The Harvest Apron

I finished my harvest apron today and I’m going to tell you how I made it.  But first, let me set the stage. 

Last year was our first year that we successfully grew plants in a garden-type setting. It was at the cabin and we were late getting things going and everything was in pots on the deck. We bought the dying leftovers from Walmart and we didn’t have high hopes but thought it might be fun and at least it would add some green.

But they grew! And the critters stayed away! And while it was wet and not that hot last summer, we got some green tomatoes. To be fair, it really wasn’t a bountiful garden but it was successful enough for us to feel like we could try again.

So we decided in the fall that we would actually research and learn a few tricks of the trade so that in the spring we could really garden; you know, bias ourselves for success as we say in the education world. We borrowed what we’d been told was the Beginner’s Bible for gardening, From Seed to Table: A Practical Guide to Eating and Growing Green by Jeanette Haase, a gardener who actually lives in our zone, which meant we could follow her guidelines and timelines directly from the book.

The Beginner’s Bible of Gardening and our vast array of heirloom seeds to try growing.

We went to a Seedy Saturday seed fair in Almonte in February and spent $60 on heirloom seeds. I really had no idea there were that many varieties of vegetables. I actually got really overwhelmed when we first arrived and I had to sit down and get my bearings. I felt like we were getting into something too deep, too complicated, that we knew too little, who were we to think that we could GROW things???  But the vendors were so excited when they found out we were total newbies.  We took recommendations from them, they gave us tonnes of advice, some free seeds and lots of encouraging words. We bought tomatoes (several heretofore unbelievable varieties like Black Beauty and Berkeley Tie Dye), cucumbers, carrots, salad greens, peas, beans, and peppers.

In March, the COVID-19 lockdown hit and food security popped into our minds. (Food security, food sustainability, buying local and organic, and changing our consumerist ways into something better for everyone is a huge topic of conversation right now, which is one benefit of the pandemic.) In the past, we have tried to be more mindful of buying sustainable meat or buying local but over the weeks of businesses being shut down, I think the whole country (the whole world) started thinking about food differently.

Our garden-to-be became a very good idea indeed.

And as it turned out, not just because it is a more sustainable practice but because I could finally feel the therapeutic benefits of working with soil and seeds and nurturing something natural. The world became a stressful place, an uncertain place, a digital space and gardening became a place for me to retreat to, and of course, it had the added benefit of potentially producing food for us. 

If you had to work from home, like I did, perhaps you also had a hard time balancing home and work. In a way, it was great being home because I felt like I could actually give the time needed to tend to the seedlings.  But on the other hand, I was spending far more time online.  I’m a primary school teacher and it was very hard and felt very unnatural to go online.  Of course, I worked my heart out because I love my job, I took courses, I answered emails at all hours, I supported parents by talking them through the digital tools and skills they needed to use as well as talking through with them the academic and emotional upheaval of their child not being in school.  Oh, yeah, and I created and posted lessons.  And it was MUCH harder than teaching.  Much harder than going to work every day and being on a million committees and giving up recess and going pee for student clubs or conversations about behaviour, far more draining than writing full comments on report cards and having difficult conversations about getting enough resources to help the kids who need it.  And it is just about as many hours as my regular nine-hour day (yes, I know, *only* nine hours.  I’m not a new or a young teacher anymore and I draw the line at nine hours a day.)  Gardening became a refuge. A way to forget about COVID-19 and the havoc it has wreaked over the world. 

We planted our seedlings at the beginning of April, I bought a grow lamp online, we listened to podcasts (our favourite is The Grow Guide) and researched. It’s a lot to learn. We were the type of people that pretty much thought you could throw seeds to the wind and they would grow. But no, there are times to plant and they need the right amount of water, and they need to be thinned and then hardened off. It’s quite a bit more work than I had anticipated. But instead of scaring me off of it, I have taken to it with gusto. Mind you, I spend most of my day in front of a computer screen so it makes sense that my soul is screaming for something concrete and tactile. 

While we nourish and grow and wait to plant outdoors, we made three raised beds out at the cabin. We added lattice work to one for peas and beans. We moved the rain barrel to the side of the cabin with the beds. We added eavestroughing to that side. We also have pots and room on the deck for some other plants, should we choose.

The start of the raised beds at the cabin.

