One Apron To Rule Them All
It’s DIY theme week here at Can’t Talk. Please welcome back guest writer Subbers for a story of the best apron to ever apron.
Cooking can be hazardous to skin and clothes, I’ve found. I almost always wear an undershirt that I don’t care about and strip off my good shirts when I cook or wash dishes. Bacon is particularly bad, as grease likes to leap from the pan onto my clothes and soak through layers of clothes. I tried frying bacon with no shirt on and, aside from the sanitary implications of shirtless cooking, there was also a constant string of expletives from me as drops of nuclear-hot grease leaped to my stomach and left little red burn marks. I decided that what I need is something that’s easy to adorn and remove that will protect my clothes while I cook. It turns out that something like this was invented in the 1500s and possibly earlier—the apron.
Needless to say, I felt kinda dumb. Once I realized this, I noticed that nearly everyone on the food network wears one, even if they don’t have special chef clothing. I decided that since they are so prevalent, I would just pick one up and get back to domestic life in style.Bed, Bath and Beyond has a small assortment of aprons, marked, “One size fits all.” In reality, they should be marked, “Size 8-10.” I was disappointed that the store with cooking gear from the As-Seen-On-TV product line doesn’t have the one useful, ubiquitous thing that I saw on TV, an apron. I expected there to be a hundred aprons, with various sizes, fabrics, pockets, and features but here was only one model with one small chest pocket. I didn’t let this deter my search though, and it gave me a better idea on what I was looking for.
I did some Googling and found a few aprons that were more featured than the standard. Most of them fall into the “grill apron” or “man apron” category, since apparently the target market for featured aprons is men with grills and man-caves. The first apron was a red one which had additional pockets. Very deep pockets. The image suggests that one might take hold all their grilling tools upright in them. I like the idea of having some big pockets for stuff, but I think this one might be incredibly dangerous. For instance, if one were to simply bend over, the grill fork and tongs would stab right into one’s stomach. With a big stomach like mine, bending over might not even be necessary. Also, if one sticks the fork into food on a hot grill, then returns it to the pocket, you now have a hot, dirty, metal trident sticking out. How does one take out the fork now without hurting one’s self? Also, if you drop anything into those deep pockets, you have to dig very deep to find it, so keeping a salt or pepper shaker on hand becomes difficult.
The next apron I checked out was the Tactical Chef Apron found on ThinkGeek.com. This one has quite a few pockets for tools, seasonings, condiments, a cell phone, and more. It also has several velcro-shut pockets, hanging loops, some spots for velcro patches that say “CHEF,” and a slightly amusing commercial to go with it. This was certainly intriguing and had a lot of nice features. What it lacks is anything to cover one’s lower half, and any big pockets. It also looks like body armor, which appeals to the target man-cave audience, but that’s a lot of fabric on my back for no reason and I was concerned that the clips on the sides might not reach around my aforementioned big stomach. It also seemed to be a lot of work to even get it on, and gimmicky, so I pressed on.
The third apron I found was the “Grill Sergeant Ultimate BBQ Apron” (on stupid.com which was already a vote against it). It’s probably the one that best suited my needs, assuming I had to buy one. It comes in camouflage, so one can go hunting while working the BBQ, has a variety of medium sized pockets to hold things like grill tools, and includes a carabiner with a bottle opener attached, because beer. Oh, did I mention beer? It also has a bandolier that can hold a six-pack of beer, in case you needed to drink a six pack of beer while grilling a burger and can’t reach the cooler a foot away. The photo shows someone who looks like Stifler as a frat boy, and I hope he has a strong lower back because all that stuff hanging from his neck must weigh a ton (at least until the beer cans are empty). Beer-bandolier aside, this apron did have some nice features so I made some notes and got to work on my own apron design.
I’m a big guy, so I figured I should just make my own apron and then I’m guaranteed a good fit. I decided that a standard, one-pocket apron was not for me. I needed one big enough to cover my chest, wrap around my sides, and hold a bunch of stuff. I dug through my stash of fabric and found a few yards of Trigger in white and Starbucks-green (Trigger is a sturdy 65% Polyester, 35% Combed Cotton fabric, usually found in the bottomweights section of the fabric store and sold for $6-$10/yd in 60″ widths). I didn’t want any grease getting through my apron onto my clothes so I decided to double-up. I pinned the fabric together and started measuring myself and cutting. When I finished cutting them out, I left them pinned and did a straight runner stitch all around the edges to keep them together and then pulled all the pins out.
I took some of the fabric and folded it like bias tape to make some belts and did some zig-zag runner stitches down those as well to hold them together. I ripped a couple stitches out near the neck and at the waist, then slipped an inch or so of the belts in there and stitched it back down, with some back-and-forth zig-zag for reinforcement. At this point, I decided to add some pockets, so I cut a 9″ wide strip of fabric that spanned the whole apron across the bottom. I folded a quarter inch all along the top and did a runner on it to make a nice top for the pocket. Then I put the good sides together with the apron with the hemmed edge of the fabric along the bottom of the apron and then sewed straight across the top to create the bottom of the pockets. I’m 6’2″ tall and have long arms, so I checked to make sure that with the apron on I could comfortably reach the bottom of the pockets. I also checked to make sure the pockets, when sewn up, aren’t covered by the apron waist tie, should I choose to loop them around for a front-tie. I flipped the pockets up and sewed five lines, one on each edge and three in the middle, vertically quartering the fabric into 4 pockets. One more time I tried on my apron and found the pockets to be an excellent depth and just right for my long arms.
