Guided Patternmaking: Mid-19th c. Pinner Apron

I have to admit that I could not have grown my interest in historical clothing as much as I have without the assistance, precautionary advice, and practical knowledge shared on other historical sewing blogs. A type of post I consider to be crucial to building that interest is tutorials. Not only do they show that an idea can, in fact, become a reality, but they show how it can be done. Now, that sounds pretty obvious – that is the point of a tutorial, after all – but I think it shouldn’t be taken for granted. For the occasionally skeptical crafter, such as myself, tutorials can be a huge motivator; tutorials foster a can-do attitude, which is always the first requirement for successfully completing a project. So, in the name of collective craftiness, I decided to put together a tutorial of my own. I hope that it inspires you: either to try this pattern for yourself, or to embark on another artsy adventure. Enjoy!


Le finished product

First: A Bit of Research

Aprons have long been a staple clothing item for working women, and with good reason. They protect the dress beneath from stains and other damage, and can be washed much more easily. Though this means you will wear out an apron quickly, it increases the longevity of the dress (and when you contemplate sewing a new apron as opposed to creating an entire dress… well, you get the picture). Aprons are also multi functional pieces. They are nearly as efficient as a wheelbarrow in transporting firewood, are just as useful as a bucket for gathering produce, and are synonymous with a hot pad when dealing with cook stoves, pots, pans, etc.

In the late 1700s, “pinner aprons” entered common fashion. These aprons incorporated a bib above the waistband, which covered a portion of the bodice. A possible reason for this change is the fact that dresses were either one piece or were made as purposefully matching two piece ensembles. The lack of interchangeable top and bottom options could have been a motivator to protect not only the skirt, but the bodice as well. With exception to a brief pause during the Regency period, the pinner apron maintained its popularity until the late 1800s.

The top corners of the bib were affixed with pins. Prior to the invention of the safety pin in 1849, fibula pins were used (more information on fibula pins can be found here). The primary difference between the two is that the safety pin has a curve on the end that accepts the pin, thus preventing the wearer from being poked by the pin’s sharp end. This is what makes it “safer” than the other.

By the 1860s, the pinner apron had taken on a relatively distinctive appearance. The bib was gathered at the waistband, creating an inverted trapezoid shape. The bottom of the apron covered a larger surface area, reaching at least across the front half of the waist. Aprons could be made in colors or patterns – darker colors would have been more popular for working women, as they didn’t show stains as easily. The aprons for nurses, however, were largely white in an effort to promote sanitation.

Below are some era-appropriate images that I used as primary sources for my apron.

Without further ado… The Pattern!

The Basic Elements

There are 5 cuts of fabric needed for this apron: 1 for the bottom half of the apron, 1 for the waistband, 1 for the bib, and 2 for the pocket (optional). All the pieces are essentially rectangles of varying dimensions, which will be based on your personal measurements. This should ensure an apron that fits you perfectly. Each letter has a corresponding measurement explanation, which accounts for seam allowances, hems, etc. These are displayed in the diagram below.

Note: If you are making the waist band out of two or more joined pieces (which you will likely need to do, if you have a shorter cut of fabric), you should add 1″ to the total length for each additional strip you use. This adjusts for seam allowances.

Interior Pocket (if desired)

  1. Place the two pocket pieces right sides together and sew along both 14″ sides and one of the 6″ sides, using a 1/2″ seam allowance.
  2. Clip the corners, and turn the pocket right side out. Press if desired.
  3. Fold the finished 6″ edge up lengthwise, until it is approximately 1″ away from the unfinished edge.
  4. Sew the two formerly 14″ sides, securing the sides of the pocket. You’ll likely want to do some additional back stitching at the top and bottom of these seams, to strengthen the pocket and prevent further damage. Do not sew the side with the unfinished edge, as this is the opening of the pocket. The raw edge will be inserted into the waistband later on in the assembly.

Pressing and Prepping Apron Seams

  1. Press 1/2″ folds on both sides of measurement B, both sides of measurement F, one side of measurement A, and one side of measurement E.
  2. (If you’re using multiple pieces for the waistband, join them now with a 1/2″ seam allowance and press seam flat.) When waistband is at the desired length, fold it in half lengthwise and iron a crease. Open the fold. Fold each of the long sides in 1/2″ and iron. This creates finished edges for both sides of the waistband.

