Checked Aprons in the 18th Century

The Annals of Philadelphia notes, “Very decent women went abroad and to churches with check aprons. I have seen those, who kept their coach in my time to bear them to church, who told me they went on foot with a check apron to the Arch Street Presbyterian meeting in their youth.”

See the descriptions of aprons in runaway advertisements for more references to check aprons.

Camilla, a novel written in 1796, reveals some contemporary attitudes about the English women who wore checked aprons:

Mr. Dennel and Mrs. Arlbery, who neither of them, at any time, took the ſmalleſt notice of what ſhe ſaid, paſſed on, and left the whole weight of both her perſon and her complaints to Camilla. The latter, however, now reached the ears of a fat, tidy, neat looking elderly woman, who, in a large black bonnet, and a blue checked apron, was going their way; ſhe approached them … The woman ſaid, “Why what’s here to do? Why ſee, my dear, if I muſt let you into the ſecret,—you muſt know—but don’t tell it to the world!—I’m a gentlewoman!” She then removed her checked apron, and ſhewed a white muſlin one, embroidered and flounced.
Miſs Dennel was now ſtruck with a ſurpriſe, of which Camilla bore an equal ſhare. Their new acquaintance appeared herſelf in ſome confuſion, but having exacted a promise not to be diſcovered to the world, ſhe told them, ſhe lodged at a houſe upon Mount Pleaſant, juſt by their’s, whence ſhe often ſaw them; that, having a ticket given her, by a friend, for the play, ſhe dreſſed herſelf and went into a box, with ſome very genteel company, who kept their coach, and who ſat her down afterwards at another friend’s, where ſhe pretended ſhe ſhould be fetched: “But I do my own way,” continued ſhe, “and nobody knows a word of the matter: for I keep a large bonnet, and cloak, and a checked apron, and a pair of clogs, or pattens, always at this friend’s; and then when I have put them on, people take me for a mere common perſon, and I walk on, ever ſo late, and nobody ſpeaks to me; and ſo by that means I get my pleaſure, and ſave my money; and yet always appear like a gentlewoman when I’m known.”

Additional references to check aprons from English sources in 1772, 1778, 1780, 1787, 1788, 1789, 1790, 1792, 1797, 1797, and 1799. Also, check aprons are sometimes mentioned in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, such as the 1751 trials of Lucy Beard and Sarah Castele.

Met 156.4 T31 is a textile sample book from 1771 with fustian samples that resemble some of the checked fabrics used for aprons in the paintings and illustrations. Click on the Additional Images link to view the samples.

(I’ve also added a section with links to online fabric stores where you can shop for check linen for making your own apron.)

Extant examples

  • ModeMuseum OBJ35268, a pink and blue checked apron, 1750-1800
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1999-225, blue and white woven check linen apron, America, 1776
  • Memorial Hall 1882.035.01, a blue-checked apron made by Judith Allen Bardwell of Deerfield Massachusetts, c. 1800-1840, made of “ blue and white checked linen … [that] was a common feature of everyday life in the 18th century Connecticut Valley.”

Checked aprons in artwork & illustrations

Notes on shopping for check linen

The predominant color combination seen on 18th century check aprons is a dark blue check on a white ground. As of this writing, some of the best fabric options available for this general color combination include Burnley & Trowbridge 6006, Burnley & Trowbridge 6032, Liberty Linens 20077, and Wm. Booth WLG 161.

Blue/white is not the only option in the images I’ve found; Marie-Denise and this woman have red checks on their aprons, which resembles Burnley & Trowbridge 6005 and Liberty Linens 20089.

This market girl may have a sheer check apron, resembling Burnley & Trowbridge 5963 or Wm. Booth WLN 638.

Some additional sites to shop for check linen for aprons: