Come and see an installation of aprons drawn mainly from the Henry Art Gallery’s permanent collection, now on display in Vortexhibition Polyphonica, running through March 13, 2011.

Apron. 1910s. Plain weave; Embroidered, machine. Cotton. Henry Art Gallery, School of Drama Collection, 84.7-363.

Many of you may remember your mother or grandmother wearing aprons, like the one on the left, while cooking or doing laundry, and then changing to something nicer (sometimes the entire outfit, or just the apron) when her husband came home from work. As wash-and-wear clothing came in during the 1960s, apron use declined. Today many men and women wear barbecue aprons, some of which, similar to a T-shirt, include advertising.

The Henry’s apron installation includes various styles of aprons worn as part of Western dress in the early to mid 20th century. Many aprons were utilitarian, originally worn to protect clothing while doing household chores. Others were decorative, such as those worn as adornment by party hostesses. Many of the aprons were handmade and contain unique decorative touches such as rickrack, lace, appliqué or embroidery.

In addition, this installation also includes aprons from the Henry’s extensive collection of Eastern European folk costumes. The bulk of this collection came from two major collectors, Blanche Payne and Margaret Hord. In the 1930s, Professor Payne, of the University of Washington’s School of Home Economics, conducted research on folk costume in Eastern Europe where she collected items illustrating design and needlework skills. Margaret Hord, a folk dancer, collected in the area from the 1960s to 1990 and accumulated complete costumes and costume pieces as an archive for folk-dance costume creation.

Bulgaria: Montana, Vidin. Back apron. late 19th century. Plain weave; Twill weave; Pile; Applique; Embroidered; Braided; Supplementary weft patterning. Wool; Silk velvet; Cotton. Henry Art Gallery, Margaret J. Hord Collection, 2003.1-26.

Exhibit highlights include Yugoslavian and Bulgarian back aprons. Most commonly aprons covered the front of the skirt and lacked bibs, but in some communities women also wore back aprons, used at the back waist. Back aprons varied greatly in length from the very short (only 6 1/2” long) to the very long (extending almost to the ankle). Click here to see the Henry’s collection of back aprons.

Although not on display, other aprons in the permanent collection can be viewed through the museum’s online resources. Check out some fantastic aprons from countries such as Tibet or Norway. You can also view a selection of tea aprons from the early 20th century that came to the Henry as part of the School of Drama Collection.

Diana Ryesky, Collection Volunteer & Independent Researcher

3 thoughts on “Aprons

  1. Diana, hi! I don’t have a lot of aprons, charming as they are, but I do have a lot of old lace. Glad to see your name, and hope you’ll get in touch.

    1. Hi! Nice to hear from you and thanks for checking the Henry blog. As you know, the Henry’s collection includes lace, which, now that you mention it, could be a possibility for a future blog post. Diana

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