As masks have finally become plentiful, with enough supply to meet demand, my one-person mask making sweatshop is still operating, but I’ve slowed down production in order to indulge in more creativity. I’m using the same patterns as I was here and here, but have continued to experiment and add ‘improvements’ and improvisations.
I’m enjoying the process, and am grateful that I can do this one thing to help people navigate the pandemic. I’m inspired by all of the creative masks I see. Our community is under a mandatory mask order right now, and what I love most about it (besides the way it makes people keep each other safer) is looking at everyone’s masks. I love the vast array of prints and designs. Instead of people-watching, I’m now a mask-watcher.
My neighbor gave me a mask she made! I had given her a mask very early on. Then a few days after that, she came over asking where I got my pattern. Of course I printed her a copy to keep and use. Then one day she came over with this mask for me! She had worked her own details into it; filter pocket and good nose wire included. I love wearing it as much as I love my own. So, I say go exchange masks with fellow mask makers!
Another neighbor informed me that her mask was stolen from her car. So you’ve been warned, that the coolest masks have street value. Protect your valuables.
How long will we be making and wearing masks? I don’t know, but I just pulled fall and holiday woven cottons from my fabric storage, thinking I might as well get started on masks for the upcoming seasons.
After looking at the life and career of Nelly Don the iconic Kansas City designer in Part 1, and then deciphering the diagram for her 1925 patented zero-waste apron in Part 2, here in Part 3 are the apron construction steps.
The Apron and patent drawings:
Last week’s post provided measurements for drawing and cutting out the pieces, like this:
Nelly Don designed the apron to be sewn in one sitting, without having to remove it from the sewing machine. So now in Part 3 we sit down at the sewing machine and start constructing:
These are the chronological construction steps:
Hem all free edges
Side Panel (C) top edge
Pocket (D) top edge
Back (B) centers
Sew a Pocket (D) on each Side Panel (C)
Join Front (A) to Front Yoke (E)
Join Backs (B) to Back Yoke (F)
Join Side Panels (C) to Backs (B) and then to each side of the Front (A).
Join Front Yoke (E) to Back Yoke (F) at shoulders.
Hem entire lower edge
Sew ties to back pieces at the waist line.
Here are the above-listed steps in pictures:
Hem all free edges (shown in blue)
Sew a Pocket (D) to each Side Panel (C), along the bottom edge of the Pocket, right sides together.
Then flip Pocket right side up, and top stitch across lower edge of Pocket.
Join Front (A) to Front Yoke (E), right sides together.
Join Backs (B) to Back Yoke (F), right sides together.
Join Side Panels (C) to Backs (B), right sides together. Catch the pocket side in the seam.
At this point, the your pieces will look like this:
Join Side Sections (C) to Front (A), right sides together. Again, catch the pocket side in the seam.
Join Front Yoke (E) to Back Yoke (F) at shoulders, right sides together.
Tada! Now you have your lovely apron. To finish it, turn under and hem entire lower edge and the armholes; bind the neckline; and sew ties to the back for the closure.
How about some finished examples? These were my practice attempts:
This wraps up the Nelly Don apron series. My obsession with the patent drawings has been satisfied…for now; although I do keep thinking of more ways to experiment with it. Have you made a Nelly Don apron? I’d love to hear about your experience with it.
Back to 2020, Series 6 of The Great British Sewing Bee is about to conclude. It’s been a fabulous series of talented sewing contestants and their creations. Last week was ‘Hollywood Week’, and it did not disappoint! https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1148109945557937
The drawings of KC designer Nelly Don’s patented zero-waste apron, so intrigued me, that I committed myself to working out the measurements and construction process for the apron. My post last week about Nelly Don and her apron design (including a downloadable copy of her 1925 apron patent) is here.
And now, for the measurements and steps to cutting out the apron…
The 1925 patent diagram shows a single layer of fabric. For my apron, I concluded the fabric needed to be 48″ long and 36″ wide (1 1/3 yds x 1 yd).
Drawing the diagram. Start with the measurements across the yoke and work out the rest from there.
From there you can work out the width of the side panels, and the front and back pieces:
Here’s the process in a step-by-step slide show. If helpful, it can be viewed on Youtube in full screen; pause and rewind as often as necessary.
For shaping the simple round neckline in the yoke pieces, here is a pattern you can download and print on an 8 1/2″ x 14″ (legal sized) sheet of paper:
I tried some different dimensions and measurements for the apron layout, but the version I’ve described above is the only one that really worked. Some problems I encountered when varying the dimensions were:
Narrowing the yoke width also means the side panels become narrower, which makes the side pockets too narrow to be useful.
A longer/lower yoke meant the side panels became shorter, which made for a shorter apron; which then made the A-line angle more exaggerated. Alternatively, if the hem length were maintained, it made the side panels sit too far below the waist, or not extend all the way to the hemline.
A shorter/higher yoke made the side panels longer, which made them come up higher to the waist. This made a smaller, tighter waist because the front and back pieces are narrower at that higher point where the waistline is located.
So, there you have the apron pieces. Nelly Don designed the pattern so that the entire apron could be constructed without ever having to remove it from the sewing machine. I’ll tackle that in the next post…
In 1925, Ellen “Nell” Donnelly, Kansas City based designer and manufacturer of women’s clothing, patented this iconic apron design. It was designed to minimize waste of fabric, and economize assembly and production. For the wearer, the apron was designed to:
The company manufactured the aprons and also sold the pattern for home sewing.
