Every apron tells a story, according to EllynAnne Geisel, who collects vintage aprons and sews her own.
Yet despite the nostalgic appeal of old aprons, many crafters still enjoy making their own. Some are elaborate, with ruffles and embellishments, while other are simple and can be made quickly — perhaps in time for Thanksgiving.
Geisel, of Pueblo, Colo., curates a traveling museum exhibit, Apron Chronicles, launched in 2004 with 150 vintage aprons and 46 stories and images. She hopes to get people reflecting on their apron memories.
"When we tie on our own aprons, we in a sense bring (our loved ones) back," Geisel says.
She includes many of the hundreds of stories she's heard in "The Apron Book" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2006), which also includes instructions for sewing three basic patterns that pay homage to vintage apron styles. In the book, one woman remembers her grandmother, a farmer's wife, by holding onto her white cotton bib apron. A man recalls his mother wearing her dressy apron when hosting her afternoon bridge club. Another woman treasures her old white apron, covered in her three young daughter's handprints, now that the girls are grown.
Geisel was among those who threw down their aprons during the 1960s when aprons seemed to some a symbol of women's oppression and household drudgery.
"Women tossed them — even those lovingly sewn by their own mothers and grandmothers — straight into the giveaway bag," she writes.
In recent years, aprons have made a comeback, especially among younger women — and men — and in introductory sewing classes. Check the usual places online — Pinterest, Etsy and crafters' blogs — to find hundreds of handmade aprons, vintage and new.
"I think we just got tired of looking alike," explains Geisel. "There's nothing wrong with shopping out of a catalog, but what was lost is our understanding that our clothing and our homes are arenas where we can express creativity."
An apron is a good first sewing project, says sewing instructor Nicole Smith, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who also works at Etsy.com.
"It's a great way to learn a machine," she says. "You can make the apron as complicated as you want."
Her apron-sewing classes attract men with specific criteria: "The guys would add things to their butcher aprons, such as a partitioned pocket, to store the tools they were using while cooking," she says.
Students often return later for help personalizing their handiwork with embroidery or appliqué, Smith says.
Yvette Martinez of Brighton, Colo., sews aprons — and only aprons. Don't ask her to sew pajamas or to hem pants; that's not fun, she says.
She has made about 75 aprons in two years, most of them for friends.
"I just have a passion for aprons. I love, love, love how unique they each are and can be," Martinez says. "It's fun how you can use so many different notions and buttons and zippers and lace and ribbon and all kinds of pretty things to make them fashionable and unique."
She favors the halter-style bib apron, and recommends using oil-cloth fabric because it wipes clean with a damp cloth.
The easiest apron to make? Attach ribbon to a dish or flour-sack towel.
"All the edges are finished, so all you need to do is find something you'd like to use as the tie," says Smith. "And it'd be really useful . all (Thanksgiving) day."
Geisel is asking readers to put on an apron the day before Thanksgiving for Tie One On Day, which promotes gestures of kindness. "It's an opportunity to do an act of kindness before giving thanks on Thanksgiving," Geisel says. "There are so many people who need to know they are not invisible." Find out more at her website, Apron Memories.