When freelance curator and textile collector Joyce Cheney began collecting aprons there was little interest in the history of these icons of domesticity. She was able to amass a collection of over 400 aprons, most of which she found in thrift stores and at auctions in the 1990s. In 2000, Cheney wrote the book Aprons: Icons of the American Home to coincide with the touring exhibition “Apron Strings: Ties to the Past.” In this audio slide show, Cheney takes us through a brief cultural history of the apron.

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14 Responses to A Brief History of Aprons

  1. Lucky Stoller says:

    The collection is wonderful–the handwork is gorgeous and the range of the collection is truly eclectic. It brought back memories of my mother, grandmother and aunts wearing and making aprons similar to some of these. What a lovely idea. Was there audio? It didn’t come across on my computer. Also, I had to advance the images manually because they didn’t advance on their own. Maybe it’s my computer. Nevertheless, it was worth it. Bravo, Joyce! Lucky Stoller

    • Aubrey Fennewald says:

      Yes! There is audio! Do so try to get to a computer where you can hear it because it’s totally worth hearing her commentary on each piece. :)

  2. Craig Richardson says:

    Lucky, yes, there is audio. Click the ‘play’ button on the lower left corner of the slideshow box. Email me if you have any difficulties and we’ll figure it out. Thanks! craig.n.richardson@gmail.com

  3. Liz says:

    Loved this piece!! I love aprons, and several years ago made them for all of my friends for Christmas. Such fun putting the unique fabrics together to create a little wearable piece of art! Aprons are not only practical, but are fun to wear at a dinner party if you are the hostess! My mother always wears an apron when cooking, and I have several that she made for me that I now wear. Thanks for a look back into the past of women’s history and textile!

  4. Eve Tilley says:

    Thanks for a most interesting peek into fashion and textiles. I have a few uniques aprons, myself, and I really appreciate the little history lesson.

  5. Teresa says:

    An awesome story! One of my first sewing projects in school home economics classes was an apron. I’ve since used fabric paints to free-hand or stencil designs on aprons for special occasions. I have a friend in Denver who adores aprons and I’ve given her some of mine.

  6. Aubrey Fennewald says:

    OMG, I LOVE this! Thank you so much for sharing. The aprons are beautiful and I really enjoyed seeing the wonderfully wide range of works. I have my own, gorgeous little apron that I found in a thrift store a few years ago that I just couldn’t pass up because I could tell that it was hand made and an older piece, and it’s a very unique pattern and design. I’ve harbored this feeling that I must be weird for liking something so non-fashionable by today’s standards, but now I will dawn my apron proudly and LOVE the fact that I was smart enough to snatch it up! By the way, I was so happy to see the 40s/50s smock-style apron… instantly brought back memories of seeing my grandma wearing hers in her kitchen when my sister and I would stay with her for extended visits each summer. This feature story made my day! :)

  7. Mary H says:

    I do hope that Joyce too will make a provision for this wonderful collection with notes to a museum like Pioneers so it isn’t lost.

  8. Shirley Paterson says:

    A favorite book of mine is A Painter’s Kitchen; Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe, by Margaret Wood (daughter of Myron Wood, I believe). Both the cover and frontispiece are photos of Georgia O’Keeffe wearing nondescript aprons while stirring a pot of stew and chopping greens for a salad, at Ghost Ranch NM. From a later note in the book: “Some summer evenings, Miss O’Keeffe came to the kitchen while supper was being prepared. At times, she put on a certain apron–rick-rack in three colors on a calico print–made by a friend. She said the apron felt like an ‘ornament,’ but she wore it nonetheless when she snapped the green beans or shelled the peas.”

  9. Joyce Cheney says:

    Many of the aprons are now at the American Museum of Textile History in Lowell, MA. Also, Mid-America Arts Alliance/ ExhibitsUSA (Kansas City, KS) received a set of aprons and is using them to train staffs and volunteers at small museums in how to handle rental exhibitions by mounting the show, Apron Strings, Ties to the Past.
    As for making aprons in home economics class, those of us now around 60 yrs old are among the last girls to have required home ec, and for most of us, aprons were our first sewing project.

  10. kathryn says:

    Sewing an apron was also a first 4-H project for many of us, before we graduated to the wrap-around skirt. The national Cowgirl Museum in Fort Worth, TX has an apron exhibition right now, I believe. Loved this terrific slide show and your commentary, Joyce.

  11. Sarah says:

    I was thinking of this slide show as I put my Marge Simpson apron on last night before I opened a salad dressing that the top was stuck on and I anticipated an olive oil explosion that I didn’t want hitting my handwash only rayon dress. I loved this slide show very much and I’m glad my husband didn’t grade me on my domestic skills before we got married, I’d have been in trouble.

  12. Peggy Harris says:

    Joyce your presentation was excellent! I’ve only started collecting aprons and apron memorabilia since just before 1995ish. I’ve amassed a collection of over 2500 pieces….my black parlor aprons being my favorites.
    Don’t you just love how aprons show off intricate workmanship.

    Thanks for your book. I would really love to “pick your brain” sometime.

  13. Magnificent! I thoroughly enjoyed your apron video. I have a children/adult picture book coming out next month, February 2013. It’s called Miss Mattie’s Aprons. Perhaps we can connect and share apron talk. I love your display of historical aprons. Be Blessed!

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