Sewing Seams and Gathering

  1. Fold the measurement A with the pressed edge over 2″. Sew along the bottom of this fold (the current location of the pressed edge).
  2. Fold both sides with measurement B over 1/2″, and sew these folds in place.

3. Similarly, fold the measurement E with the pressed edge over 2″. Sew this fold.

4. Fold sides with measurement F over 1/2″ and sew these folds into place.

5. Add gathers to the non-pressed edges with measurements A and E, using a contrasting color thread. Secure the gathers by tying a knot at both ends of the thread. Though you can gather to your desired dimensions, suggested widths are as follows: Measurement E to approximately 3/4 of your natural waist, Measurement A to approximately 1/5 of your natural waist. Reference photos for accuracy.

Piecing It All Together

This is where it gets a little tricky. The waistband is the connecting element for all the pieces, and consequently all the pieces will be “clamped” inside it. Though I will attempt to explain the positioning of the pieces, the picture below will probably be the best point of reference.

Step 1
Step 2
  1. Center the bib and the bottom half of the apron, putting wrong sides together. Place pocket on your preferred side, with the side with the unfinished edge facing the wrong side of the bottom half of the apron.

2. Center the waistband above it all, open the lengthwise crease down the middle of the waistband, and place the other three pieces (bottom half of the apron, bib, and pocket) inside the crease, and fold the waistband back. The waistband is now “clamping” the other pieces together. Adding pins along the distance where all the pieces converge will help keep the gathers in place.

Final Seam

  1. “Open” the end of the waistband and fold the end in 1/2″. Refold the waistband and sew the end shut. At the corner, turn the fabric and sew along the long edge. The needle should be piercing through both sides of the waistband; when you reach the other pieces, it should travel through one side of the waistband, then the apron/bib/pocket, and through the other side of the waistband. Finish out the other waistband end in a manner similar to the way you began.

Clean up any loose threads, and you’re ready to go!

Wow! That was quite a whirlwind. What did you think? Will you try it yourself? How should I improve for any future tutorials?

I hope you enjoyed this post. Keep your eyes open for more historical clothing posts – including a comparison of some recurring historic styles! That’s all for now,



Dietz, Paula. “THE MANY GUISES OF THE HUMBLE APRON.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Feb. 1982,

“A Visual History of the Safety Pin.” Museum of Every Day Life,

“A Quick History of Aprons.” Port Library,,

Bellis, Mary. “Sewing Is a Lot Safer Thanks to This Inventor.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 3 July 2019,

1860s Garters and Summer Wonderings

All in all, it was a never-to-be-forgotten summer — one of those summers which come seldom into any life, but leave a rich heritage of beautiful memories in their going — one of those summers which, in a fortunate combination of delightful weather, delightful friends and delightful doing, come as near to perfection as anything can come in this world.

Lucy Maud Montgomery, “Anne’s House of Dreams”

Hello there! At long last, I’m back.

It’s been some time since I last wrote. With AP tests, end-of-the-year frenzy, and a busy start to summer, I rarely found the time to work on my historical projects or write up posts for the ones I did accomplish. Consequently, my WordPress sat on a spare browser tab for a few months, waiting in negligence until … well, just now! Since summer is well-established, I finally have the time (and motivation) to sew those patterns, knit those things, and write up those posts. It will be nice to get back to some “delightful doing”, as Anne would say. This post likely isn’t as artsy or developed as others, but I simply felt that I needed to hash it out and get started again. I hope it’s still applicable/interesting to you as a reader. 🙂

Wanting a quick and triumphant return to my historical costuming for the summer, I decided to try out someone else’s historical knitting pattern. This crafting adventure was also the result of necessity; I’m participating in a historical interpretation volunteer program for a nearby living history museum, and we get outfitted in full historical clothing. This means knee high socks, appropriate to the 1860s house I’ll be interpreting in. However, keeping knee high socks up is a challenge, particularly when walking or standing for the majority of the day. So, to uphold my sense of domestic decency, I decided to try a time period appropriate solution: garters!

The original pattern is another from Godey’s – however, the “translated” pattern I used comes from a blog called “A Peculiar Seamstress”. You can find that link here.

