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The Personal History of a Household Apron

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Apron - Dancing-girl-Levitsky-Dmitry-G.-1735-1822

Dancing Girl, Levitsky Dmitry, 1735-1822

Aprons have probably been around since the dawn of clothing; up until the Industrial Revolution, most people only had the clothes on their backs, or at most one change of clothing – in which case they were considered either very well off or thieves; a large number of the thefts reported in the 17th and 18th centuries had to do with clothing articles; the clothes made the man or woman, and if they could upgrade their wardrobe through “five-finger discounting” they might have a better chance at finding a good job with better wages.  The style of aprons has changed through the years, and while sometimes their function was little more than a fashion statement such as the photo to the left, their main purpose has never been lost:  To carry out every imaginable chore in and around the homestead.

My paternal grandparents, the Herrings, were a generation older than my maternal grandparents, the Kuhns, though my parents were born in the same year; the former grandparents had lost several children before my father came along when they were in their 40s.  They were Kansas pioneer farmers, my grandmother (nee Higbee) heading west in a covered wagon with her parents as a baby; she grew up on the prairies of Kansas, met my grandfather, and the rest is history.

Great-Grandmother Christine Aaroe-Higbee's Parents, from Denmark, ca 1890

The Aaroes, immigrants from Denmark, taken ca 1890.

Grandma Herring's Apron Quilt, Hand-Sewn between 1920 & 1970s

The Apron Quilt

Most of my childhood memories are of their farm; we spent many weekends there helping out, and I spent a week or two every summer with them.  My grandmother was always in an apron, except for Sunday mornings and holiday events – and those are the times when photographs were taken, so unfortunately I don’t have a photo of her in aprons.  But I have something much better:  A hand-sewn quilt, made lovingly by her from around 1920 to the early 80s.  The materials used for that quilt are her old aprons, Sunday dress scraps, and other spare cloths; and I remember seeing her in several of them.  The old photograph above is of my great-great grandparents, the Aaroes, immigrants from Denmark; the photo was taken around 1890, and shows my great-great grandmother in her daily apron at the spinning wheel.

1950s Housewife Chic vintage aprons

1950s Vintage Fashionable Aprons

Being a farmer’s wife, my grandmother’s aprons weren’t as fancy as these vintage patterns; they were plain, simple and hand-made; they did what they were needed for, and no more, no less.  But as simple as they might have been, those aprons were worth their weight in gold on a farm:  They protected her scanty wardrobe – she didn’t need much, didn’t want much, and was satisfied to take care of what she’d been blessed with.  They carried chicks, chicken eggs, kittens, flowers, herbs, apples, firewood and wood chips, baby birds fallen from nests in a wind storm, and the occasional sugar cube for the horses.  They wiped away tears, cleaned dirty faces, dusted furniture if guests were walking up the path, took delicious things from the oven, cold things from the freezer, and helped open canning jars.  They shaded a cold pie on her lap in the old Chevy truck while we bounced across the fields to bring my grandfather a picnic for lunch break in the summer heat (she could have used an old quilt for that, but it was being used to cradle a large mason jar of ice cold water, the best thirst-quencher I know). Those aprons helped gather grains, and stones to move from the garden or to the flower bed.  They carried chicken feed, broken eggs shells, potatoes, carrots, green beans, corn, sweet peas, strawberries and squash.  They warmed her hands on a cold day as she dug for the last of the potatoes before winter’s freeze, and hid her dirty hands when guests arrived unannounced.  They polished cutlery, fanned her face to cool her down on a sweltering hot day, and were the perfect place to hide for shy children.  One never knew what that apron would do next.

I can’t imagine any other piece of cloth carrying so much history, authority, importance, humility, common sense and love.

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About Trinity

A melancholic pragmatist with a wide streak of mischief and an active imagination that turns into novels.

8 responses »

  1. This is indeed a wonderful story, I love the way you recount it with history around it! Love your posts!

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  2. Wendy Newton

    I am researching my mothers ancestry and wanted to find pictures of the Aaroe family and was really pleased to find this. Thank you and if you have anymore post them please. The article is so decriptive about how much use the apron recieves.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Thank you! How much history have you discovered about the Aaroe family? I wonder if we’re related!?

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      • Wendy Newton

        I am researching my mothers adoption using her DNA, ancestry.com, and some personal history. I have come along way and have found this research to be facinating. I read your article on googling and enjoy learning about new things by Internet research. I would be happy to share with you the info I have but don’t want offend anyone about past personal information.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wendy Newton

    I will try to find an email address for you and send you a link to the family tree I am working on. My mother could be a second cousin to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Sweet! 🙂 You can message me on Facebook (last name, Hüsler-Herring).

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    • Wendy Newton

      I sent you a message but you may have to look for it because we are not connected on Facebook. If you find it be my friend and check out a picture I posted today. The picture is one my mother found in a family album and thought she looked like the woman in the photo. I am also going to send you other things after I figure how to down load them or transfer them.

      Liked by 1 person

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