Along the top edge, right under my chin, I took a tiny piece of Trigger, about 2″ long, folded it like bias tape and added it as a half-loop hanger, a feature I saw on other aprons. Then, I took some extra-wide double fold bias tape and used it to border the outer edge of the whole apron, cutting small holes in pieces and passing them over the straps for a nice, clean-edged look.
If you prefer to buy an apron and only add the extra customization, Ikea sells a large, durable model for $13. The measurement differences between my apron and the Ikea one are less than an inch apart in most cases.I prefer the double layered Trigger because it has more protective qualities, but the Ikea model is quite comfy and light by comparison.
Whichever base apron you choose, it’s time to accessorize. I made a list of every feature I saw and then did some brainstorming of my own until I had a few I really liked (the beer bandolier didn’t make the final cut, go figure). I decided that I liked the idea of having grilling and cooking tools available, but not pointing up at me, so I needed some way to have them hang off and point down without touching my legs.I also wanted to stop carrying a towel around on my shoulder, and I wanted a place for a knife. I grill in the evening when it gets dark, so a light would be nice, and a place for a thermometer made the list too. I put on the apron and drew where I wanted things to go with a white, washable fabric pencil to make sure things made sense and weren’t too cluttered.
To start this madness, I went straight for the knife holder. I tried my kitchen knife on every fabric I had and found it sliced through all of them in a matter of seconds.I needed a sheath, so I went to Harbor Freight and found a survival knife with sheath that would fit my knife for $8. I also got a bottle opener, a grommet-set kit, a thermometer and a free LED flashlight (with widely available coupon). Next, I went to the local military surplus store and got a handful of carabiners, a few zipper pulls and some lanyards with clip-on keyrings too.
At home I tested my knife in the sheath and it was about as good as an $8 sheath would be. My knife sliced the thread at the bottom quickly. I ended up stitching it down around the edges a few times to make mostly sure that wouldn’t happen again. For this reason, when I sewed the sheath on to the apron, I didn’t tack the tip of the sheath down. This way, I can pull it out and stitch that up or replace it if needed later.
Now, I don’t like things falling off me, especially knives, so I tore apart an old hard drive and pulled the neodymium magnets from it. I then layed the sheath with knife on the apron and traced out where it would go. I then hand-stitched through the screw holes to hold the magnet in place and added a little strip of fabric across the top to tack it down further. These magnets are very strong, so an extra layer of fabric won’t weaken the field.
I cut up the sheath a bit, removing the belt-loop and handle snap, setting these aside for later. I also traced the sheath on a scrap piece of Trigger to hold the sheath to the apron.
I stitched a few lines across the remaining belt loop tab to hold it in place over the magnet. I trimmed the sleeve fabric down and added a bias-tape border, then stitched it over the sheath to create a clean look and hold the sheath in place.
I took another piece of scrap Trigger and cut it out to cover the belt loop tab stitching and to prevent me from sliding the knife into the belt loop tab instead of the sheath itself. I edged this as well for aesthetics and to cover a cut edge. I slipped in the knife and all was well. The magnet held the knife in place; I shook it several times and ways and it wouldn’t come out without some very deliberate action, and certainly not while on my chest in normal use cases.
I wanted a pocket for my cell phone, pencil and thermometer now, so I took a scrap of Trigger and cut out a rectangle, then folded it in half and cut one edge to make a perfect home-plate shaped pentagon. It is wider than normal shirt pockets because of the two runners on the sides I added to hold thin things. I simply folded the edges in and stitched them down, then stitched the whole thing to the chest part of the apron.
I decided to add a few of those grommets I bought. I don’t know that they’ll be extremely functional but I thought they looked cool and now I can use my apron as a tarp for a makeshift shelter, if that’s ever a thing I need. Hang my apron upside down like a tent and I’ve got a light, some carabiners, and a knife. I’m ready to survive until search and rescue finds me holed up in the back yard. I did two grommets in the bottom corners and one in each of the two middle waist pockets. Later on, I stuck some of the zipper pulls through them and a carabiner, just in case I come up with something to do there.
I chopped the lanyards off just above the clip and added little carabiners to the keyrings, then stitched them down to the front of the apron. These will be my grill tool hangers. They are long enough to use the tools mostly without unclipping, but the clip is there if needed. Also they’re not so long that the tools fly about as I walk.I also added a little bias-folded piece of Trigger as a towel loop.
On the other side of the apron, I added the other lanyard, this time with bottle opener attached. I also added another little side loop for spare carabiners.Remember that knife snap on the belt loop I removed? I attached it here too, to hold a pair of scissors. The photo shows the scissors outside the pocket here, but they will slide into the pocket for safety and to allow access to other items inside.
With this, I had achieved everything I wanted to with this apron so I started using it right away. I don’t really think it’s machine washable now, so that’s something to consider, but what’s an apron without a few battle scars anyway?
Now get cooking!