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.