There's something about seeing images of aprons being modelled that I find both beguiling and soothing. I think it's because the subliminal message I absorb is that:
a) these are not cat-walk numbers but real garments that actually have an everyday place in my own lifestyle (I am usually to be found in an apron). Dwelling on the possibility of acquiring a new one is not therefore simply feeding impossible or ridiculous sartorial dreams but sensibly practical;
b) modelled in a bower of flowers, with the only mess around being artistic and somehow therefore desirable, I feel my own, considerably less artistic, mess is soothed away or at least put into soft focus by extension;
c) although my mantra of "a girl can never have too many bags or too many shoes" is always ready to be rolled out, occasional guilt creeps in at the idea of spending significant money on same, whereas an apron by definition can't be expensive and one does indeed need plenty in the drawer, if doing a lot of cooking, gardening, cleaning and other hands-on stuff, which I do.
I say, "an apron by definition can't be expensive", but this illusion was rudely shattered by discovering that the said red apron on the front cover of Country Living costs the princely sum of £48; (from Selfridges, if you're interested and have had a windfall recently). How disappointing. The article, in which the red apron also figures, inside the magazine,
featured, to be fair, a number of other, less expensive, aprons including some denim ones from Muji and John Lewis.
A denim apron... hmm... now there's a thought. Denim being robust and considerably improved by regular washing, I could see might have mileage as an apron. But dark blue denim on its own, while possessed of a certain minimalist chic, (especially paired with those spotty cotton kerchiefs, floaty voile scarves and vintage buckets of flowers in the photographs), still wasn't quite cutting it, as set against the sheer ebullience of that bright and soul-lifting, red linen number, I wanted so badly. I could forgo the pristine Hunter wellingtons (I don't think mine were ever that clean, even when they were brand new) and the enchanting, wide-brimmed sunhat and the model's beautiful, long, straight hair and the vintage gardening books; I could accept that the oases in my days are not always like the sunny idyll of the magazine photo-shoot, depicted among baskets of freshly cut flowers; but a bit like King John ("who was not a good man"), longing for a "big, red india-rubber ball" in A A Milne's poem, "King John's Christmas", I, (not a good man either, clearly!), did long for a bright, red linen-fabric apron!
But there was nothing doing. I simply could not bring myself to spend nearly £50 on an apron. It hovered however, tantalisingly in my head and peeped round the corners of my mind when it thought I wasn't looking. And in the way that sometimes happens, necessity generated happy invention. Delving into my fabric boxes there was (of course) no suitable red linen to run one up myself, but there were the off-cuts from making my denim skirts last year. "You really ought to throw these out!" I told myself, "you can't use denim off-cuts for much. Or could I? Yes, indeedy!" The red apron peeped one last time at me and gave way to a denim one, pieced together from nothing. But not just a plain denim apron, a denim apron blooming with hooky tulips, from a pattern I'd discovered here on Etsy by Greta Tulner of AterG Crochet. It's not free but the download only cost £2.41 so it was hardly bank-breaking and for such a gorgeous and versatile pattern, I thought, well worth it.
I've recently come really to love projects that combine fabric and crochet. Initially I thought the two media might not work terribly well together, but every time I've experimented, it's worked absolutely dreamily. And I am on the look-out now for more of such. (I've found a couple too, of which more in due course!)
Anyway back to my tulips and their background. The denim off-cuts were pretty motley in shape and size and so the apron really did have to be pieced together; "hodged" as my mother would say, meaning "made to work when really there isn't enough of whatever it is to make it work"! Because so many seams were needed to make up the apron shape, I was a bit concerned about them fraying badly in the wash, so I sewed the pieces together with French seams, with all the raw edges tucked away and my little old sewing machine, which I've been thinking about needing to replace, coped manfully with all the layers of thick fabric she had to sew through. She's earned herself a reprieve, I think, after that!
The crochet tulips are a joy to make - lots of happy colour changes and once I'd got the hang of the pattern, nice and easy to hook up in quantity.
To apply them to the apron, I pinned them in place and then tacked each one down, sewing by hand just slightly inside where they were going to be sewn properly, before using the sewing machine and a longer stitch than usual, to sew around the perimeter of each flower. It's worked perfectly, far better than I'd hoped or expected and the flowers look as though they've just grown out of the denim.
The patchworky construction seams are largely disguised and I have an apron that can give the beautiful red one, that I originally longed for, a run for its money any day, without spending a single penny. Actually that's not quite true, I did have to buy one or two additional colours of thread to match the perimeters of the flowers for sewing them in place so that the stitches would be invisible. Making do with an almost-but-not-quite-matching thread would have spoiled the ship for a ha'pp'orth of tar. Even the ribbon to make the neck loop and ties was in my sewing box, purchased ages ago for something and never in the end used.
