updated 15 March 2018


Table of Contents

Belly aprons

A belly apron is simply a rectangle pleated or gathered onto a band or sash.  It may or may not have a patch pocket, depending on intended use.

(It is also possible to design a belly apron by cutting away all but an apron shape from any skirt pattern.  Since shaped aprons are usually fancy, only simple rectangles will be discussed here.)

Belly aprons were traditionally made from the full width of the cloth, using the selvages as a finish at the sides.  Modern fabrics are usually too wide to make reasonable aprons, and often have no usable selvage, so you will probably have to hem the sides.  See "Facing-hem Corner" in "Edge Finishes" for a neat way to finish the lower corners on fancy aprons.  For work aprons, hem the sides first, and leave the ends of the bottom hem open.  Unless you are doing something really, really fancy, top-stitch all hems by machine.

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Drawstring apron

The easiest belly apron to make is the drawstring apron.  This survived into the twentieth century only as a beginning exercise for 4-H students, but there was a brief fad for buying plastic hoops that clipped around the waist, and threading a drawstring apron made from half a towel onto them.  This was shortly before we took up wearing jeans to cook in, so the plastic hoops weren't available very long.

Should you need to minimize laundry for any reason, the drawstring apron is perfect:  Just pin a towel or a napkin to the front of your shirt, and tie the drawstring apron over it.  You are fully covered, and when you spill something on yourself, only the component that is soiled has to be washed.  The apron opens flat for washing, so it may not need ironing.  Drawstring aprons also minimize your use of fabric, since you can make more bibs than aprons, and more aprons than sashes.

Old-time cooks also wore sleeve protectors, but if it isn't frightfully cold in the kitchen, it is better to make your working clothes with short or three-quarter sleeves — long sleeves are a fire hazard.

To make a drawstring apron, cut or tear a rectangle of the desired size, hem the sides if necessary, then hem the bottom and make a casing with a header at the top.  (See "Cased Elastic Edges, curtain-rod pockets, and other casings" in the section on edge finishes.)  Thread a ribbon, tape, or sash through the casing and tie it behind you.  If the string is tape, you may wish to make it long enough to wrap around twice, and tie it in front.

To make a sash, cut or tear a long, narrow rectangle of cloth with the straight-of-grain running the long way, fold it lengthwise right sides together, and sew around the three raw sides, leaving a gap in the middle for turning it right-side out.  It's tempting to make a skinny pillowcase, for easier turning, but it's easier to slipstitch an opening in the middle of the length than to close an end.  You can also hem all four edges of a strip of fabric, but the above method is easier, it requires hardly any more fabric, and it keeps the wrong side out of sight.

A drawstring apron can be threaded onto any sort of belt, if the casing is made the right width for it.

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Pleated or gathered belly apron

You simply finish a rectangle of cloth on three sides, then pleat or gather the raw side onto a band or sash.

I seldom see the band and ties of an apron made all in one piece; after all, an apron is seldom so long that a single strip torn off the edge will go around your waist with enough left to tie a bow.  Usually, the apron is sewn to a middle section made like a waistband, and two sashes are caught in the end seams of the band.  See the discussion of the 50s pleated skirt for one way to make this waistband.

Another way:  tear three strips two or three inches wide from the side of the fabric destined to be an apron.  If the selvages are not usable, tear them off before tearing your sash strips.  Hem three edges of two strips to be ties, and reserve the other strip for a waistband.

If the selvages are good, reserve the two strips with selvages for the ties, and take the other to be the waistband.  When you hem the ties, be sure to make mirror images, so that you can have both selvages on top, or both selvages on the bottom when you sew the ties to the waistband.  (I prefer that the selvage point down.)

The ties don't have to match the waistband, and the waistband doesn't have to match the apron.

Mark the center of the waistband, and place a mark a quarter of your waist measurement to each side of the center.  Or measure half the desired width of the apron to each side of the center.

