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Pathways Through Our Past

Aprons and handkerchiefs

These two things are very seldom heard of or seen today.

When I was growing up everyone had aprons. When mom got dresses in the morning her apron went over her dress and stayed there until after supper or if she went to the store or church.

Hers was a large cover up style, covering the whole front of her dress and most of the back. The bottom corner was used as a hot pad when moving something from the oven or while handling hot jars while canning, and maybe to whip a tear from a little ones eyes. The bottom tied up was used to hold clothes pins or a batch of green beans from the garden. Mom and grandma made their own aprons as many women did.

My grandfather who had been a cook in CCC camps and logging camps wore an apron made out of a thin canvas. It was very large as he was a big man. His aprons were purchased along with his hat from a company in Minneapolis. They were very white and grandma had to bleach them often to keep them that way.

Men wore aprons as blacksmiths, printers and butchers as far back as the early settlers. I have read the when times were hard the women used the back of a dress the had worn out to make aprons for the daughters.

From the 1880s to the 1940s, chicken feed and large quantities of flour arrived in cotton sacks the eventually were fashioned into aprons and other pieces of clothing. The bags were durable enough to withstand rough handling but still pretty enough to be attractive.

The first bags were of a solid color but later floral patterns. Even the plain colors could be dressed up with fancy needle work or a bit of hand made lace.

The custom of the full body apron began to change to the half apron which took a lot less material and during the war fancy cloth was hard to get so the apron was dressed up with bits and pieces of lace or buttons and scrap ribbon. Some of the oldest aprons date back to the Victorian era, even black mourning aprons a woman put on while mourning the death of a loved one.

It used to be that the apron was like a badge of honor showing that the woman of the house had toiled over a hot stove to prepare the meal. The apron was almost like a uniform.

When watching the housekeepers on TV we saw them wearing fancy, frilly aprons, not very practical and mostly worn for looks. Some old aprons have become collectibles for those looking for vintage linen. And some of the 1950s plastic and souvenir aprons are worth a lot of money if in really great shape, and if you fine that person who wants them really bad.

Now the handkerchief goes way back to the First Century, B.C. Used as a mouth and a perspiration cloth, mostly by the wealthy.

During the empire squares of silk or fine linen were carried by the women. They were dropped by kings and queens at the start of their tournaments and the beginning of Roman games. Knights carried them into battle to show their lady's favor. During the Renaissance, silk, lawn and linen handkerchiefs were used by both men and women.

When cotton cloth became available, large squares were made in to neckerchiefs. These were worn by farmers, cowboys and later women wore them on their heads. They were meant to be used for many different uses.

Today, disposable paper handkerchiefs are more sanitary and you will only see fancy ones at more formal occasions. The fancy cloth hankies used by our grandmothers and saved away in a dark, dry place have come into the world of collectors or those who decorate with that Victorian look to their homes.

If you have any aprons or hankies from your ancestors, hold onto them for they are becoming very rare.

Enjoy our local artists display at the Blackduck History and Art Center. There are truly some talented members in that group. If you have a talent to display or a collection you would like to have showcased please call or contact a member. We would love to display your work.