How to Look at an Apron

Aprons are functional objects that effectively protect our skin from splashes, burns and, preserve our clothes from stains. Considering the apron in a rudimentary way, they are pieces of fabric that get washed, hung, folded, worn and tied. Aprons symbolize comfort, home, food and, are often associated with the role of a household caretaker or an individual who cooks.

Cooking is a large part of Italian culture and tradition. Meal preparation is often a family activity and a connecting experience. The apron in the image is hand-sewn by my nonna (grandmother), and was gifted to me as a toddler. In further analyzing the minute details Apron, it is evident that it is more than a mere kitchen staple, it is a garment rich in Italian history and culture.

Macrina, Dirracolo. Looking at an Apron, 2020. iPhone image. Toronto. Macrina Dirracolo.

Just as it is not obviously apparent that the apron symbolizes Italian culture, it is also not immediately noticeable that the size of the apron is small and fit for a child. The image features a bib apron which varies from a waist apron as it covers the body from the low neck to the upper thighs. The straight vertical edge that conceals the lower stomach and thighs is twenty-five centimeters in length and the upper curved portion measures forty centimeters in length. The apron features a puffed, quilted pattern. Each quilt has a rounded diamond shape less than three centimeters in diameter and is lined with fine black stitching that ends prematurely as it approaches the bottom of the garment. The slight puffing is likely to add a thicker layer of protection between the skin and any substances while cooking, it could also have been intended for comfort. These measurable and quantitative observations parallel the mechanical and industrialized thoughts of the common consumer in considering an object that is given little scholarly attention and study as a low-culture, commonplace item. It is, however, evident that time, care and attention went into making the specific apron in the image as the shapes are similar in size and the stitching on the hand-sewn apron is tight and neat.

Zooming further into the fine details of the apron beyond the stitching, the fabric is a vibrant sapphire blue, deep red and white, which come together to create a subtle floral pattern. The materials that an object is comprised of are important in discerning meaning and function. The choice in fabric could have been an attempt to camouflage stains with the dark colours and distracting pattern, however, it also could have been a random choice based on feasible options considering the restricting financial circumstances that my nonna faced as a working, middle-class immigrant in preceding decades. The materials and fabric of the apron alone provide insight into the time period and the experience of my nonna who made it. The garment is ultimately created for practical use. It is an object of protection, necessity and tradition, so much so that even with scarce funds, priority was still given to the creation of these garments for the grandchildren.

This is not a mass-produced factory apron but rather, one that is imperfect and imbued with history, love and, expectation. The time that went into making the apron and the attention given to it imbues it with significance as it signals that the apron is regarded as a necessity for growth into the Italian culture. My nonna taking the time to craft the garment is her way of teaching younger generations the practices of the past and further, is a gesture of passing on tradition and culture.

The mundane and commonplace apron is thus a symbol of heritage that is dense with cultural significance. The apron, the way it is crafted and the materials used are entry points into history, the symbolic meaning of the object and further, the mind of my nonna who crafted it with the intent of keeping an integral part of the Italian heritage alive.


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