Manchester Art Gallery

apron

Object description

Fine cream corded silk embroidered with silks of various shades of mauve and green in satin stitch and with silver threads in raised and couched stitches; formal floral design of large flowers and coiling tendrils; edge cut into large scallops; finely pleated at waist onto corded silk ribbon binding which continues at ends to form ties.

Display label

High fashion aprons like this were chosen by society women as expensive and decorative accessories to be worn on smart and semi-formal occasions. Silks and fine embroidery would be totally unsuited to any practical protection or purpose, and were simply another way of exhibiting taste and wealth. This example dates from the 1730s or 1740s, and is embroidered with a stylised floral pattern including silver thistles in raised and couched stitches. The high quality of this embroidery and the lavish use of striking metal thread indicate that this apron might well have been made by a professional embroiderer. Many aprons are of course much plainer, made of stout linen or cotton for frequent washing and laundering, and worn to absorb stains and dirt. Housewives have worn such protective aprons for centuries, as have domestic servants such as those represented in the cook's and maids outfits below, and as in the shop advertisement for H. C. Russell's aprons and overalls, all dating from the end of the nineteenth century. By this date, the characteristic attached bib-panel was usual, protecting the bodice as well as the skirt, and spawning a subsequent plethora of "French Maid" outfits.