Ascension Day Apron
I have noticed several images, mostly late 16th century Italian, showing women wearing some sort of apron-like skirt that goes all the way around their normal dress skirt. I would like to make a specific variation of this garment, but let start with the basic version for now.
On the Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel, the apron-skirt is slightly translucent, and looks like it might be side opening by the looks of the slit where her red dress/skirt is visible. The overskirt is gathered and full. The waistband of the apron-skirt has a pretty lace on top.
On “Virgo Veneta”, there appears to be a skirt that is lighter than the bodice and bit of skirt underneath it. There is no way to tell what color the overskirt is, other than ‘lighter than the dress’. It looks like the over skirt might be fringed (most common on linen items as far as I can tell).
I have no idea what the writing at the top of this Mores Italiae says, but it appears to be depicting three working class Italian villagers. The woman in the middle wears a blue dress, with a white over skirt and an additional rectangular apron on top of that. Keep an eye on that shoulder basket carrier, you will be seeing more of them.
This serving woman pours drinks for a wealthy couple in Federico Zuccaro’s lovely fresco (be sure to click on the picture to see the full painting!) She is wearing a green dress/sottana with a white apron-skirt on top. It appears to be lightly gathered or pleated at the top, and ends a hands width above the hem of the green gown.
So far we have seen solid white skirts covering the gown skirts all the way around. This garment could have started as a way to protect skirts from various messes. If you are a fan of late 15th/early 16th century German women’s clothing, you are probably familiar with the Midwife or Double apron, which also covers the wearer’s skirt all the way around as well. I imagine that they were functionally similar to the northern Italian 16th century apron-skirt, protective originally, and a bit of a fashion choice in the upper classes, or when made in finer fabrics.
The three images above are all from various paintings by Jacapo Bassano, who lived and worked in a town north west of Venice. Normally I am quite weary of religious paintings, but in a similar fashion to his Flemish contemporaries Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer, Bassano created religious scenes with Jesus, Mary, and perhaps some saints, right along side many working class folk dressed in a way that appears to be common clothing for that time period. The women in the two Calvary paintings might be intended to depict Veronica, the woman who offers a cloth to Christ to wipe his face while he carries the cross. Unlike all the other ladies, Bassano’s ladies wear the split apron-skirt beneath their dress, rather than above.
These Venetian revelers are dressed in an eccentric fashion, related to their usual clothing, but with details that are quite different (exactly the same way that we tend to wear unusual clothing during parties, it’s an occasion to dress in extra fun ways, but the tailoring and shapes we find attractive are the same). The lady at the center of this image appears to be well off, and wearing a split apron-skirt over her blue dress, made of something shiny, like silk, in narrow strips, connected by small sewn sections.
Here is a nice working class lady, wearing this split apron over her pink dress, along with some very delightful rainbow colored sleeves! I have no idea if this image was painted in the 16th century, but wouldn’t those sleeves be fun?!
Remember how I said to pay attention ot the basket carrier that the peasant woman was wearing over her shoulder? Now we see it again!
My darling husband bought me the very large hardcover translated-to-English version of this ” Habiti antichi et moderni di diverse” book, illustrated and written by Venetian Cesare Vecellio (c. 1530 – c. 1601). It is a wonderful book, very fun to look through and read the author’s thoughts on various fashions across Europe. This image in the book is the main reason I will refer to this garment as an Ascension Day Apron, because he captions this woman with the words: “Peasant Women in the Region Surrounding Venice, Seen in Venice on the Day of the Ascension of Our Lord, a Venetian Holiday and Fair” This is the most written information I have seen on this split skirt, by far, and he goes on to say that this garment is “a circular apron of silk or some other very thin material, arranged with small fasteners in the form of needle-worked rosettes with narrow silk ties” (in the translated words of Ann Rosalind Jones and Margaret F. Rosenthal).
I love the addition of little bows at each of the points where this apron connects. Very cute! Below, the same artist includes that same basket-carry stick that we saw previously.
Now check out the image below this….looks familiar doesn’t it? I was curious as to why this drawing did not follow the same pattern as the rest, showing a woman with a colored dress, and a white split apron-skirt on top of it. It’s because it is from another costuming book entirely called “A collection of the dresses of different nations, antient and modern.” This new costuming book was created in 1757-1772, and while it is clearly strongly based on the Boissard image above, I don’t think I will wonder about the odd coloring choice anymore.
