There are plenty of period examples of the gathered apron. I especially like the women in the Luttrell Psalter, like this one. The Lutrell Psalter can be viewed on British Library Image Online, a great resource! The Tacuinum Sanitatis also shows several examples. One of my favorite examples is this one, it’s a diptych by Mayer Van den Bergh. The sources shows that this was a design used over a long period.
The gathering can be made in several different techniques. A really simple technique would be to sew long stitches and then bunch up the fabric by pulling the thread. This leaves a some what messy look and I think that if you take the time to sew an apron it wouldn’t take that much longer to make a more structured gathering. And it makes for a nicer result. Josefin shows the technique here.
Another way to make a gathering is some form of pleating. There are a number of different pleats to use. It could be something like the box pleat or perhaps a knife pleat.
I haven’t found many sources that point to these types of pleats being used during the period when we have gathered aprons. They are mentioned by Janet Arnold but not in the use of aprons. Looking at sources I don’t think that they give the right look, compared to Tacuinum Sanitatis for example. These aprons where used mainly by the working class. Is it really likely that women who spent the whole day in hard work took the time to neatly press their aprons after each wash?
Another way to do the pleating is smocking. It’s a structured way to do the gathering by doesn’t need any special attention after the washing except the usual ironing of some sort. The smock is an embroidery technique were the pleats are sewn together with small stitches. This technique is used extensively used in the later part of the middle ages and can be seen in several painting in the 16th century. Many people seems to think that this is the technique used on the aprons in the Luttrell Psalter where a black thread would be used to make the pattern.
It’s my firm believe that to achieve the look we see in our sources of the gathered aprons you need to use some sort of smocking. It could be a simple honeycomb pattern in white or a more decorative pattern in black as those we see in the Luttrell Psalter.
I agree that smocking is the way to go for a nice apron. When I get around to making one that is what I plan to do.
My interest in cooking (and spending a lot of time in kitchens at events) has left me in need of several aprons. The one I have gets dirty fast and you do want to look some what presentable at court. 🙂
I’m planning to make aprons to myself in all the three styles.