The Beauty & Diversity of Aprons

By Jon Gast | June 01, 2016
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Renny Lea and Dorothy Wickman
Renny Lea and Dorothy Wickman amidst their aprons and a couple Sweetie Pie pies. Photo by Dennis Connolly

When we think of the apron, many of us immediately conjure up images of our grandmother in the kitchen. It is a piece of apparel that we associate with food preparation that extends into the bakery and butcher shop.

The apron is certainly more diverse than that with many industrial and medical applications, but even there we might think of the leather variety that protects the blacksmith – who, by the way, is still around.

As initially pointed out, aprons seem to be something we initially assign to the past. Kind of the June Cleaver image of 1950’s television, whose attractive aprons served the practical purpose of protecting those beautiful dresses she wore while making dinner for Ward, Wally and the Beav.

The apron has been with us dating back to Biblical times, but it really wasn’t until the past century that the apron became a fashion accessory, worthy of passing down from one generation to the next. The mere thought of putting an intricately stitched apron that your mother or grandmother made provided a moving connection with the past for many of today’s women. It’s one of the reasons there will be a celebration of the apron this July 15 when Sweetie Pies in Fish Creek will host its biennial Vintage Apron Style Show on the grounds of Settlement Shops. The show runs from 1-3 p.m.

“…Upon returning to his family,
my great-great-grandfather

dumped his gold into his wife’s
apron and it was so heavy the

apron tore apart and the
gold fell on the floor.”

— Dorothy Wickman

close up of apron
variety of aprons
Photo 1: The beauty of an apron up close. Photo by Dennis Connolly.
Photo 2: Wonderful variety of aprons. Photo by Dennis Connolly.

“Sweetie Pies is an old fashioned pie shop where pies are made by using, literally, grandma’s recipes,” said co-owner Renny Lea. “Susan Croissant, who founded Sweetie Pies in 1995, happened to love vintage aprons and linens and had collected a number of them. Coincidentally, my mom, Francis Miller, was quite a pie baker and had made cherry pies for the White Gull Inn in the early sixties. She also owned a collection of old aprons and linens.”

Renny reached out to other apron collectors. Dorothy Wickman of Sturgeon Bay, who has an impressive collection, responded and together with others the show was launched in 2008.

“The fact of the matter is that aprons do have a story to tell,” said Renny. “They used to be worn a lot, as the women who usually wore them were constantly at work – in the kitchen, in the garden, tending and feeding children, sewing clothes. An apron could protect a dress, but it became much more than that. It was a way of expressing one’s creativity and aprons are as individual as are their makers.”

While Dorothy has made a number of her aprons, she’s also a collector who is fascinated with the different styles and their relationship to history.

“They are a mini history lesson,” she said. “Aprons were originally intriguing to me because of the detail and diversity of craftsmanship and variety of fabrics and styles. Fabrics used have been whatever was available, starting with sewing scraps and feed sacks, gingham, linen, dotted swiss, denim, organdy, handkerchiefs, and more. They were crocheted, gathered, pleated, appliqued, embroidered, painted –the variety of embellishments was unlimited.”

She references something she saw on the internet at ValCooks.com to emphasize her thoughts on aprons.

Apron Models
Apron models from an earlier Sweetie Pies show. Front row, left to right: Corinne Lea, Betsy Palmer, Lia Smith, Susan Croissant and Renee Gomilla. Back row (standing): Bob and Lorna Winn, Barb Maskell, Carol Hackbardt and Celeste Gajda. Contributed photo.

“Aprons have been taken on and off, depending on the social and political climate—feminism and sensibilities of class seem to dictate if aprons are ‘in’ or ‘out’, fashion or uniform,” it points out. “Aprons became symbols of class politics and feminism, or lack thereof—depending on the era.”

While Dorothy’s own collection of aprons dates back over a 100 years, there is a connection to family that goes back even farther.

“My great-great-grandfather and his brother came to America from England and followed the California gold rush,” she explains. “After making their fortunes, they returned to England to bring their families back to America. Upon returning to his family, my great-great-grandfather dumped his gold into his wife’s apron and it was so heavy the apron tore apart and the gold fell on the floor.”

Aprons may not always be particularly sturdy, but, in this case, it appears she had the resources to buy a new one.

Renny said that at this year’s show she’s going to encourage apron owners to tell a little story about the particular one they are modeling. The apron’s connection to the kitchen remains strong.

In a Huffington Post blog, pastry chef and TV personality Marisa Churchill recently expounded on a recent apron purchase.

“I have officially made it as a chef! Or at least that’s how I feel since my handmade Blunt Roll apron arrived,” she wrote. “I went online and dropped $140 on a new apron. I didn’t need a new apron, but I wanted to be one of the cool kids too.

“Like many chefs, I don’t wear my chef’s coat on TV. Nor do I wear it when I’m testing recipes,” she went on. “Unless I’m in a restaurant kitchen doing major production work, my chef coats don’t get much use. Now aprons on the other hand, I often wear.”

But then Churchill got back to where all great apron stories begin.

Sweetie Pies owners
Sweetie Pies owners, past and present. Front , from left, Dave Lea, Corinne Lea, Susan Croissant-Murphy, Michael Murphy. Back, Renny Lea, Larry & Cathy Mazurek. Contributed photo.

“My favorite is the apron that belonged to my grandfather. It has the name of the restaurant he owned — “College Inn Café” — embroidered in red on the front. I keep it tucked away in its own personal drawer in my kitchen.”

And while the principal purpose of the apron remains to protect the clothes underneath, Churchill expounded on their many applications. “Aprons were also wonderful for drying children’s tears, or on occasion, even for cleaning dirty faces. Aprons were used for carrying eggs, and even fussy chickens. Shy children used them as a place to cover their faces and hide when company came. They were used to wipe the perspiration from the brow when bent over a hot stove and were perfect for carrying kindling wood from the yard. They made a perfect basket for shelling peas or carrying fruits and vegetables. If company showed up unexpectedly, you could dust off most of the furniture with that old apron in a matter of seconds. If a hot dish needed to come out of the oven, there was no need to search for oven mitts or a kitchen towel, the apron made a perfect pot holder.”

They can also be pretty darn pretty which is evident in Renny’s and Dorothy’s collections and others that will be on display for everyone to see July 15 at Sweetie Pies, which is currently owned by Dave and Renny Lea in partnership with Cathy and Larry Mazurek.

“This year, the local group Small Forest will provide music for the show,” said Renny. “Chairs will be set up on the lawn or in the nearby Settlement Courtyard Inn in the case of inclement weather. There is a running commentary on the aprons and a certain element of fun and not taking everything too seriously.”

Article from Edible Door at http://edibledoor.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/beauty-diversity-aprons
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