Nelly Don Zero-Waste Apron (part 3)–Construction steps

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
  • Bind neckline
  • Sew ties to back pieces at the waist line.

Here are the above-listed steps in pictures:

Hem all free edges (shown in blue)

Hem all free edges.

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.

Nelly Don Part 1 is here.

Nelly Don Part 2 is here.



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

Two weeks ago was ’80s Week’, and it was full of larger-than-life creations and personalities. https://www.facebook.com/greatbritishsewingbee/videos/568722604082017/

Nelly Don’s Zero-Waste apron (part 2)–measuring, drawing and cutting the pieces

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…

Dressmaking and Tailoring class 1937

Inside this old loose-leaf cover is my Grandma’s workbook from the tailoring and dressmaking college she attended in Kansas City in 1937, after graduating high school.

Tailoring class notebook a w RSR

There are some large, printed base patterns and instructions.  Here is one complete unfolded sheet:

Pattern full sheet

And now some close-up details:

We’ve got the name of the college.

Label a w RSR

And a statement about the badassery of women in dressmaking, tailoring and pattern making.

Dressmaking pattern quote RSR

Clear instructions and diagrams for taking measurements.  Lots of measurements.

Measuring points diagram 2 RSR

Instructions for Taking Measures a RSR

After the students took their own detailed measurements and recorded them in the notebook, they made their own base pattern.

The big sheets spell it all out in diagrams and lists.   Here is the tight-waist blouse base pattern:

Side bodice

Sweeping lines diagram

The list of measurements in this piece:

IMG_20180826_141850821 a RSR

Then the step-by-step drafting instructions:

Bodice pattern instructions RSR

After mastering the pattern drafting, the class turned to incorporating different styles into the basic pattern.

They made miniature to-scale paper patterns of different skirt, blouse and sleeve styles.  There are pages and pages of examples of clothing styles, drafted into miniature paper patterns.  They started with simple skirt styles, and then got more complicated.

Two Skirts RSR

Flared skirt with v waist panel RSR

Skirt with 4 inch flares RSR

Then they moved on to bodices.

Pintuck bodice RSRSlash and gather waist RSR

This one below, with the curved inset is my current fave and the one I want to try for myself.  I’m not sure there is enough muslin in this city for all of the mistakes I’ll make, but I’ve got to try it.

Curved waist inset RSR

How do you draw all of these to-scale patterns?  With a miniature to-scale ruler and curve, of course.

Ruler and French Curve a RSR

Fast-forward 20 years, during which my Grandma got married, had two daughters, worked as a ‘Rosie’ at Pratt & Whitney while awaiting her husband’s return from WWII, had two sons, and in 1958,…she got her dream machine, the Slant-O-Matic 401A.

Fast forward another 20 years, when as a teen, I spent many hours at this machine learning techniques from her that still serve me to this day.

Fast forward another 40 years, and the machine is in my care now.  That is her balsa wood pin cushion in the picture foreground.  It’s an awesome pin cushion.  Those are her Wiss shears, too.  She taught me that there is no substitute for a big pair of precisely-made, expertly-sharpened metal shears.  She’s still right.

Grandma's Slant-o-Matic RSR