Nelly Don led an interesting and sometimes dramatic life; always following her own personal code, and taking innovative care of her employees for the times. She used the apron to keep her manufacturing company going during the Great Depression, and thereby kept her employees working. She promoted women to management positions. She offered health care assistance, high wages for the time, a pension, and work breaks with food and drink. In 1931 she and her driver were kidnapped and held for ransom. When unions attempted to organize her employees, she fought the unions in a marathon battle, keeping them at bay by showing her employees were better off than union members. Here is a photo from her clothing manufacturing company in the Kansas City Garment District.
The story of Nelly Don, her garment manufacturing company, and her apron, have been expertly told elsewhere. Check out these links for more about her life and business:
There’s a fact-based novel about her abduction and rescue. It’s a really good book. I call it a must-read. I recently finished the Kindle version, and as the Amazon reviews say, it was fast moving, well researched, and a quick read. I would have loved for it to last longer. https://amzn.to/2XFjGOY
The Apron Patent:
The Nelly Don apron patent itself is brilliant reading. Click on the image below to download a pdf copy of Nelly Don’s Apron Patent (4 pgs) :This 3-minute video has great images and footage from Nelly Don’s 1920s operations:
Nelly Don’s life in one minute:
Now, back again to the famous apron:
From reading about Nelly Don and her apron, I formed a small obsession with re-creating the apron from her patent diagram. After several attempts, I believe I’ve conquered the challenge! Stay tuned for the next post.
My ironing board cover was already in bad shape before I had to press pleats in hundreds of cotton face masks. Yet, I pressed on. Eventually the situation got ridiculous.
My ironing board is a vintage wood model; and slightly smaller than today’s standard store-bought ironing board, so a store-bought cover is too big. Using a 50% off coupon, I purchased 1/2 yard of ironing board cover fabric.
I removed what was left of the old cover, flattened it out, and traced the shape onto the new fabric.
The drawstring in the old cover was actually still good and strong, so I removed it for use in the new cover.
To avoid a bulky drawstring casing, I zig-zagged around the edge of the cover with the drawstring in the middle of the zig-zag stitching.
The finished zig-zag drawstring edge looks like this close up.
For the padding under the cover, I used a piece of left-over cotton quilt batting. The uneven edge you see is not erratic cutting; it’s where I stretched it. After seeing this picture, I went back and re-situated it, although it was probably fine. 🙂
The cover is already looking used, … because it’s getting a lot of use.
The new cover was a quick make, and is so much better to iron on than the old one, that I never should have put off making it.
Not covers. Scotland has been putting out some nice lockdown music.
She is 75 years old and still dependable. ‘Vera’ is my Singer 127 treadle sewing machine, manufactured in the early 1940s and originally purchased in Indiana in February 1945. Some of the masks I’m making require several colors of thread. It’s a total drag to rethread the machine multiple times for one mask batch. So, I’ve called upon my older machines. For now, Vera is handling the ecru thread color.
Vera has the rare black ‘crinkle’ finish, and blackside metal plates. The lamp isn’t sitting on the cabinet for decoration; it’s a necessity. There’s no light on the machine since it isn’t electrified.
Here’s a closer view of her crinkle finish and black metal plates. The plainness of the finish and lack of embellishments says ‘wartime’ to me.
In the cabinet there’s a well-stocked drawer of presser feet, an old metal seam gauge, needle threaders, and a good supply of bobbins. (It is a ‘vibrating shuttle’ machine, which uses long, narrow bobbins.)
Another drawer holds the original purchase receipt, and user manual. Her original purchase price was $105.75.
The handwritten note on back of the receipt says:
5 year guarantee
5 year free service
Free sewing course
In another drawer is the all-important sharp pointed tool for piercing a new treadle belt. It serves as a bodkin, too.
Sewing with a treadle machine is like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. Your feet work the pedal, while the right hand is on the hand wheel, to be the starter, speed controller, and ’emergency brake’. That leaves only the left hand to maneuver the fabric. When it all gets going, the sound and feel is mesmerizing.
The mask-making frenzy is less of a frenzy now, but masks are still needed, and will be needed for months to come. I’m making a few masks each day, and trying out some of the other designs available on the internet. I had been making the pleated masks, but I now also love making the shaped mask version that doesn’t have pleats.
For the shaped masks, I’ve used the fitted mask pattern by Tina Elmore-Wright, downloaded from the Joann mask-making page.
Creating fun compositions for family and friends has given me a chance to indulge my creativity.
I’ve given them to neighbors up and down my street, and across the back yard. When a neighborhood diner gave out free drive-through breakfasts, I reciprocated by giving them some masks. Initially, I expected most people to say ‘no thank you’ when I offered masks. Turns out no one has declined. Everyone wants a mask. Everyone.
I’ve made a few batches of masks for care home and hospital staff. It bewilders me that it is individual nurses and aids who are desperately seeking these simple protections to keep their patients, coworkers and themselves and families safe. Where are their employers in all of this?
So, I’ve switched to the simple flat pleated design based on two 9″x6″ rectangles. It’s much faster to construct and requires less fabric. Another huge bonus is that it fits in a regular #10 envelope, and costs only a 1st class postage stamp to mail. This has enabled me to get them to out-of-town friends and family quickly and economically. Mine are substantially based on the pattern from the Turban Project. https://turbanproject.com/face-masks-pdfs
One of my biggest frustrations is about the friends and family who want to learn, or relearn to sew, to help fulfill the huge need for masks right now. I want badly to invite them over and have them sew with me, but I can’t because of the need for social distancing.
Carry on, mask warriors. You are doing important work.
A heartfelt virtual hug to those in isolation or quarantine, or who have loved ones out of reach. My wheelchair-bound mom is in a locked down care home. The most I’ve been able to do for her is send her a mask, and send masks to the staff, and text her ‘Happy Easter’.