Aprons – A Historical Overview

Aprons can be seen everywhere, on everyone in the 15 and 16th Centuries.  Worn by both men and women at work and at play, they appear to be a standard attire throughout the early modern era.

Worn by the lowest classes as working garments to offer some protection for their dearly owned clothing underneath, aprons were also worn by the highest classes as a show of status in extravagant embellishment and fine work.  Even women of the gentry would need some protection of their clothing when doing the various household tasks not trusted to the staff.

Clothing cost money.  Lots of money.  The poorer classes would have 2 maybe 3 outfits.  One for church, one for the rest of the time. They ate, drank, worked, and even slept in the same small wardrobe.  In order to maintain the best condition of their clothing, protective layers (both inside and out) were made of cheaper materials. Items such as the hemd (English: smock, Italian: chemise) and the schürze (English: apron) were generally made from linen and served this purpose.  I believe there are some records of wool aprons, but I am lacking a citation at the moment. It would make sense, since wool was nearly as cost effective as linen, although harder to clean.

Aprons in 16th century Germany are standard to a few different styles.  I will explore these designs in detail in future posts.  For now I will refer to them as “Front Aprons”, “Full Aprons” and “Shoulder Suspended”

Image 1, Center: Full Apron, Right: Front Apron
Image 2: Left: Shoulder Suspended Apron

Aprons were often smocked with either basic or elaborate embroidery, displayed cutwork and pulled thread work. The colours ranged from undyed to black, reds, blues, greens and yellows can be found in imagery of the time.  Most often, aprons were white presumably for ease of cleaning and re-bleaching for reuse.

Like head coverings, aprons are something we often neglect in our portrayals of persons in history. In our modern recreations of historical dress, we go for the flashy, big picture. Accessories are the details that blur the lines and make our garb more authentic and feel more real.

Image 1:  Costumes and moral images of the 16th century from Western and Eastern Europe, Orient, the New World and Africa – BSB Cod.icon. 361

Image 2: The Sächsische Stammamuch – Mscr.Dresd.R.3



Apron Research

Melancholia I – Albercht Durer – 1514
Melancholia I (Apron Detail) – Albrecht Durer – 1514

Aprons, ubiquitous to all stations throughout history, serve both functional and frivolous purposes.  Made of wool or linen, ranging in colours from black to white to green to blue, they were used to protect clothing and as a status symbol.

This is the beginning of my research into aprons in the German Cities in the 16th century.  I’ll be looking at the range of colours displayed in art and trying to extrapolate a difference in social class in relation to apron colour.  I will also try to identify different styles of aprons; pleated, smocked, flat, partial coverage or complete.

I like aprons, I find them useful every day.  I cook, clean, work, and relax in garb over the course of an event.  Having useful functional clothing and accessories assists in maintaining my kit as well as lending authenticity to it.  The devil is in the details. I’ve had a simple pleated apron made of midweight linen for 5 years and it’s finally time to cut it up into wash cloths.  I need some basic functional aprons, but I’m also working on some fancier ones similar to the apron depicted in Durer’s “Melancholia I” shown above.

Welcome to my Rabbit Hole!

Welcome back…. and WAY back!

I haven’t posted a blog in a VERY VERY long time.  I shall begin to remedy this promptly.

Since my past post in 2009 I’ve grown enormously in my research and knowledge of both clothing and life in the 16th century.  I’ll try to get a few diaries and patterns up as well as complete photos and progress shots.

But, let me start with the start.  This is me in 2009 in the first thing I ever made (beyond that one bag in sewing classes when I was 12).  It was at Montengarde 12th Night (photo courtesy Falashad on Flickr) and inspired by Hans Holbien’s painting.

Me. 2009. First Garb!
Portrait of Dorthea Meyer – Hans Holbein the Younger (1525)

Iain Gutherie patterned the bodice for me, and I did it NO justice in the end.  Lemme tell you, this was an optimistic first try.  I have yet to re-attempt the gown.  Its a great attempt though, I am pretty proud of this all things considered!

Smock Constrution

100% Cotton

How I did it
A bunch of triangles and little tiny cartridge pleats around the neck…. maybe?

Hat Construction

 ?? Your guess is as good as mine.  It doesn’t look too bad though eh!

Gown Construction


Lining – 100% cotton
Interlining – Jean denim
Red Fashion – Questionably 100% cotton drill
Black guards – Questionable content plain weave “wool”

How I did it
This was a VERY long time ago.  So I don’t have many details on my process other then a LOT of tea, frustration, and seam ripping.

I started with zigzagging all the edges of all the pieces… so I had some good direction!

The lining and interlining on the bodice is sewing good side to good side then flipped right side in and pressed.  Since I used inappropriate materials, and didn’t know about clipping allowance, I ended up running a stitch along the neck and front to minimize bubbling along that edge.

The bodice was WAY too big around the waist and fit funny so I ended up  putting a little pleat in the back where it attaches to the skirt to make it look better.

The sleeves are probably unlined and sewn in right side to right side then flipped over.  I didn’t know much about seam finishing, so they are all bulky and raw inside.

The skirt is a vague approximation of a knife pleat. The neck guard runs down the length of the front of the skirt and then into the  hem guards.  I liked the look at the time, but totally undocumented.

It is closed with hooks and eyes.

Take Away
Ok, this is pretty redundant since it’s my first ever sewing project.  But I really DID learn a lot from both those helping me, and my own mistakes.  I guess it wasn’t too bad, since I haven’t stopped making stuff yet!