And here is a second image that goes against the rest: “Peasant clothing from Padua in 1583”. The problem with the image’s title, is that this drawing was created for a German fashion magazine called Münchener Bilderbogen sometime between between 1858 and 1898. It is the same as if I drew a picture today, and said “Here is what peasant women wore in the city of Padua in 1583”. No matter what I say about it, it will never be any better than a tertiary source. While the printed drawing below might be close to the actual clothing worn in that city in 1583, it was created by 19th century hands, through 19th century eyes.
Now, if the image above is such a bad source of information on the split apron-skirts, why on earth am I including it here? Simply for completeness I suppose, plus it is fun to see how different people interpret the same garment. I feel that it was created using several strips of linen or silk, about a foot wide, each hemmed and then sewn together at intermittent points, creating peek-a-boo spots for the dress to show through. The artist above made it appear as if the girl is wearing a solid white overskirt, with strips of puffy dark fabric tacked down every few inches with a button.
After gathering and comparing all the images above, I saw that there were three illustrated ways to connect the separate panels of the split Ascension apron: you could sew them together for a small distance, sew them with a circular embellishment on top (possibly a button, or with “needle-worked rosettes”), or with little ribbon or cord bows. The only explicitly mentioned fabric is silk, but given that nearly all 16th century extant white fabrics are linen, and that these objects seem to be similar to aprons, I will go ahead and guess that fine linen is also an acceptable fabric with which to construct each panel.
The aprons all appear to be about as full as the skirts they are covering. I measured a few of my skirts to see what sort of circumferences they had, and it looks like I should make my apron at least 120 inches around, perhaps as much as 150″. It’s hard to say for certain how many panels the skirts have, but guessing from how many we can see in each picture, and doubling that number, the number of panels varies from 8 to 18, and ranging in width from about 7 to 15 inches.
Let’s go back to Cesare Vecellio’s image again. In the original Italian text from 1598, he discusses three elements that I want to talk about: the circles on her bodice, on her sleeves, and on her apron. I have highlighted the text to approximately correspond with the colors on the image.
The text approximately says (according to the translation work of Ann Rosalind Jones and Margaret F. Rosenthal) “They wear overgowns of fine cotton or wool in various colors, with silver-gilt brooches on their bodices, which are trimmed with bands of velvet or of some other kind of silk, and corals or silver beads around their necks on on their breast, as well as down the seams of their sleeves. Over this gown they wear a circular apron of silk or some other very thin material, arranged with small fasteners in the form of needle-worked rosettes with narrow silk ties.”
What I am really after is clarification on the needle-worked rosettes. In the image, they are shown as vaguely disk shaped, with three little lines running down the middle of each one. The problem, beyond the fact that the image gives little information on how they actually looked since they are so simplified, is that the artist has depicted her ‘silver-gilt brooches’ exactly the same way.“Portano una veste o di bambasina, o di lana di diversi colori con alcune brocche d’ argento dorate sopra il busto, con liste di velluto o altra sorte di seta, co coralli o tondini d’ argento a torno il collo, o petto , et cosi giù per le cuciture delle maniche. Sopra di essa veste portano una traversa tonda di seta, o altra sorte di tela molto sottile, accomodata co alcune legaccette a rosette fatte all’ aco con cordelline di seta;”
I typed the original text out as best I could and put it through several translators, hoping to perhaps find if some of the words Cesare Vecellio used had several meanings. For example, I found that “cordelline di seta” could mean narrow silk ties like my book says, or it could mean silk braids, silk cord, or silk ribbon.“They wear a robe or bambasina, or wool of different colors with some pitchers silver gilt above the bust, with lists of velvet or other sorts of silk, with corals or beads of silver turn/round the neck, or chest, and thus so down the seams of the sleeves. Above it carry a round savegard of silk, or other sort of very thin cloth, accommodated with some legaccette rosettes made to aco with silk braiding;”
I have a few words here that the internet translators could not help me with.
At least in modern Italian, ‘brocche’ means pitcher or jug, which does not make much sense. However, ‘broche’ is old French for brooch, pin, or similarly pointy things.