Now, we are approaching the time to transfer seeds. My Italian uncle has a splendid garden every year and he is adamant that nothing should be transplanted before June 12th, the feast of St. Joseph. So we will heed his advice to a degree and not plant as early as the May long weekend.

Now are in the hardening off stage. (It’s true, I didn’t even know what that meant a few weeks ago.) Getting our little ones ready for the big bad world!

I have a friend who is quite earth spiritual and she is always telling me to to put messages out to the universe to invite positive energy into my life so that I can accomplish what I’d like to accomplish. So as a symbol of my commitment to this endeavour and to invite positive energy, health and fortitude into my garden, I decided to make a harvest apron. Because I will need one when my seedlings grow into full and bounteous crops over the summer. Amen.

Here it is.

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I love it. I’m so proud of it. First of all, I used scraps of fabric. Even though my favourite fabric shop is open for online orders, I didn’t want to buy new fabric. I really want everything in the cabin to reflect the minimalist and rustic heart of it. I wanted it to be in the spirit of balance and non-consumerism.  So I used two different linens leftover from two pieces of clothing I’d made. And secondly, I feel it’s a testament to my skills as a sewist because I didn’t have a pattern.  (The reason I didn’t buy a pattern was because I couldn’t find a pattern for one that I liked and I am honestly sometimes just too frugal. I did my research on Pinterest and felt comfortable that I had the skills to create this on my own.) 

Here’s how I made it.  

First, I cut cross-grain strips of the yellow linen for the waistband and the ties at the back of the apron. I didn’t plan this part that well as I cut two pieces in half when I really shouldn’t have.  But oh well. I’m practicing radical self-acceptance during this pandemic time so I didn’t get too upset about it.  

Strips cut cross-grain for the waistband and ties. The more narrow bands at the top are for the ties that cinch the apron up to hold harvest.

Then I sewed two short pieces to each long one to make the ties in the back (as if I hadn’t cut them in the first place), with a seam in the front center. I sewed the two right sides together, keeping the center section open where I wanted the apron skirt to fit.  I used my fabric marker to mark the points where I would attach the apron skirt.  I clipped the corners and trimmed and layered the seam allowance to ease bulk in the waistband.  I turned the whole waistband inside out through the apron skirt opening.  Then I topstitched around the entire waistband except for the opening. Voila!  Waistband done!

Then I worked on the drawstring ties.  In a harvest apron, the ties are what gathers the apron, like drawstrings, to hold the harvest.  A harvest apron has a loop in the centre of the waistband that the drawstrings tie to so that the apron stays gathered in a pouch.  I worked on those next.  Basically, I made what looked like bias tape and topstitched the whole length and ends. Easy peasy.  I made the centre loop the exact same way. 

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Next, the apron skirt.  I had a large scraggly rectangle of brown linen leftover from a dress I made.  It had pieces cut out of the sides but if I folded it in half, I could use most of it by cutting a symmetrical apron shape out of it.  I made the apron as long as I could because when it’s holding harvest, it’s folded in half from the bottom up.  In the bottom centre I made a cut about an inch and a half into the fabric.  This would become where the ties come out of the casing to tie to the loop.  I folded the hems over, pressed them down and then sewed them. 

Then I folded over the hem to make the casing.  Because it was a curved edge, there was gathering but I didn’t really mind because it was going to be gathered anyway.  I just wanted it to look fairly uniform.  After I sewed the casing around the perimeter of the apron (excluding the top edge, of course), I worked the ties through the casing. 

At this point, the ties kept slipping into the casing so I did a quick staystitch just to keep them in place at the very top of the apron, where they would eventually be stitched into the waistband anyway. 

The apron skirt was wider than the opening, as many aprons are, so I did a simple basting stitch through the top edge of fabric, then gently pulled both ends to slightly gather it in a uniform way.  I inserted the apron skirt and center loop into the waistband opening and pinned it, gathers and all, together.  

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I topstitched it all together, making sure to backstitch over the drawstrings as they would be pulled on and holding the weight of whatever is being gathered into the pouch. 

Ta da!  My harvest apron, O Universe. 

Making this apron was a lovely way to get offline for a few hours and think about what the summer might hold, away from the digital life.  Even though I consider what we’ve grown so far to be an incredible accomplishment for two people who knew nothing about gardening, I truly hope that I will be able to use this apron for even one vegetable from a plant that we’ve grown from seed.  

Amen.


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