in a manner they could understand the assurances of their salvation.

There is an order in which to read the Bible in English. Priests were to keep the offices every day, with readings from the Bible. People could go to the church to hear it. Every day.

King Henry VIII, Edward’s father, had authorized an English translation to be published and made available in the churches. People could buy a copy from the printer. Henry stated publically that he regretted this at times, as the people did not have due reverence for the Word! But the liturgy in English did not appear until after Henry’s death, when the boy king , under the advice of his councillors, called for one to be issued.

The priests and clerks were to keep to an order in reading the lectionary – the Bible lessons. there was to be no skipping about and leaving out what did not suit them. The lessons for the Sunday, along with the appointed psalm, and a prayer called the Collect, were in the prayer book. Every church and priest were to use the same set of readings and prayers each Sunday – thus it was a Common Book. And the people are to receive communion – the priest to exhort them to receive – in contrast to earlier practice, when the people rarely received, but merely watched the clergy as they received.

It was all earthshaking, and we who are even negligent in attending the church to hear God’s Word – so readily available to us, that we can buy a Bible for less than a loaf of bread, in some editions – cannot imagine how much of a change it brought.

I plan to write more on this soon; we forget what we owe to that generation.

Unsung Sewing Patterns

Modest sewing is one of the best followed topics on my blog, so I am pleased to direct you to Andrea’s great blog. She doesn’t offer any of these vintage patterns to sell, but with a little skill and maybe an instruction book on drafting patterns, I think any of us could find something to try from among her many illustrations. Her writing is a joy, and the patterns are so much fun to browse. A reader can start anywhere and find something of interest.

Unsung Sewing Patterns

via Unsung Sewing Patterns.

Living Plain

Plain in Fredericton

We went to the local Anglican church on Sunday, where I used to be pastor. It’s a great community, and I love seeing our old friends there. Yes, we are the only Plain people there, but I think they are all used to it by now. Nicholas doesn’t look much different than he did before, except for the long hair and the big beard.  I am different, with my covered head, my full dresses and boots. Oh, wait, maybe not. I didn’t cover back then, but the parish usually saw me in cassock and surplice – and boots.

The neighbours aren’t used to it, though. As we disembarked in the parking lot – and at the roadside edge, since we were a bit late, as usual – a couple of vehicles slowed down, and the occupants turned back to look at us. His broad-brimmed black hat, my trim, tied bonnet and black shawl; hey, when did the Amish move to New Denmark? I wave when people stare like that.  There is no reason to be hostile or unfriendly – they are curious, and I want to make a good impression for the next time they see us. And since that might be at the farmer’s market, I want them to have the idea in their heads thart we are open and approachable. And that isn’t just a marketing ploy, because we had a good ministry through the last farmer’s market where we sold. It is not a matter of making a few dollars, but of being witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ.

I know what the questions will be at the market: Are you Amish? Then what are you? Are there many like you? Do you dress like this all the time, or is it a costume just for the market? (No; Plain Anglican; a few; yes, we do, and no, it isn’t.) Because we are mistaken for Amish or Mennonites frequently, and I have no problem with that, we are conscious that we are held to a kind of responsibility by our choice, to avoid behaviour that would shame our Anabaptist brothers and sisters. Around the world, Plain means sober and quiet Christians, whether Anabaptist, Brethren or Quaker. Admittedly, good Christian behaviour isn’t much different, but there are things that a secularly dressed Christian can do without anyone saying, “Hey, did you see that?” Go to rock concerts; have a drink in a bar. We wouldn’t do that, as it would mislead people. (And you may be Plain or modest dressing, and say, “I have no trouble with that!” but that is your own decision. I’m not telling you what to do, just saying what we are comfortable doing.) We avoid loud or aggressive behaviour in public or while driving; I try to be extremely polite and helpful. We try to be the people of peace we are saying we are by our outward appearance.

Our daily life is as Plain as we can make it, with the addition of internet communication. We keep a phone line for emergencies. But we try to live as simply and as honestly as we can. We avoid luxury and ornamentation, as much as possible. We don’t need to show that God has blessed us with material goods, as we believe that excessive possessions are not a blessing, but a tie to the world we want to leave behind.

It’s not a matter of looking Plain, but of being Plain, all the way through.