The Apron in Pioneer History |

The Apron in Pioneer History

Story by Shirley Kelly | Glade Park, Colo.
Photos courtesy of The Museum of Western Colorado

The time of the pioneers spanned most of the late 1800s to 1900s. Individuals ventured west to live and trap years before the land belonged to the United States. During the time of the pioneers, most clothing was sewn by hand as few people could afford to buy clothing in a store, in many places, stores were too far away to easily reach.

Pioneer women and girls wore long dresses with long sleeves year-round. A female always wore the most important item, the apron. There are many stories of how pioneer women used their aprons for survival in desperate circumstances as they made their long journey out west through scorching plains and icy cold snow of many mountain passes.

Aprons were used for shelter, warmth, comfort and security. One diary tells of a woman who after crossing a river with her young child, used her apron to cradle her tiny baby in a tree to keep him safe and secure while she went back across the river to gather her other children, hence the strong apron ties.

Now more of the History of Aprons! Do our kids know what an apron is? I think not! The principal use of Grandma's apron was to protect the dress underneath, because she only had a few, and it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and they used less material, but along with that it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven, and it was wonderful for drying children's tears.

From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in a warm oven. When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids and those old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, when bending over a hot wood stove. From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls. In the fall, the apron was used to bring in the apples that had fallen from the trees. When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter off seconds!

There was no waste back then, when the sacks were empty, the feed sack fabric was used for quilts and aprons, in fact, when the apron had seen its day and was ready to be tossed, the best part was cut out and used for quilts.

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In the 1920s and 30s aprons followed the silhouette of the dress — long, with no waist line. By the 40s aprons gained a cinched waistline, and were often gaily trimmed with rick-rack, buttons, and pockets of contrasting color.

Today, vintage aprons can be found in antique stores, flea markets and sometimes in Grandma's attic. Patterns to make reproductions of these classics are readily available in craft and sewing stores and on the internet. With the availability of the pioneer-look, and patterns and fabrics on the market today, it is very easy to replicate the aprons from long ago and bring them into today's society and teach our children the uses of the Apron. ❖