by Sara Etgen-Baker
My fascination with aprons began when I cooked alongside Mother. “Put on your apron!” she insisted. I tied one of her aprons around my waist and immediately felt a connection, a type of kinship with her and other women, for there was a time, not so long ago when wearing an apron was commonplace and synonymous with femininity and domesticity. My mother and my grandmothers put on their aprons the moment they entered their kitchens and wore them throughout the day while preparing meals and tending to household chores.
All three women were also seamstresses often making their own aprons and expressing their personalities and individuality with them. Grandma Stainbrook made colorful, loose-fitting bib-style aprons with deep pockets. Grammy, on the other hand, created dainty, pastel-colored half aprons that complemented her outfits and accentuated her tiny waist. Mother was practical and preferred making a bib-style apron, wearing it to protect the dress underneath. She reserved her fancy half aprons accented with ribbon, lace, and appliques for holidays and entertaining.
Mother used her bib-style apron for almost everything; dusting furniture, drying my tears, picking up hot pans, and wiping the sweat from her brow. Her bottomless apron pockets were always full and housed clothespins, handkerchiefs, bandages, loose change, my jacks, and my brother’s marbles.
At 14, I enrolled in home economics class where I sewed my first garment; a half apron of my own. I bought the apron pattern for 65 cents but didn’t have enough money to purchase fabric. So, I used the remnants of mother’s kitchen curtain material; a white fabric covered in delicate yellow roses. During that first semester, I learned sewing basics; cutting out a pattern; pinning it to the fabric; cutting the fabric, and basting the garment. I learned to thread the sewing machine, maneuver the foot pedal, and guide the material under the advancing presser foot. By semester’s end, I’d sewn my apron to the waistband; attached small, rick-rack covered pockets to it; and hemmed it.
There was something satisfying about taking a piece of fabric and turning it into a beautiful apron. I felt special, for sewing my own apron was a sort of rite of passage into womanhood; and proudly wore my apron every chance I had. In 1965 aprons were a part of being a woman and a homemaker; however, when the women’s movement took hold, aprons seemingly disappeared from favor and the feminine landscape.
But aprons remain important, for they are historical garments reflecting how women functioned in society; how culture viewed them; and how they saw themselves. I recall the apron-wearing women in my life; the stories behind their aprons gave life and meaning to the fabric itself. Their aprons are statements of what they represented to their families and serve as reminders of recipes, values, events, and traditions from gentler, less complicated times. I remain fascinated with aprons, for each one has a unique story to tell with its own ties to the past.
A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.