a Domestic Archive

When I first set about writing The Kitchen Linens Book, I called friends who were into antiques, hoping at least a few were also enamored of vintage household cloth.  My dear friend, Jan Means, was a Bingo!  Within a week or so, a box arrived with a selection of exquisite family heirlooms, and this set of DOW (days of the week) towels

To see this set in person is to experience the true definition of adorable. I immediately wished I’d discovered “Cherubs” first, so I might own the set; instead, I immediately broke a commandment and coveted my friend/neighbor’s possession. I kept the set so long, Jan was forced to delicately question if I was ever returning them, which I did with much reluctance. 

Seven or so months later, I contacted Colonial Patterns/Aunt Martha’s about my use of the company’s vintage reproduction dishtoweling as the basis for my apron-ology magazine apron design. Kindness itself, vp Chris Price not only provided the toweling but also a bundle of Aunt Martha’s transfers, among which was this one!

Correctly titled Busy Babies (not Cherubs as I’m still inclined to do), the popular design has been around a very long time, and as with all the Aunt Martha packaging graphics, the original art work for BB resides in a vault at company headquarters.  Oh, to see this cache of original packets in person!  
Before computers and graphic design programs like photoshop, art was drawn and colored by hand. And therein lies the true value of the old pattern envelopes, early primers like the Dick and Jane series, calendars and transfer packets.  Simplistic in presentation and without the manipulation of today’s graphics, the drawings are a part of our colorful domestic history.  
Tie One On…an apron, of course!

Aprons Don’t Hold Us Back, They Take Us Back!

Apron-ology magazine exists because women have a long history of sewing their own aprons. Luckily for those of us who rely on patterns to guide our creative bent, companies like Butterick and McCalls have been selling patterns since the 1860s. When I contacted McCalls to learn about the company’s history, Kathleen Lenn, the company’s senior Vice President, took patience and gracious to a new level when she visited the company’s archive office and copied images for me to share with y’all.  !!!!!
This first image is the cover of an 1886 McCall pattern magazine, THE BAZAR DRESSMAKER, which was established for the purpose of selling apron and fashion patterns through the mail.

This ladies’ pattern is actually classified as a Kitchen Apron – domestic armor, I say! The button at the apron’s bottom would have been sewn with double the thread to the fabric, when you consider the volume of panteloon, petticoat and dress the apron was attempting to squish and contain.

Not as easy to see, but I hope you’ll try – even if it means squinting – is this page of girl’s aprons. Between the button up boots, layered clothing, apron protection and primped hair, girls of the time dressed as a mini-version of their mothers…a reflection of the pattern company’s awareness of society’s expectation of its younger females.

Patterns have always been created to be disposable, so it is lucky for us indeed that Butterick/McCalls donated the majority of the companies’ patterns to COPA, the largest pattern archive in the world. It’s located at the University of Rhode Island, and you can visit it on-line at www.uri.edu.
The apron has always been a great first time sewing project, and to see up close the patterns of over a hundred years ago – aprons don’t hold us back…they take us back, and in the nicest way imaginable.
Tie One On…an apron, of course!