Thrifty makes like this are just so satisfying. Something pleasing and useful for next to nothing and the huge delight in making it, to boot. Anyone feeling down at the moment? I detect quite a number of us are feeling a bit low here in the UK - I suspect the brief appearance of the sun quickly replaced by grey, cold and damp days that would fit better in early Spring than midsummer may have something to do with it. "Country Living" may have a headline saying "Here Comes Summer!" but that would appear to be a triumph of hope over experience at the moment. Anyway, if you feel you could do with a lift, I recommend a project like this for an instant feel-good and soul-lifting boost! Much more effective than retail therapy, I find!
If you want to give it a go, it's easy-peasy. Draw and cut out a simple apron shape using an existing one as a template. Don't forget to add on a bit extra all round when you draw it, to allow for the extra fabric you'll need for turning under the raw edges. Draw and cut out an additional rectangle or a square for a pocket or two, if you fancy. Omit, if you don't.
Raid your fabric stash or that bag of clothes you are sending to the charity shop and see what you can cannibalise. The overall shape can be pieced from few or many bits. Cut up old jeans or a denim skirt for a denim apron like mine; take your scissors to mens' shirts where the collars and cuffs have gone - these are a good starting point for lighter weight, fairly plain fabric; outgrown children's clothes may also provide enough fabric when deconstructed and pieced together.; look speculatively and creatively at any plainish off-cuts from a previous sewing project - cotton curtain fabric and curtain-lining fabric are particularly good for aprons. Just remember that each piece needs a seam allowance built in where it joins another piece and don't work with funny shapes - stick to linear ones, even if it means you need to use more pieces or you'll get in a muddle assembling it all.
And if your cupboards yield no treasures to cut up, and you have to buy something, a plain piece of calico, or similar plain cotton fabric, from which to cut the basic apron shape, will cost you almost nothing, certainly no more than a fraction of that eye-watering £48, although you won't have the peculiar pleasure, that is all its own, of making something out of nothing.
Sew the bits together so that you have a single apron-shaped piece of fabric. You can use ordinary seams or French ones. (Google for instructions on sewing French seams if, like me, you're not sure of how to do them) Press all the seams nice and flat. Turn under the raw edges all the way round and sew in place by machine (or by hand if you prefer).
If you are adding a pocket, turn under the raw edge of the top and stitch down. Turn under and pin the sides and bottom of the pocket piece but don't sew the pocket on to the apron yet until you've added your flowers. You may find it useful, however, to mark where the pocket will go on the apron, with pins, or tailors' tacks, so that you can see how the overall design will work when positioning your flowers.
Hook up a bed of flowers - tulips, roses, forget-me-nots or any other bloom that takes your fancy in a washable yarn, from whatever pattern and colours you like. I used Cascade Ultra Pima Cotton for my AterG tulips because that's what I had. I love that yarn so much - it's a dream to work with and the colours are just gorgeous.
Pin your flowers onto the apron and tack securely in place by hand, using running stitches.
Machine sew around the perimeter of each flower with a long machine stitch or, if you like hand-sewing, you could stitch them by hand, using small, neat oversewing stitches. Make sure your thread matches the yarn, whichever method you choose.
Now that all the flowers are sewn on, you can stitch your pocket(s) in place, machine sewing close to the turned-under edges of the sides and bottom.
Neaten off any loose threads by pulling them through and knotting at the back of the apron.
Sew on tape or ribbon to make the ties and the neck loop and go and sit in the garden with a cup of tea and a muffin.
Tea and muffin (or equivalent) essential! Hunter wellies, hat and long hair optional! Baskets and vintage gardening books, if you have some, desirable!
Of course, in such an apron, any mess will no longer really be mess, or not mess with a capital M; it will be artistic and intentional laissez faire "styling"! Must say that to myself every time I go into the living room and discover H has taken it over again with computer parts, school text books, DVD boxes separated from their discs, chocolate wrappers and sundry other nameless detritus. This has been trying my patience somewhat over recent weeks and I am not sure that calling it "laissez faire styling" instead of "this disgusting mess" will prevent Krakatoa blowing, when I next enter the room but we'll see!
As he so kindly took the photos of the apron on me, however, I shall turn a blind eye, for now!
Thank you, H, you are, despite any "laissez faire styling"in the living room, an angel!