by Mary Jane Butters

Apron Strings and Purse Things -- Remember being "tied to your mother's apron strings"? Women's aprons were a mix of ceremony, lace and utility. Made from cotton, they were carefully embroidered and cross-stitched. Half-aprons made from dainty hankies were crocheted together using clever hand-me-down patterns. Aprons weren't just an afterthought -- they were a fashion statement. They also served a practical purpose. Most homemakers in the first half of the century didn't own washers and dryers. Laundry was serious work back then and aprons kept their garments clean.

Joyce Gibson Roach, a folklore writer says, "There was a time when a woman rose and put on her apron as her most functional piece of clothing. She hardly left her bed, let alone her house, without it. Early photographs of frontier women bear witness to the one garment common to all -- the apron. Frontier women wore aprons with pockets. Those pockets concealed hankies, leftover cold biscuits and ham, roots, plants and other stuff gathered from the wilderness, small toys, and eyeglasses. Or a gun. While doing research for a book about ranch women, I came across a story about Molly Owens who made it a point to put on her apron whenever a stranger rode up. The apron had a special pocket in which she concealed a gun."

Where have all the aprons gone? Undone by convenience foods and careers, they're hard to find. Referred to as "vintage aprons," they speak volumes about women's roles in the past. Cindylou Ament, a lover of aprons, inherited a drawer full of aprons -- all handmade by her husband's grandmother. "They are like elaborate dresses, really. I love wearing them and continuing the tradition."

If you want to re-create the charm of a bygone era, try and search for aprons. You'll find one old-fashioned pattern containing five different versions. Even if you haven't the time right now for a sewing project, order the pattern and tuck it in a drawer, before they too, become extinct. For inspiration, visit

No longer "apron-ed" first thing in the morning, we are "out the door." Our apron pockets have become purses and finding the right purse isn't easy. Purses abound in every shape and in every color. Still, it's hard to find a truly practical purse. They may be stylish, but they don't have enough pockets or compartments. Reaching for your lipstick or sunglasses is reminiscent of playing "go fish" at the county fair.

Here's an idea worth considering. Head for a camera store. You'll find an array of tidy, very small suitcases with a top lid that are strong small boxes designed to protect a fragile camera and its accessories. They come with both a perfectly designed shoulder strap and hand strap. The hand strap allows you to place it topside up on the car seat without having to fling it or watch it topple onto the floor when you drive around a curve in the road. There's a compartment for everything! The inside has a fancy padded removable and adjustable set of dividers held in place with Velcro. This allows you to customize a special place for just about everything--glasses, day-timer, lipstick, suntan lotion, water bottle, voice recorder (good for "jotting down" ideas and "mustn't forget ..."), a bit of dried fruit & amp; nuts if you're caught in traffic, flashlight, matches, lozenges, tampons, hairbrush, toothbrush and toothpaste, etc. It has a handy back pocket that keys slip into easily without the ability to move around -- they're always right where you put them. The three outside compartments are designed for effortless fetching while the case is hanging from your shoulder. Visualize someone taking photographs at a sporting event. While still holding a camera and keeping their eyes on the prize, they reach for another lens or another roll of film without ever stopping to look and rummage.

It's designed to be light. When you arrive at your destination, grocery store checkout counter or staff meeting, it opens up like a small suitcase and inside is everything exactly where you put it. It isn't all that big, about 10 inches by 12 inches. And just for good measure, throw in a small tape measure. It'll come in handy when you go to a furniture store or you see a window you've always wanted. Carry with you the measurements for things you're keeping an eye out for. When you hear about a good movie or book, tell your tape recorder and then keep a running list in its own special place for that unexpected evening when you get to browse a bookstore or want to pick up a movie on the way home. For your checkbook, money and credit cards, find a smaller purse -- a purse inside a purse. Carrying it will make you look like you mean business.

Publication date: 05/29/03

North Idaho State Fair @ Kootenai County Fairgrounds

Aug. 19-28
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