A German "double", or midwife's, apron, from the late 15th century.
In various places throughout late medieval German art, such as in The Birth of Saint Roche (c. 1475-1485, St. Lorenz, Nuremburg) below, we can see a distinctive type of "double apron" in use. For the most part, the aprons appear to be used by midwives, giving them the monicker "midwife's apron" among some researchers. Karen Larsdatter includes a handful of them in her apron listing.
When I first found this apron style, I was intrigued by it, but since I wasn't doing late medieval German, it never made it much past the "hmm, that's interesting" phase. Then, some time back, I'd pinned an image of Lady Malina wearing a double apron. I really liked it, and decided that it should at least go on my "possible projects" list. When I decided that I wanted to include an apron in the new set of garb I was making for my daughter, I got poking around Pinterest, and re-found that apron. So, of course, now it was front and center on my radar, and I decided that I wanted to go ahead and make one.
I reached out to Facebook for some guidance. My friends Baroness Genoveva Von Lübeck (you may know her from her vastly popular and amazing blog, Honor Before Victory) and Sarah W. (author of A Most Peculiar Mademoiselle and Som När Det Begav Sig) gave me some pointers and helped me decipher the imagery. With their nudge, here's what I came up with.
I started with two panels of 57" wide 5.3oz linen, cut to 57" long each (giving me squares).
On a piece of 1" wide painters tape, I made tick marks every 1/4" along both edges.
Then, I attached the tape to the top edge of a panel, about .75" down (though it should have been less than that, in retrospect.) The trickiest part here was to keep it as on-grain as possible.
Using two needles to do the top and bottom at the same time (though, technically, I mean one, then the other as a group), I used white silk thread to weave a basting stitch in and out according to the ticks.
Instead of going all the way to the end, I left both needles in the fabric at the end at matching points. Then I removed the tape.
Using the needles as guides, I reset the tape along the next stretch. Wash, rinse, repeat.
At some point, I started to gather the fabric already stitched to have enough length to get to the end. Once I was all the way through, I pushed the fabric together into the initial gathered pleats.
They still needed some help, though, to look correct. Pleat-by-pleat, I corrected the fold as needed to get the final, neater row of pleats. This panel is about 7" wide.
Then I repeated the whole process (including the tape because the tackiness of the first piece had worn off), to get the second panel. In fact, almost everything is done twice in this entire process. It is a "double" apron for a reason!
I am going to pause here to briefly note that the period images suggest a longer pleated panel than what I've done. To do that, you just add additional stitch lines down to your desired panel length. I chose not to do that because I really like the look of this example, but also because I was concerned that a longer panel might accentuate the width of my bust in an unflattering manner. That may be entirely unfounded, but I wasn't going to worry about it more than that.
To create the strap, I took a 3" strip off the remaining fabric I had. This was also 57" wide.
I stitched the ends together to create a loop. Then, just by hand, I folded it in half, then turned the raw edges in.
Using the seam as one of the shoulder points, I folded it in half and then in half again to locate the center front and back points.
Meanwhile, back on the panels, I hemmed the sides using hem stitch.
Once the panels were finished (everything but the hem), I lined the strap center point to the panel center point and used the strap to bind the top. In this picture, it's pinned on both sides, then on the ends.
After securing the strap at one end, I stitched the binding to the pleats. I did this by picking up a bit of (almost) every pleat, the picking up the folded edge of the binding. This allowed me to further adjust and refine the positioning of the pleats.
When I finished one side, I turned it over and worked in the other direction across the back.
Then I did the same thing with the other panel. When I got to the end of that one, I just continued along the strap with and overcast stitch to secure it closed.
Same thing on the other strap. So, at that point, the apron was done on the top, and I was able to slip it over my head to determine where I wanted it to connect on the sides. The easiest way to do that was to stand in front of a mirror, pick a point I liked (lower that the hip, in keeping with the imagery), and place a pin on the front panel at that point.
After taking it off, I folded that panel in half to place a pin in the same spot on the other side.
I then lined the front and back panels up (right sides together) from the top, so that the opening is the same length on both front and back edges, and pinned them together down from my initial pin.
At this point, I switched from the thinner silk thread to a slightly thicker hand spun linen, and used the Elizabethan seam technique of using overcast stitches to secure the two finished edges together, creating a seam.
A simple hem stitch took care of the final raw edge.
Since it wasn't long before the original thread used to create the pleats snapped, I used the linen thread and secured the pleats on the back side with a back stitch to finish the apron.
I was concerned during the making process that this style of apron wouldn't be a good fit for me, but once I finished it and tossed in on at this weekend's event, I was pretty satisfied with it. There is, however one thing I would do differently.
Even though it made sense to create the apron as a symmetrical piece, the reality is that I'm far from symmetrical front-back. The apron hangs lower in the back, sort of accentuating my rear a bit more than it needs.
There are two solutions. I could detach the panels and reconnect them with the back better positioned (which would also involved re-hemming). But another issue I had wearing it was stepping on it when I stepped backwards. So the back could certainly use a bit of shortening up anyway. Which means the other, easier, solution would be to simply shorten the straps, bringing the back panel up.
Having a seam on both shoulders would then help me keep it properly placed.
I'm really satisfied with how this turned out, and having now worn it once, I have a better idea of how it will serve me in the future. It'll really help protect my gowns when the kids are in tow, and will of course work for any labor I might be doing. I was also really happy to have it at a particularly cold event as an extra layer.
This whole thing, by the way, came together pretty easily. I did the pleats on the two panels over two evenings, then spent Friday doing the hand sewing. The hem was done in the car on the way to the event, and I did the back stitching at the event after lunch.
As always, you can see the full set of photos in the Flickr set or on Facebook.