Sunday, 11 August 2013

Did your granny wear one of these?

I don't recall my Gran wearing a traditional apron.  I remember her occasionally wearing a mauve overall (which has a nice consonance).  There is even photographic evidence of this garment somewhere at my mother's house.  Where I grew up butchers, joiners and freemasons wore aprons whereas Mams, Mothers, Grans and Grannies wore pinnies.  My own Mam had a rather fetching vinyl/oilcloth number with Superwoman (yes Super not Wonder) on it.

I am seldom certain of what motivates me but while I was on holiday I decided that, when I got home, I was going to make what I thought was called "a cross over pinny".  So I googled that phrase and was more or less thwarted by my NW UK English usage.  After further lateral searching I discovered that what I was really looking for was a pinafore.  This surprised me because I thought a pinafore was a dress. I was convinced of this because I remember my Mam sewing them for my sister.  She would ware a polo neck sweater underneath.  They were the girl equivalent of my dungarees.

I often discuss things with The Much Belovéd and this proposed project was no exception.  Now he grew up on the other side of the Atlantic, far away from our red brick man traps with their scrubbed steps, and when I told him what I had in mind he had some difficulty understanding me.  After further discussion we established that down his alley what I call a pinafore dress is a jumper, a UK pinafore is a US house dress, an English overall is a North American cover all and an apron is an apron.  Are we all singing from the same hymn sheet?  Great!

Thanks to actresses like Irene Handle...

 .........Kathy Staff... 

...and Jean Alexander this garment looms large in the psyche of one born in the late 1970s and weened on a diet of British television during the 1980s.

However this garment does not loom large in the psyche of internet search engines and sewing patterns, never mind free sewing patterns, for such garments are few and far between.

I did however manage to track down an inexpensive PDF explaining how to create your own pattern and construct a pinny from scraps. You can find it here if you are interested and if you are really interested you can tune in here soon to find out how I got on with it.


  1. Gavin, I've enjoyed your blog. I'm working up the nerve to start sewing things more complicated than curtains which require not much more than a lot of patience to pin and sew lots of long seams, and thrash about many meters of fabric. Not an easy task when you live in a very small NY apartment.

    I was intrigued by your recent post. Its amusing to me how certain words take different meanings in the US and the UK. Here,for a young lady to go out of the house not wearing pants under her skirt might seem like a an appropriate and unremarkable fashion decision. In the UK for a female to wear no pants under a skirt might cause considerable comment especially if she favors short skirts, and is target for the press. In the US for a man to venture out without pants might be viewed as a sign of distraction or a symptom of dementia . Over there a pantless fellow might only cause comment if he is carrying a big lunch, a term an Englishman taught me. The current US expression for not wearing underwear, going commando, confuses me. I would think commandos or other action types would want all the support they could get. Forgive me I digress

    A pinafore in the US is a type of overdress, but not a dress itself. In our nomenclature the pinafore is a garment worn by the young. These garments fit over the head like an apron, and most often had crossed straps in the back. These straps could join into a waist band that buttoned or tied to close. The skirt of the pinafore covered the wearers skirt or dress. It was open in the back however. In NY the youngest students at one of the private girls schools still wear red and white gingham pinafores over uniforms. I asked a friend who attended this school, and she remembers these being described as pinnies as well.

    I have heard the term pinafore used interchangeably to describe what might more appropriately be described as an apron. The apron with cross straps, and a protective skirt were part of the uniforms of domestic workers, waitresses, and nurses on both sides of the Atlantic. One of my instructors in nursing school described her own student uniform, and the hateful chore of starching her pinafores and caps. Of course that was before nurses were permitted to wear pants to work.

    I have had a hard time finding an appropriate American language description for the cotton print over dress you showed in the photos.They might be called a wrapper, house dress or overall, but those terms have separate meaning in US usage. An overall is a garment, usually made of denim, with legs a bib top and straps worn by working men. During WWII women adopted overalls as well, which was about the time that slacks became acceptable as women's wear. In American before the 1960's ladies wore slacks, possibly trousers, never pants. A wrapper or a house dress were garments women wore at home when they were keeping house, or doing housework. An apron might have been worn over the these garments to protect them. So I add to the confusion.

    A search of vintage apron sewing patterns produced a variety of styles, some which wrap around and fastened in the front or in the back, and are illustrated being worn over a dress.Could the word house dress, wrapper or apron be used interchangeably. I suppose so. Different social, regional or ethnic groups have different names for similar garments. I could go on but I doubt I will succeed in adding any clarity to the subject. I have, succeeded in avoiding some very overdue house cleaning, which I shall now undertake wearing an apron over my trousers and a foundation garment underneath. Keep sewing. Bill

    1. Hello Anonymous Bill
      Congratulations on writing the longest comment on the blog to date. I am always fascinated by the detail differences between UK and US English. The biggest areas of disparity I've found are in the vocabulary of clothing, food and automotive spare parts.

      Adding to the mix - I don't know much about what ladies in the UK wear under their skirts but I always thought it was knickers not pants.


  2. I'm not sure what we'd call this Apron over here across the pond, and I'm going to have to look in my apron pattern archive to see if I have a vintage pattern for one of these. My personal favorite is the full apron similar to this style that you slip over your head where the back straps "cross" in the back. Can't wait to see how you get on with your pinny!

    1. Hi Miss Sews-it-all
      I am impressed that part of your pattern archive is dedicated entirely to aprons. Do let me know if you find something similar.


  3. When my American Morris team discussed a new uniform a few years ago we thought knickers would be a good idea. Our British team mates did not approve at all. Shocked actually. Knickers were ladies under ware they said. What we wanted they assured us was Plus fours. The golfing pants that end at the knee. We Americans had always called them knickers. Wada ya know?
    We were on the same page!

  4. Hello Gavin,

    This apron is definitely de rigueur for scrubbing your step. I must dig out some pictures of my gran.

    I shall confide in you that I wear knickers and my husband wears pants. However there would be serious trouble if he ventured out the house in his vest and pants. Americans just don't understand how frightful some things sound to us. In fact going out in trousers and waistcoat with no jacket would be a sartorial sin in itself.

    PS. We both wear trousers, but more often I wear a skirt. The question of who actually wears the trousers is still up for debate.


  5. I love the 40th wraparound crossver pinny apron and decided to buy one for myself. I wear it with great pride and wear it daily to o my house chores and cooking.They are so comfy to wear to do my daily chores.
    Love Ann

  6. Hello Gavin,
    I came across your interesting blog while looking for a new Wrap-around pinny for myself. They are hard to find but worth the search. I love this type of apron for general housework, but also wear a half apron for the messier jobs. Another pattern you might try is this But, if you do try it I suggest you sew it so the straps cross over in the back. I found they tended to fall off my shoulders when bending over. Luckily I had enough length in the straps to allow re tying in the crossed style. Happy sewing. Grace