Pleat or gather the apron to fit between the marks on the waistband.  For a fancy apron, sew it to the band right sides together, and hand-hem the inside of the band.  For a sturdy apron, sew the wrong side of the apron to the right side of the band, then top-stitch by machine on the right side.  I'll assume machine finishing; you can easily figure out how to hand finish.

Press the allowances toward the band, and continue the crease to the end of the strip.  Press under the seam allowance on the other side.  Pleat the ties to fit between the creases and sew them to the ends of the waistband, right sides together.  Arrange each tie to nestle into the crease that will be in front, but fall short of the crease that will be inside, so as not to have hems and seam allowances piling up more than is necessary.  Put the pleat where it won't get folded when you finish the waistband.

Press the seams toward the waistband, then fold the waistband in half, with the crease of the pressed-under seam allowance just concealing the first row of stitching.  Topstitch three edges of the waistband.  (You may topstitch all around to make a neat rectangle if you prefer.)

Another plan:  make the sort of waistband you would make for a skirt, and close it with a button or two #3 hooks, or any other method you'd use for closing a skirt waistband.  This plan is particularly good for an apron that is part of an outfit.

Another plan:  work buttonholes into the band, and sew buttons onto the garment to be protected.  (Or use snaps or . . . )

Invent your own designs; you can hardly go wrong with aprons.

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Cobbler apron

A cobbler apron is a belly apron with the bottom turned up to make pockets.  If the fabric is reversible, all you need to do is to make the apron longer than the desired length by the desired depth of the pockets, turn the hem to the right side, then turn up the bottom and stitch the pockets.  (See "patch pockets" and "seam-to-seam pockets" in the section on pockets.)

If the fabric is not reversible, piece it.  The piecing seam may be anywhere above the bottom of the apron and below the top of the pockets — a great convenience if you are using up scraps.  The pockets need not match the apron — also a convenience when using up scraps.

Three pockets are traditional, but if the apron is full, make four pockets to insure that they are deeper than their width.  If the pockets are deep in proportion to the width of the apron, two may do.

The pockets need not be equal in width; you may make one or more pockets to fit particular items, then divide the remaining width among as many pockets as it will make.

The width of a pocket should be greater than the width of your hand and less than the depth of the pocket.  (Sometimes you don't need to put your hand in, but be careful to make a pencil pocket short enough that enough pencil sticks out to give you a grip.  On the other hand, if the pocket is for a valuable object, or a short, fat object, you may wish to make the pocket deep enough that you have to squeeze the bottom to pop the object out.  See "Flap Pockets" in the section on pockets.  (But not until I get around to writing the relevant part of that section.)

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Carpenter Apron

Also called "nail apron".  This is a small, sturdy, unpleated cobbler apron with two or three pockets.  Essentially, it is a rectangle with tapes sewn to two corners.  If it has three pockets, the middle pocket is likely to be narrower than the side pockets.

Originally intended to dispense nails or other small hardware, carpenter aprons are good for carrying one's "bank" when working a fair booth.  The change is ready to hand, you can't walk away from it when startled or distracted, and it is easy to hand the apron to another person when you take a break.

Nail aprons are quite cheap, and are sometimes given away as advertisements, but if you want a special arrangement of pockets, all you need is strong thread, sturdy canvas or heavy twill, and a sewing machine that can punch through your canvas.

The needle in the machine should suit your thread, not your fabric.  A thinner needle is easier to push through heavy fabric, and there are no sideways forces on a sewing-machine needle when it is used properly, but the needle must make a hole large enough for the thread you are using.

If the machine balks where there are more than two thicknesses, turn the flywheel by hand.  You can work through a thick spot without putting great stress on the machine by stabbing the needle down repeatedly until it has drilled through.

If sewing by hand, you need to use force instead of repetition, but there are sewing awls, sailor's palms, etc. to help you exert that force without injuring yourself.  If sewing hurts, you are doing it wrong!

A hand-sewn bar tack at the top of each pocket would probably be a good idea. An ordinary thimble or a quilter's thimble should suffice, since you use the same hole over and over when making a bar tack.