Overall, the pattern was pretty simple. The stretchiness of the knitted fabric is achieved by alternating the direction of stockinette stitch every few rows. I originally assumed that ribbing would be involved, but upon further research, I learned that ribbing was not commonly incorporated into knitted garments until later in the 1800s. It seems that knitters of the time perceived ribbing to have more efficacy in increasing volume than in creating close-fitting and elastic seams.

The garters turned out quite well, in my opinion. I liked the embellishment of the tassel, as it made them seem a little less utilitarian, and more personal. I gave them a test drive while I was volunteering, and discovered that they are, in fact, pretty effective. However, looping the garter end once more to create a more formal knot was necessary.

I’ll continue to wear them with my historical costuming for the summer, and I look forward to putting them to use! Keep an eye out for plenty of new posts in the next few weeks – the ideas and projects just keep rolling, and like I mentioned earlier, I have a lot to share.

Wishing you a summer filled with delightful weather, delightful friends, and delightful doing,


Snow Candy from Little House In the Big Woods

I grew up on the Little House books. Laura, Mary, baby Carrie, Ma, Pa, and Jack all became companions for long winter nights. Now, of course, I understand that there were greater social and political issues that were contributing to the story of the Ingalls family, including the tragedies of the Indian Removal Act and the implementation of crooked treaties, which pushed American Indians out of their homelands. However, I do think that the Little House books influenced my young interest in history. And, in the greater historical sense, the books do serve as a primary source of childhood during the “Manifest Destiny” era.

With that, let’s begin today’s post. Fairly recently, I reread the books and made note of the myriad of activities that filled the pages. To everything there was a season: planting, harvesting, storing what you had gathered, and watching the days get longer as the long winter wait wore on. Everything was cyclical (one of many aspects of living in the past that I believe we have sadly eradicated). But, as I believe we are finally rediscovering, the small joys are often what make the longest lasting impressions. The activities of the Little House books exhibit this joy simply and spectacularly.

One of the stories from the book that has always stuck with me is that of “snow candy” from Little House in the Big Woods. The passage is as follows:

“One morning [Ma] boiled molasses and sugar together until they made a thick syrup, and Pa brought in two pans of clean, white snow from outdoors. Laura and Mary each had a pan, and Pa and Ma showed them how to pour the dark syrup in the little streams on to the snow. They made circles, and curlicues, and squiggeldy things, and these hardened at once and were candy. Laura and Mary might eat one piece each, but the rest was saved for Christmas Day.”

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I decided that I could use the multiple snowstorms sweeping through the area to my advantage and test out the recipe myself. So, one morning when it started to snow, I set out a cast iron pan and waited. Lo and behold, by evening it was filled and the candy making process could commence. I began by boiling 1/4 cup sugar and 1/8 cup molasses in a pan:

Constant stirring was required so as to keep the mixture from burning. After it had become homogeneously caramel-colored, I took it off of the heat and brought in the pan of snow.

Letting the sugar mix cool for a minute or two can be helpful, as it will increase the viscosity and help you achieve more uniform shapes. Next was the pouring. I tried to emulate the shapes mentioned in the passage…

A circle… and a curlicue… and a squiggeldy thing (?)

After the candy had cooled, I tried it out. It is much sweeter than the standard candies of today; no flavoring masks the sugary content. As the text references, this would have been considered a real treat. Sugar, which is used in the production of molasses, was a relatively expensive commodity. One pound of sugar cost as much as a pound of dried apples or a yard of calico fabric. Alternative sources of sugar, such as tapping maple trees for syrup, were also utilized, as is visible in Chapter 7, “The Sugar Snow.” The ingenuity that went into these simple pleasures is really quite admirable.

Hopefully, should snow visit your area, you will also take the chance to experiment with this historical treat. If you do, let me know how it turns out!

A Knitted Sock from Godey’s Lady’s Book, Vol. LXV

Hello there! I’m glad to see you’ve found my blog. As you can probably surmise, this is my first ever post (I know; how exciting!). I will be perfectly honest – starting a new blog is quite a massive undertaking, or at least it appears to be. But, as Lao Tzu put it, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” So, without further ado, let’s begin with a pedestrian-related article: a knitted sock pattern from Godey’s Lady’s Book.

