Manchester Art Gallery

apron

Object description

Short ivory silk waist apron with multi-coloured embroidery; made from rectangle of ivory tabby silk, scooped and gathered along one long side into 2.5 cm cream silk ribbon folded double. Other sides have plain rolled hem (silk has been re-used from earlier garment; fold line visible below waist line). Very high-quality embroidered stylised floral design in English crewel tradition, in bright reds, yellows, blues, greens and mauves. Symmetrical design of lily, honeysuckle and carnation-type motifs interspersed with leaves. Outlines worked in stem stitch, solid shapes filled in with shaded long and short stitch. Infillings worked in straignt stitch diaper patterns and cross stitch speckles.

Display label

Aprons were an important part of an eighteenth century woman's wardrobe. Working women wore plain or checked aprons in linen or fustian to protect their clothing, but more highly decorated aprons that were too delicate to be used as practical items of clothing were worn as high fashion as a reflection of the status of the wearer in society. This apron from about the 1730s has been beautifully and strikingly hand-embroidered in a rococo style often known as crewel work, depicting stylised floral designs in bold bright colours. Crewel work usually used worsted thread (crewels) on a plain white background and it was very popular in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries for bed-hangings. The embroidery here comprises coloured silks in stem stitch outlines with fillings in long and short stitches, whilst oher shaded areas have been sewn in straight stitch diaper patterns and cross stitch speckles. This fine embroidery was skilled and time-consuming, and this costly apron has probably survived because it would be simple to store and because it would almost certainly have been treasured and preserved for its beauty and technical skill.