The Frumpy-Dress to 18th-Century Apron Project

A while back, I decided that buying old linen clothes at thrift shops would provide me with an immediate and fairly cheap way to get a little linen to play around with. This method also makes me happy because it involves re-using cloth and piecing textiles together (both techniques used during the 18th century). With that in mind, I set out to thrift stores.

I had to find a garment that was 100% linen, not printed or embroidered, an accurate color (or a light color I could dye over) and a larger size with few seams (to give me more fabric!). I also wanted something that looked more worn than the other clothes; not because I wanted that look for my costume, but that people shop for their daily clothes at thrift stores, and I didn’t want to cut up something that somebody might want to wear.

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I found one match: this old plus-size linen dress that I got for $4.00. It was faded and a little stained. I washed it and carefully took each seam out, then ironed all the pieces to see how much fabric I had and what I could make from it. I found that I had more than enough to make the 18th century apron I had wanted for a while, so that’s what it became.

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The apron I primarily based my pattern on can be found in Linda Baumgarten’s book Costume Close-Up (#8, page 47) I took some construction methods and stitches from #33, page 97 in Fitting and Proper by Sharon Ann Burnston.

I didn’t copy the pattern exactly; I eyeballed it based on the cloth I had, using most of the cloth for the skirt and leaving about a square foot for the bib. The bib has small (1″ square) patches on each corner so that the pins don’t wear through the cloth so quickly. The skirt and the apron strings were pieced, but the rest of the apron was made from whole pieces. I drew the pattern for the bib freehand, based on the apron pattern from Costume Close-Up. I hand-sewed the entire apron with natural-colored linen thread.

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My old/new apron has old wear patterns and it doesn’t fit perfectly (the bib is a little unflattering and baggy). As an everyday, remade piece of clothing, however, I love it! It goes well with my everyday outfits that I wear when re-enacting outdoors.

It is wonderful to wear an apron, especially such a long and wide one. It covers my skirt completely, tucking a corner up gives it a whole new look, and it’s a third hand when I need to carry things. I wasn’t sure how well this project would turn out when I began it, but I am pleased with this result. I even had leftover cloth to patch it with later!

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About Amanda Goebel

I'm an Anthropology / Fashion History and Material Culture graduate from The University of Delaware, currently working on a Master's in Museum Studies. I'm a living historian interested in costume and culture from years before. I love researching the mundane and the everyday that has changed or disappeared since. I re-enact the 18th century, and I recreate clothing from that time. This blog is where I'll write about my research and projects. View all posts by Amanda Goebel

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