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Dresden Work Apron, English, dated 1728

English, dated 1728

At times in the history of dress, aprons, which have traditionally served as a utilitarian component of working-class clothing, were adopted as decorative accessories in the fashionable attire of wealthy women. During the eighteenth century, beautifully embroidered aprons in both silk satin and taffeta, as well as cotton examples such this rare and exceptional Dresden work apron, clearly demonstrated their purely ornamental role.

With its graceful pattern, this apron would have been valued for its fine craftsmanship as well as the elegant impression it would present when worn. Curvilinear vines spring from three mounds at the lower edge. Each vine displays flowers, including stylized tulips, daisies and sunflowers, and four fanciful, long-tailed birds facing in opposite directions across their evenly spaced perches. The virtuosity of this Dresden work derives from the embroiderer’s repertoire of various types of drawn work—each bird and flower is delineated by a different filling pattern. Also of note here is the embroiderer’s repeated marking of her initials. At the apron’s top edge, the letters “M” and “H” are stitched inside of flowers; below in the second row of birds, the embroiderer’s monogram “MH” and the date of 1728 appear twice, once in a Hollie point medallion, showing the range of her needlework skills.

Other surviving examples of Dresden work aprons from early-eighteenth-century England point to the attention given to these garments. One example (in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg, G1991-525, a gift of Cora Ginsburg) depicts Adam and Eve; another, dated 1709 and illustrated in The Magazine Antiques in October 1928, Vol. XIV, No. 4 (frontispiece), shows in elaborate detail the day-to-day workings of an estate. A third known apron, dated 1713–14, has motifs very similar to the one here, signifying that the design was likely taken from one of the popular pattern books of the period.

Dresden Work Apron, English, dated 1728 - detail

Provenance: Ex-collection of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts

33” H x 37” W

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