A local SCA Countess pointed me towards this wonderful book A Worlde of Words, or Most Copious, and exact Dictionarie in Italian and English, Collected by John Florio, printed in London in 1598 (same year as the Habiti antichi et moderni book!). I am finding a few interesting things, like ‘Legaccia‘ means a band, a garter, a fillet, a swath, a rouler?, a bandle, or a binding, which is by far the closest I have come to figuring out what ‘Legaccette’ means. For ‘bambasina’ it directs me to ‘bambagiuola‘ which is a kinde of stuffe made of bumbast, we call it bumbalsine. No ‘brocche’ in the 1598 version, but the 1611 edition has ‘brocche grandi, great headed studs, called Brodes or Strake nailes’ and several similar words, meaning studs, nails, forks, broach, or spit (the roasting kind), all of which are pointy pokey things. Broach has a few English meanings; it could jewelry or a roasting spit. Also no ‘accomodata’ but I did find ‘accomodare’ which yes, means to accommodate, but it also means to lend, to place, and to stow. Perhaps most significantly, I found that aco means needle; I was getting worried about not finding the needle-worked reference used in the 2008 translation.
Rosette was a bit hard to read, 1598 says a disease in a horse. Also litle roses, or rowels of spurs. The 1611 version says Rosetta, a little Rose, a rowell of a spur, a square piece of iron with a hole in the middle to keepe the head of the iron bolt from the sides of the cariage of a piece. and Rosette, little Roses. Also Rose purles or works in bone-lace. Also rowles of spurres. Also a certaine disease in horses. Turns out that the rowell is the spinning pointy bit on a spur. I am interested in the mention of purles and bone-lace, I’ll try to look into that a bit more.
Slightly unrelated: remember the shoulder-carry poles that several of the women above were using to carry the weight of their baskets on their shoulders? That’s called a Giogo.
In the original 1598 version, the text below the Italian is Latin. I assume it says the same thing as the Italian, but it never hurts to see if it might provide a bit of clarification on that. However, Latin is a bit of an extra tricky beast, so I will work on getting help with translation shortly.
With the help of the lovely lady of FoxDog Farm, I have an approximate translation for the Latin version:These northwest wind women, the sunshade (hat) they make of ever changing (in color) feathers, the golden net with which they bind their hair, an amulet of silver or gold with silken fringe worn on the chest, a veil most tenuous over it al. The clothes are ‘gossipina’ or wool of varied colors, and there little globes of coral and silver sewn on the sleeves. A round petticoat of silk, closed by a little rosy wrap/bandage/belt of the same ornate materials are they clothed. And in front they are girded by the same red belt, or one of black.
Which translates in English loosely to:“Their clothing, basin or wool various colors is decorated/features, bodice of silver gilt buttons, with bands of velvet or other fabric silk. Coral necklaces or silver round around the neck and chest/breast, and these round still/again breed/reproduce the seam sleeves. On the skirt, they have simmer silk or other fabric very fine, they fall with a few clips/fasteners/ties as rosettes made to the needle with silk cords/ropes/strings.”
Now that we have all those translations done (or not? If you see something that you are pretty sure should translate to something other than what I have here, please tell me! Pretty pretty please?) I have have some general trends to talk about. Remember that I said I wanted to figure out definitively what the circles on her bodice, on her sleeves, and on her apron were supposed to be?
First the circles on her bodice: the various languages call them brooches, pins, pointy things, buttons, or amulets. All of them seem to agree about these being silver gilt. They must either be a cheaper metal, gilt with silver, or possibly as a sort of far fetched interpretation, they could be silver thread wrapped buttons, like the many silk one’s on extant 16th century garments. I think it is more likely for them to be completely metal, but I figure that the thread wrapped decorative button idea should be put here too.
Next, the circles on her sleeves: All of the translations seem to agree that the woman is wearing circles/beads of coral or silver around her neck and chest, and that those beads appear again down the seam of her sleeves. It’s possible that if she is wearing ‘silver’ necklaces and buttons, they are actually silver-gilt like her bodice brooches.
Lastly, the circles on her paneled apron: unfortunately, I have not seen any clear translations indicating ‘apron’, but at least it is definitely a garment worn over the whole dress, and is made of silk or other fine fabrics. While over-skirt might technically be a more accurate word to use, I like the 2008 use of ‘apron’ instead. For the circles, I might be running into a translation issue due to grammar, rather than nouns.
