The themes of nourishment and reverence led me to do my LifeWays project on the apron, both studying its use and making two aprons that I wear with the children. As an introduction, we have this lovely description:
I don’t think our kids know what an apron is.
The principle use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath, because she only had a few; it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and they used less material, but along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.
It was wonderful for drying children’s tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears…
From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.
When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.
And when the weather was cold grandma wrapped it around her arms.
Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.
Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.
From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables.
After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.
In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.
When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.
When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men-folk knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.
It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that ‘old-time apron’ that served so many purposes.
But…the children are hungry, we are busy, too busy, and we don’t always care about our clothes as parents and teachers, so why bother with an apron?
For the Child:
The young child lives in the world of Archetypes: mommy, baby, daddy, grandma, worker man, super hero, bad guy, good guy, etc. With the apron we are helping the child to sort out reality, we are informing their senses to let them know what our role and purpose in their world is at that given moment, because from their perspective they and world are one. The more a child does not feel secure in their understanding of the world when they begin to recognize themselves as separate from the world, at about age 3, the more a child will interact with the world through a sense of fear of the unknown.
This does not mean it would be best to “tell” a child about the world, because we know from our understanding of the 12 senses that the sense of hearing is a higher sense and the young child lives in and learns through their lower senses. Therefore we must show them about the world from these lower senses. We are their view of what it means to be human in the world. If we misinform the young child we risk shattering their reality. Additionally, wearing an apron and wearing specific aprons at specific times helps support the associative memory through which the child operates and therefore gives a child a security of knowing, which supports their happiness and in turn their sense of life.
Another aspect of the apron occurs when a child wears an apron and has access to aprons. This again appeals to the archetypical nature of the world for children and helps allow them to more fully live into their imaginations and all the roles they play out. This means that “aprons” (for the child and the adult) can take on many different forms, they can be pretty and fine for serving tea, thick and rugged for yard work and gardening, tool belts for building and repairing, absorbent for dishes, useful for cooking and baking and painting, silks for flying and protective for keeping warm and carrying babies, and many others I’m sure.
For the Adult:
My interest in and enthusiasm for aprons and the spark for this project actually began in 2012 when I took a workshop at a WECAN conference titled “The Etheric Apron of the Teacher,” led by Jan Ney Patterson. Before this, I had brushed aside this wearing an apron idea because it was my understanding that we need to be as much ourselves as possible for the children because they will know if we’re pretending at something and that will be a disservice to them. Additionally, it is so important for us to know what purpose everything in the child’s environment serves in order for it to be a living part of the child’s environment that fosters healthy development. The Ona I was did not wear aprons, and so I didn’t wear them at school.
So this workshop inspired a new perspective on the apron for me, but I wasn’t going to just start wearing any random apron. I didn’t feel that would really be completely accomplishing what I wanted an apron to do. I did start wearing an apron in a practical way, and that helped inform me more about the apron and how wearing one serves both myself, my colleagues, and children!.
For the adult, the apron serves many of the same purposes as it does for the child. Perhaps more than ever, in this time of changing consciousness where the nerve senses are much more awake both in children and adults, how we relate has become even more important. The apron helps us relate. It anchors us and those around us in the reality and truth of the moment and is a carrier through the many thresholds of the body, soul, and spirit. It can be an extension of our etheric, helping to hold and wrap our astral and physical in a united sense of existence.
For the young child reality and truth are one and the same. So with every experience a child has, we can ask ourselves, “What truth are we offering?” In that truth lies its purpose answering the always important question for both children and adults, “What purpose does this truth serve?” “Does it or how can it serve well?” Additionally, we need to continuously ask ourselves, “Is what I am doing or saying true?” (recognizing the various levels or our spirit, intent, emotions, thinking, and understanding). “Does it express what lives in my heart?” (recognizing our soul, motive, etheric, feeling, and sensation). “Can I be trusted to stand for what I do or say?” (recognizing our physical, instinct, will, and action). We can harmonize with the shining star of the whole human being when we live out of these three qualities of truth, love, and freedom. When we work out of the impulse to continuously know ourselves, we can then best serve the children in our care as a model connecting with the whole human being . When we look at wearing an apron from this perspective we can clearly see how wonderfully it can serve.
The Process of Making the Apron:
I have enjoyed trying different aprons, apron styles and apron fabric to see which ones I felt most at home in and suited my needs. I choose bamboo linen to make a painting apron (the fabric is thicker than some, so it will better protect my clothing) and a soft bamboo jersey corduroy to make a general purpose apron. I started by plant dying both fabrics. The painting apron fabric I dyed darker and slightly variegated so paint stains would become an aesthetic part of the apron rather than just look like stains. The general purpose apron fabric I dyed yellow, with indigo over some of it, keying the colors to the days of the week I would likely be wearing it.
For the general purpose apron, I copied an apron that I have for the pattern. The painting apron I drew directly onto the fabric using an idea from an apron I had observed an assistant wearing when I visited the Brooklyn Waldorf School. I added some length and a more narrow shape, thinking I did not want my apron hanging onto the table during painting, and I wanted more protection for my clothing, as well as a more full-length silhouette for the children as I moved about during painting.
Pockets are something important to consider. On the one hand, they can be so useful for a little finger- or hanky-puppet for the children, tissues (used and clean!), little found objects, stray hair ties and clips, pen and paper for quick notes, scissors or clippers for a gardening apron, finger knitting, matches and all sorts of other things. On the other hand, all those useful things tend to build up in pockets and pockets can quickly become a tangled mess and a place for grumpy or mischievous elementals! This is not a model we want for the children. If we can manage to keep our pockets useful but not cluttered, they can be wonderful. It is important they are sewn very well (along with the apron ties) because at some point children will hang on them! I chose to put pockets on the general purpose apron and not on the painting apron, to begin with at least, because i wanted to present as clean a presence to the children as possible during painting time. I may add hidden, inside pockets later for brushes and a pencil for writing the children’s’ names on their paintings.
For the sewing of my aprons I choose to use a foot powered, rocker sewing machine. I wanted to create something for the children that would carry as much of my intent, reverence, love, and process as possible. As it turned out, the aprons would also carry perseverance and so much joy! It took me most of a day to get my yard-sale rocker sewing machine in working order and to figure out how to use it! An interesting little sweet message that using a rocker sewing machine carries is that it cannot go backwards! If you try to go backwards the thread breaks and you have to rethread and start again. To secure starts and stops you have to spin your fabric around. I was lucky that the machine came with some beautiful old silk thread. Once I got the hang of it, it was such a joy to use the machine and quite quick as well and the resulting stitches are delicate and strong at the same time and so beautiful! I’m glad to have been able to share my process with you, as well as sharing the aprons with the children!
Ona Wetherall is an early childhood teacher at Kimberton Waldorf School’s Rosebud Program, a LifeWays Representative Program with children ages 18 months to 4.5 years who come full days. She has been teaching for nine years and did her Waldorf Early Childhood Teacher Training at Sunbridge. She has two children, ages 11 and 13. She wrote this as part of her final project for the LifeWays Training in Pennsylvania in 2015-16.