If you’ve explored the wide and variegated world of historical fashions, you’ve likely encountered this publication. Fortunately for us, all editions are now in the public domain and can be easily found on Google Books or Project Gutenberg. Godey’s Lady’s Book was a wildly popular magazine which was sent by mail semiannually, and, per the title, was directed towards domestic women. Its publication ran from 1830 to 1898, reaching its zenith in the 1850s and 1860s. Each Godey’s Magazine provided women with instruction for a myriad of interests. Sheet music, poetry, serials, “receipts” (an old term for what are essentially recipes), illustrations of the latest Parisian styles, and health advice, among other things, were all included. However, one of the most popular sections of the magazine was the “Work-Department”, which included directions for handicrafts such as sewing, embroidery, crochet, and knitting, the last of which is our topic today.

With the winter months upon us, one of the most comforting pieces of clothing can be a nice, warm pair of socks. It seems that the writers of Godey’s Lady’s Book were in agreement. In their July to December 1862 issue, they published the following pattern:

The description below, “Knit the foot of the sock in ribbed stitch, and the top in an open fancy stitch.” is the entirety of the information provided, which is enough to make the modern knitter balk. Also, I am relatively certain that whoever created this illustration was not a knitter themself, because other than at the cuff, there are none of the characteristic “v”s or dashes which attribute a knit or purl stitch. Nevertheless, I decided to try to make some sense out of the pattern. I now present to you its modern translation.


1 skein worsted weight yarn, approximately 220 yards
(I used 1 ball of Berroco Ultra Wool and had just enough to finish the pair)
Set of 4 double point needles, US 7 / UK 3.5
Scissors and darning needle for finishing


k = knit
p = purl
k1b = knit one in row below
sl = slip
ssk = slip slip knit
k2tog = knit two together
N1, N2, and N3: Needle 1, 2, and 3, etc.


Cast on 42.

Row 1: Purl all stitches
Row 2: *k1b, p1* to end
Repeat these two rows a total of 12 times (24 rows)

Row 1: *k1, p1* to end
Repeat this row a total of 13 times

Heel Flap
Row 1: sl1, *p1, k1* 10 times (21 stitches). Turn work.
Row 2: sl1, *k1, p1* 10 times (21 stitches). Turn work.
Repeat these two rows 6 more times (a total of 14 rows) or adjust to better
fit you. It should reach the end of your heel. 

Turning the Heel
Row 1: sl1, *p1, k1* 5 times, p1, ssk, k1. Turn work.
Row 2: sl1, *p1, k1* 2 times, p2tog, p1. Turn work.
Row 3: sl1, *k1, p1* 2 times, k1, ssk, k1. Turn work.
Row 4: sl1, *k1, p1* 3 times, p2tog, p1. Turn work.
Row 5: sl1, p1, *k1, p1* 3 times, ssk, k1. Turn work.
Row 6: sl1, *p1, k1* 4 times, p2tog, p1. Turn work.
Row 7: sl1, *k1, p1* 4 times, k1, ssk, k1. Turn work.
Row 8: sl1, *k1, p1* 5 times, p2 tog, k1. Turn work. 13 stitches remain.

Set-up round: sl1, *p1, k1* 6 times. Pick up 8 st, work across top of foot in
rib, pick up 8 st. *k1, p1* 3 times. This is the new start of your round.
Needles should now be arranged as such: N1: 15 st, N2: 21 st, N3: 14 st

Row 1: Work in rib, following the stitch below (k=k, p=p)
Row 2: N1: Work in rib to last 2 st, k2tog. N2: Work in rib. N3: ssk, work in
rib to end
Repeat these two rows 4 times (42 st remain) 

Work in rib until 1.5 inches before tip of toe.

Row 1: N1: Work in rib to last 2 st, k2tog. N2: p1, ssk, work in rib to last 3 st,
k2tog, p1. N3: ssk, work in rib to end of round.
Row 2: Work in rib, following the pattern of the stitch below (k=k, p=p)
Repeat these two rows a total of 4 times (26 st remain).
Then work just Row 1 a total of 4 times (10 st remain).
Draw yarn through the stitches and weave in ends. Repeat for second sock.

If you’re interested in looking at the entire issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, click here