Upskilly & Stuff 2: The Apron

Rectangle, rectangle, string, string, string.

One big rectangle for the bottom part; one smaller rectangle (optional) for the upper part; and three ties: one to go round your neck (unless you opted out of the upper part or wish to pin the bib on in the old-school manner) and two to fasten the whole shebang around your waist.  1-2 rectangles + 2-3 strings = apron.

Tablier pour hommes sans poche bavette bretonne de chef

I actually cheated a bit: I cut the top part and the bottom part (bib and, er, skirt?) in one – a bit wasteful of fabric, but it worked for the piece I had.  Piece of fabric, bias binding for ties, and I was good to go – or was I?

The bias binding was, frankly, the colour of empty sausage casings; the fabric was bright white. Two problems there: one, they don’t go; and two, white is not a good colour for an apron unless you like to spend a lot of time soaking things in stain remover.

Solution: the left-over packet of dye from the triangle dress. Since the uncut fabric was too heavy (i.e. would have resulted in a lighter colour) I cut out the apron shape first, and then stay-stitched the raw edges (a line of stitches close to the edge, to control fraying & distortion), before flinging it, along with the bias binding, into the dye bath.

Observe the line of white stay-stitching.

Learning moment: bias binding, be it never so starchy, will lose its shape the minute you get it wet, and become little more than a tragic draggle. Incidentally, I was unsure to begin with whether the bias binding was natural fibre or something which wouldn’t take the dye. So I snipped a little bit off and set it on fire. General rule of thumb: if it burns, it’s dyeable. If it melts, you’re wasting your time, because a) it won’t dye and b) it’ll make a rotten apron. (Please observe due caution and common sense when setting things on fire.)

Once the dyeing was completed and the materials had dried (hanging on the line for a night, which tells you how hot it’s been here lately) I ironed them. Then I pinned one end of the bias binding (folded double) to one end of the top, and figured out how much I’d need for the neck band. (Never forget to add seam allowances.)

I cut the remaining piece in half for the ties, pinned the right sides of each piece together, sewed them into tubes and turned them right side out again. (I could have whipped the two edges together if it had stayed in the classic bias binding shape, but alas, it was not to be. Perhaps I should have staystitched that as well.) A bodkin can be useful for turning the tube (I used the safety-pin approach) but make sure that this is a sewing bodkin, and not a dagger, please!

Fairbanks Robin Hood giving Marian a dagger
Maid Marian wonders how to tell Robin he got the wrong kind of bodkin.
Then – you guessed it! – press ’em flat. Then back to the pinning: pinning a ‘hem’ like the one I used on the kerchief around the raw edges of the apron piece (thus concealing the stay-stitching, which failed to dye), and attaching the tapes in the right places. My piece of fabric was already hemmed top and bottom, so I had to figure out a way to attach the neck tape which wasn’t built into the hem. (I basically just gave the hem another fold with the neck tape tucked into it.)

Then the sewing! This went pretty well until I got to a corner where two sets of double-fold hem and a tape met. The fabric I’m using is something like a heavy canvas or denim, and it makes for some chunky folds. Had I thought of this earlier, I could have taken the sewing advice I saw once: put it on a piece of wood and flatten it with a hammer. But I managed to pass through the edge, and went back to sew the rest firmly in place afterward by hand. Also by hand (because I forgot at the make-a-tube stage): sewing the free ends of the waist tapes closed.

The exoskeleton models the apron, having just enough neck for it to work.

Ta da! It is done, finished, complete. As far as I can see, it has only two issues: the front gapes a bit (still, it’s an apron, not a bib) and it’s kind of… pink. It remains to be seen whether I find it too pink to wear or not.

But, whether I keep it or not, I’ve practiced measuring, cutting, hemming, messing about with bias binding and attaching tapes.

Next month: a simple skirt or slip!


Making Cuts

I’ve been posting a lot lately about purging, decluttering, getting rid of things, seeking the essentials and hacking back everything else.

I don’t want to be one of those irritating people who give everyone else good advice but never follow it themselves; and I think what I’ve been trying to do with all these posts is to shift the balance of my thinking. It is not easy, as I’m sure you know. Mental habits are ruts that are hard to break out of.

Rutted field near Ravarnet - - 1144990

The good is often the enemy of the best, I wrote. This is a lovely aphoristic saying, full of insight and meaning. But it isn’t anything more unless you apply it, put it into practice.

There are a number of elements I consider as essential to my life: the love of God, my husband, family and friends. Writing, reading, and handwork. Those are my core activities and priorities. Then there are the necessary ancillary activities like cleaning, eating etc.

There are a lot of other things I would like to do – often, being all excited about a new shiny idea, I start doing them straight away – which there isn’t room for in my life, not without filching time from the more important activities.

Where this really lands me in trouble is with the sunk cost fallacy – having enthusiastically launched into a project or activity, I feel I can’t call it quits, because that would be wasting the resources I have put into it.

Does anyone else know the dragging guilt and wearying heaviness induced by too many unfinished projects? Are you in over your head too?

Raise your hand if you can't swim

Here’s the truth I have to face: if it wasn’t a good idea to start giving your time to something, it isn’t a good idea to keep giving your time to it.

The sensible thing – nay, the wise thing to do is to admit that there isn’t room in your life for this right now, and let it go.

That being the case, I am regretfully withdrawing from the Historical Sew Monthly. I made a shift and a balaclava, both of which are useful, and I am pleased that I did.

I also made half of an Edwardian maid’s apron – my first attempt at pleating – which I may use as a half apron, or finish with bib, straps etc in the fullness of time, either with the frou-frou Edwardian bib, or with a fuller, more practical one.

Spot the Jabberwocky!
Spot the Jabberwocky!

But as much as I enjoy historical sewing (or at least, the results thereof), it isn’t a high enough priority in my life for me to be devoting as much time to it as the HSM’15 requires. So, I shall take my final bow (that’s me in the back row) and retire to the audience where I can sit and applaud the efforts of others.

I do feel disappointed, I admit. But the disappointment is tinged with relief, knowing this was the right decision to make, and nervousness, knowing that this is very likely only the first of many such decisions.