2010 Weave of the week #7: Two fancy aprons, one mystery
June 27, 2010

Mystery apron

In December 1977,  at a thrift shop in Soho,  I bought a vintage bathrobe for my honey,  and the intriguing garment shown above for my haphazard textile collection.

I find this apron such a fascinating cacophony of fabrics,  colors,  techniques,  and design motifs,  that from time to time I try to find out where it came from.  A knowledgeable friend thought that it might be from Salamanca,  Spain,  but that’s the only clue I’ve got,  so when I decided to write this post I contacted Mr.  Constancio del Alamo, the textile curator at the Hispanic Society of America in NYC, to ask him about the piece. He graciously agreed to look at my pictures and said,  by e-mail,

I never have seen an apron like this one,  and we do not have anything similar in our collection.  The designs of the embroidery,  and the use of lentejuelas [sequins] could be Spanish,  but I am not a specialist on these textiles.

So the apron’s identity is still a mystery to me.

I have posted images of several views of the apron in the slideshow below,  and here’s a brief description:

The black base fabric is coarsely woven (possibly wool),  and a sash and ruffle,  made of a lighter-weight silky plaid,  have been added to the top and bottom.  The sides are edged in a worn burgundy-colored brocade fabric.  Curvy leaf and flower shapes have been embroidered on the surface of the black cloth with chenille yarn and trimmed with metallic beads,  and in between the embroidery sections is an appliquéd light blue panel embellished with silvery metal sequins.

The waistline is tapered and gathered to give the apron shape,  and the ribbon apron strings are long enough to tie around the waist.  It is wearable.

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All this time I have assumed that the apron is part of a traditional folk costume,  but it has also occurred to me that it could  have been created by an unknown fiber artist.  That thought reminded me of another apron from the same period of my life.

In 1976,  I saw the “Glories of Russian Costume” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of  Art’s  Costume Institute,  and it rocked my world.  The lavish exhibition was curated by the outrageously flamboyant fashion priestess Diana Vreeland,  and even the peasant costumes were marvels of opulence and excess.  (The exhibition credits thank the men who “took infinite pains in arranging our three Russian chandeliers,”  and Chanel for the “Russian Leather” perfume.)

Entranced by the show,  I used some of the Russian costume elements (the color red,  a fancy multi-panel border on a plaid weave,  gold glitter, multicolored stripes,  mixed fabrics)  in an apron that I designed and wove with  yarns that I had on hand (shown full view below)


(and border detail shown here)

Border closeup

I made notes,  drawings,  samples,  and measurements before weaving the piece,  but my apron doesn’t fit me.  In fact,  it was not meant to be worn,  but to express the excitement I felt at seeing those magnificent Russian garments.  I wove the apron for pleasure and entered it in a juried exhibit of the Handweavers Guild of Connecticut where it was awarded first prize for fashion.  (I am still grateful to that jury for appreciating a piece of my work that is very close to my heart.)

Which brings me back to my original question about the provenance of my mystery apron.  If my red apron were to end up in a thrift shop years from now,  would people wonder what tradition it belonged to,  or would they know that it is simply a work of art.  Could it be that my mystery apron, too, was simply meant to be a nonfunctional work of art?

I hope that by posting images,  textile lovers who read my blog might help me identify it.  But even if I can’t find out where that apron came from,  I have enjoyed that exhilarating,  creative summer.

If you’re reading this and might be able to help me identify the mystery apron,  I’d appreciate it if you’d post that information in a comment, or e-mail ferndevny(at)gmail.com.