So far I have got: binders/fasteners/attachers, rosette/rose-like, made, needle, silk, cord/ribbon/braid/any small string-like thing. My problem is that I am not 100% sure how those words are supposed to interact, exactly. The 2008 version is “arranged with small fasteners in the form of needle-worked rosettes with narrow silk ties.”
When I first saw the word needle-worked, I thought it meant lace of some sort. Lace roses with narrow silk ties? That did not make much sense to me, since I did not see anything in the image that looked like ties, except perhaps the apron strings about the waist. So perhaps the sentence meant that the circular apron had rosettes, and narrow silk ties to close the waist? But why specify separately that the apron fabric is silk, and the waist ties are silk? No, I think that the ties have something to do with the rosettes. Plus the Italian sentence only says that the rosettes are made with needles, not that they are necessarily lace, since I suspect he would have used the word “Passamano” instead if that were the case.
So the rosettes were made using a needle out of some sort of silk cord or ribbon. I think that is really all we can get out of the original text.
Speaking of the original text, here is the whole thing in Italian, and instead of posting the entire 2008 translation here (a small quote is one thing, but a whole page feels inappropriate), I’ll follow it with a google + Florio’s dictionary translation.Contadine di terre circonvicine a Venetia, le quali si vedono in Venetia il giorno dell’ Ascensione de N. Signore. Queste tali portano sopra délle loro teste alcuni capelli di paglia fînissima fatti con bellissima arte, e con pene di diversi colori, sotto de’ quali hano i lor capelli acconci benissimo sotto una rete di fili d’ oro: portano alcuni bavari crespi, et sopra un vélo di seta ô altra tela sottile.Portano una veste o di bambasina, o di lana di diversi colori con alcune brocche d’ argento dorate sopra il busto, con liste di velluto o altra sorte di seta, con coralli o tondini d’ argento a torno il collo, o petto , e cosi giù per le cuciture delle maniche. Sopra di essa veste portano una traversa tonda di seta, o altra sorte di tela molto sottile, accomodata con alcune legaccette a rosette fatte all’ aco con cordelline di seta; son cinte con cintura di velluto cremcsino, ô nero; portano calzette lavorate con scarpe bianche lavorate, e poi le pianelle sopra; vanno molto all’ ordine, e compariscono molto vaghe. Peasant women of land round about in Venetia, whom you see on the day of Venetia ‘Ascension from N. Lord. These wear such over their heads some straw hats made with beautiful fine art, and with feathers of different colors, under from ‘which they have their hair fixed exceedingly well under a net of threads of’ gold. They carry some Bavari (cape about the neck of any garment) wrinkled, and above a veil of silk or other thin cloth. They wear a dress of bombast, or wool of different colors with some silver-gilt pins above the bust, with gards of velvet or other sorts of silk, with corals or beads of silver turn/round the neck, or chest, and thus so down the seams of the sleeves. Above this they wear a round savegard of silk, or other sort of very thin cloth, accommodated with some binding rosettes made to needle with silk braiding/cord/ribbon; are encircled with a belt of crimson velvet or black; they wear socks worked with white shoes worked, and then the pianelle (similar to pattens) over, go very to order/method/form, and appearance is very delightful to look upon.
Alright, on to actually making stuff!
After all that “Rosettes made with needle and silk” stuff, I figured I’d dive right in, making as many different kinds of rosey shapes as I could.
Some of these came from Pinterest hunting, some came from me trying to mimic the circular shape with 3 lines intersecting through the middle. The text says nothing about the color of the rosettes, but making them extra rose-like through color was an excellent suggestion from my friend Maddy, and I went for it. I ended up picking the one in the middle left, which I made up, so I’ll show how I made it quickly.
I started with a one inch wide silk ribbon, double satin faced, cut 4 1/8″ long.
I folded the ribbon in half and sewed the edge down. I did the first few on the sewing machine, but found that it took just as long to do it by hand, and it came out much neater than the picture above. Then I folded the circle in half, capturing the raw seam edge inside that fold, then did a running stitch around the inside edge. Only once around will not close the circle in the center, but two or three times around will do it.
I gathered the top edge of the apron panels, and sewed them into the waistband/apron ties.
And with that, the apron is done!
Forgive the wrinkles, I was just so excited to see the apron done, and as you can see I got the dress done for the outfit too!