ExhibitionsAprons: Fun, Function and Formality

Museum Exhibition 2019

This exhibition features Olive Braun ‘s and other South Australian embroidered aprons plus aprons from around Australia and the rest of the world from the 18th century onwards. Aprons serve varied purposes from being part of normal dress and for formal occasions as in previous centuries and in national costumes to protecting the wearer, whether they be a child or an adult female or male. The aprons in the exhibition have been embellished with embroidery, appliqué and patchwork and even the simplest hessian work apron has some stitching in red and green.

Small, cream or ivory silk aprons, embroidered with exotic flowers and curving plant stems, were fashionable in the 18th century. They may have originated in France. The aprons were considered slightly informal and worn over a gown with a laced bodice and the skirt front open to show a quilted petticoat. Embroidered aprons were expensive. Mrs Delaney, the English diarist and embroiderer, paid 500 guineas for one of her aprons. From the collection is an 18th century decorative, silk work apron. The cream silk ground is embroidered with flowers and leaves in silks in pinks, greens and red with couched silver and gilt threads. A gold metal thread, bobbin lace edging and gold metal thread fringe have been added.

Dresden whitework aprons of the late 17th and early 18th centuries were worked in both Denmark and Germany. They were embroidered on a fine lawn or muslin ground in satin and back stitches with pulled thread fillings in areas of the design. In the late 18th century, longer muslin aprons stitched with delicately sprigged designs were worn over house-gowns. On display is a cream, fine muslin wedding apron circa, 1733, with scattered floral motifs worked in whitework embroidery with tambour, buttonhole and pulled thread.

An example of a South Australian decorative apron for occasions is the ivory silk apron from the 1870s, with flowers embroidered in ribbon work in variegated pink or mauve ribbons with dark pink beads stitched as the flower centres. When worn to serve afternoon tea to friends, the top of the bib was pinned in place.

Aprons generally serve a functional purpose in protecting clothes and the wearer. The two examples of this in the exhibition is the hessian waist apron with two ties made from a hessian Sugar Bag (70lb) would have been made for household chores and the white cotton maid’s apron with tape lace on the bib and at the hem from 1900.

As well as aprons stitched for children, they were also worked by children, as in the case of the child’s needlework waist calico apron with a needlecase and scissors pocket, which was possibly a school project, and a child’s calico apron embroidered, with two rabbits facing each other, dressed in hats, jackets and mittens, by the donor at age 10 or 11 at Thebarton Primary School in 1945.

The aprons are in various styles and as well as South Australia, they come from Europe, Russia, Turkey and China.

Dianne Fisher. Curator