If the study was the domain of the man of the house in Isabella’s time, the kitchen was the empire of the lady of the house.
Women toiled long hours in kitchens to make meals, preserve food for future use, launder clothing and linens, and heat water for baths and house-cleaning tasks.
Even when the lady of the house had help in the kitchen—a live-in maid or a local “girl” who came for the day—they still spent the majority of their time in the kitchen, where conditions could be extreme.
In many households the kitchen stove burned 24 hours a day. The stove was stoked early in the morning to raise the heat so water could be boiled and breakfast could be cooked. It then burned throughout the remainder of the day until bedtime. In winter the kitchen was the warmest room in the house. In summer the kitchen was sweltering, with inadequate ventilation and no escape from the heat.
Isabella’s book Ester Ried opens with a scene in the Ried kitchen, with Ester toiling in the kitchen on a hot day:
“Sadie!” Mrs. Ried called, “can’t you come and wash up these baking dishes? Maggie is mopping, and Ester has her hands full with the cake.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Sadie, appearing promptly from the dining-room, with Minnie perched triumphantly on her shoulder. “Here I am, at your service. Where are they?”
Ester glanced up. “I’d go and put on my white dress first, if I were you,” she said significantly.
And Sadie looked down on her pink gingham, ruffled apron, shining cuffs, and laughed.
“Oh, I’ll take off my cuffs, and put on this distressingly big apron of yours, which hangs behind the door; then I’ll do.”
“That’s my clean apron; I don’t wash dishes in it.”
“Oh, bless your careful heart! I won’t hurt it the least speck in the world. Will I, Birdie?”
And she proceeded to wrap her tiny self in the long, wide apron.
Later in the book, when Ester returned home after a lengthy visit with her cousin:
Not all aprons were as large as the kitchen apron Ester wore. In fact, ladies often had different aprons for different tasks.
Work aprons were large and covered the entire front of a woman’s dress. They had plenty of pockets for thimbles, spools of thread, needles and pins, or any other household item the lady of the house wanted to have immediately at hand as she went about her daily housekeeping chores.
At the other end of the spectrum, tea aprons were feminine half-aprons that tied around a lady’s waist and covered her lap as she entertained family and guests at tea or luncheon.
Aprons were relatively simple to make; popular ladies’ magazines often featured apron patterns or embroidery and trim designs to customize a home-made apron. In 1922 the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences published a pamphlet of instructions for making a variety of different aprons. You can download a copy of here.
Now, as in Isabella’s time, aprons come in many styles. And though they are no longer a staple in a woman’s wardrobe, there are many women today who love to make and wear aprons.
Want to see what’s hot in aprons today? Here are two sites that sell aprons:
And you can visit Collectors’ Weekly to read a nice post about vintage aprons.
Do you ever wear an apron? Feel free to use the Comment box to share what you like about aprons or tell us where you like to shop for aprons.