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Bib Apron

As the name implies, a bib apron is a belly apron with a bib, usually supported by a strap around the neck, sometimes by two straps that go to the waistband in back.  The bib of the original "pinafore" was pinned to the dress.

Like belly aprons, fancy bib aprons may be derived from dress patterns, but plain ones are made by sewing rectangles together.  The bib should probably be pleated a little bit to compensate for the waist being smaller than the chest.

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Butcher Apron

Sew tapes to two corners of a piece of heavy white cotton fabric, then wrap the tapes around your waist and tie them in front.  This apron fits men better than women, but it's very easy to wash.

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Chef's Apron

Like the butcher apron, a chef's apron is made of light canvas or heavy twill of unbleached cotton that soon washes white.  Undyed fabric is used both for ease of laundry and to assure the customer that the apron is clean. 

But my chef's apron is made of red-checked cotton damask, and it was copied from a gingham apron I bought at a rummage sale.  It is also somewhat smaller than the man-sized aprons supplied by a linen service.

First I cut off the selvages a shade under an inch and a half wide, using the stripes of the fabric as a guide.  I folded these in thirds and stitched them to make tapes.  (I was making dish towels and other things also, so there was plenty of selvage; if you are making all of the fabric into aprons, you'll need half-inch heavy twill tape or light webbing.)   I didn't finish the ends of the tapes in any way.  If I were doing it today, I'd stitch across a quarter inch from the free ends and again a half inch from the ends, but they haven't ravelled significantly despite many washes.

Then I cut a rectangle twenty-five inches long and twenty-eight inches wide, again using the stripes of the fabric as a guide.

Then I marked ten inches down on each side, and nine inches in on each side of the top.  The horizontal line ran along the top of a red stripe, and the vertical lines ran down the middles of white stripes.  I marked each line along the grain for an inch or two to make a square corner, then curved it gently into a more-or-less bias line between the two.  Commercial aprons usually have obtuse corners, and the cutaway line may be entirely straight.

Then I turned a quarter-inch hem all around, mitering all six corners, and top-stitched it by machine.

I cut one of my "tapes" in half, making two 22.5" ties, which I sewed to the lower corners of the cutaway.  The other "tape", I sewed a little less than an inch from one upper corner of the apron, again using a stripe as a guide.

I put the apron on, put this tape around my neck, pinned the other end into position, then removed the apron, cut the tie to length, and sewed it in place to match the other end.

From the cutaway sections I made two patch pockets with a finished size of 6" wide and 5.5" high, with the lower corners cut off on the bias two stripes wide.  These were sewn with the stripes on the pockets precisely matching the stripes on the apron, so that from a little distance, it is not apparent that the apron has pockets.

For serious cooking, you would want to make the apron a few inches longer, and maybe a bit wider.

Usually, chef aprons have half-inch twill tape as ties, and they are long enough to tie in front.

After a few years, I got tired of the short ties and spliced on more sash so that I could tie the apron in front.

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Barbecue Apron

Round the bottom corners of a chef's apron and add a cartoon or silly motto.  Barbecue aprons usually tie in the back.

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Shop Apron

A long chef's apron made of bull denim, work denim, or other heavy, dark-colored fabric.

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Coverall Apron

A coverall apron is a sleeveless dress that opens down the back.  I don't recall seeing this anywhere but in old-fashioned student-nurse uniforms.  White uniforms were for graduate nurses, yet they wanted something that could be boiled and bleached next to the patient.  The solution was to put the students in a uniform of the school color, then cover it with a white apron.  When they last wore dresses, student nurses still dressed in white with contrasting sleeves.

Aprons that have sleeves usually open down the front, when they are called "smocks" or "lab coats".

At some point, an apron becomes so all-enveloping that it is foolish to wear another garment under it.

Unless it's for protection against hazmats, in which case, you want the option of removing it without notice, in front of everybody.

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