Thursday, August 11, 2011


In the 1970s, which some call “back in the day” but I call “yesterday,” hand-embroidered shirts were a popular handwork trend. I embroidered several shirts, and I also made a western shirt for Mike and hand-embroidered the embellishments on the front and back yokes. As I worked I wondered what would eventually become of the shirt. Fast forward 25 years and there it is in the bottom of my rag basket. I just couldn’t bring myself to discard the embroidery work.

Enter ideas by way of Vintage Notions, compiled by Amy Barickman as a tribute to Mary Brooks Picken. Barickman credits Mrs. Picken as “the first American authority on home arts and founder of The Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences in Scranton, Pennsylvania.” Mrs. Picken founded her school in 1916, and through it she revolutionized sewing for the American homemaker. Through Vintage Notions, Barickman re-presents some of the ideas and instruction coming out of Mrs. Picken’s school. It was here I discovered the idea I needed to preserve my handwork in the article, “Men’s Shirts Put to Feminine Use” (pages 30-31).

So, I took the old shirt from the rag basket. First I ripped out the sleeves and opened the underarm seam in the body of the shirt. In order to preserve the embroidery, my shirt would not follow the “Magic Pattern” instructions exactly, so I was feeling my way along. I simply cut the front of the shirt away under the front yokes. The back of the shirt became the front of the apron with the front yokes lying over the shoulders. 

The instructions state that it's possible to make two aprons from one shirt. However, two aprons is not possible in my case. The thing is – in order for the apron to fit me, I really need a bigger man’s shirt. (A bigger man wears a bigger shirt, if you catch my drift.) So, I opened the sleeves flat, sewed them to the shirt back (front of the apron),and then used an apron pattern to shape the sides and hem. Then I was ready to apply the bias tape. When I thought I had finished it, Mike said he thought aprons should have pockets, so I ripped the pockets (without flaps) from the shirt and applied to the apron, buttons and all.

I admit the apron feels a bit awkward. Mrs. Picken’s apron instructions (there are several) called for a little more shaping than I could do because of the embroidery. But, it’s pretty hanging in my kitchen and that's what I wanted. It’s an idea I cherished that has come to fruition. KW


drMolly, the BeanQueen said...

I absolutely LOVE aprons - wear them all of the time at home - and think you did a splendid job Kathy!!
What a way to re-cycle, too.

Kathy said...

Thanks for the compliment, Dr. Molly. I'm thinking of making another apron from a chambray shirt I embroidered for my dad.

Chris said...

First of all, what beautiful embroidery!! You did a gorgeous job.

Second, the apron is very cute. I would imagine it does look great hanging up in your kitchen, but I think it also looks good on you. But of course, you probably don't want to get it all grubby, which is what would happen at my house.

Well done!

Leah said...

Your embroidery work is fabulous and the apron idea is so smart. Good job!

I understand the feeling about saving hand embroidery. I have a couple of things from the past and the items that they decorated have long since worn out. Yet, I won't put them in the trash. That seems so heartless. Sometimes, just a peek in the linen closet is all I need to bring memories flooding back. It's like opening an old photo album and stepping back in time.

Hallie said...

Did you have to sew the shirt onto new fabric? Was it worn out? Looks great!

Kathy said...

First of all, there's no new cloth on the apron except for the binding. It's all the shirt. The cloth is old but not especially worn, and I was able to cut around the stains.

Thanks, Chris. The embroidery design came with the shirt pattern, and when I think of it, I'm surprised I finished it and that it's not still in a drawer someplace. And I think it should be worn and enjoyed. Perhaps the embroidery will yet come back as potholders.

I like your comparison to a photo album, Leah.