During my recent spell in the UK I managed to get along to my favourite auction house which holds cattle and chicken sales during the week and every Friday night at 6pm has a "general sale". A huge container of beautiful 20th century buttons, ranging from tiny Edwardian shoe buttons to 1970s plastic ones, caught my eye. The only problem was they didn't have a lot number! The auctioneer made an excutive decision and popped them into a huge box of rather mediocre linens. I let out an audible groan as I really did not want to bid on doilies and tray cloths just to secure my button booty. Oh well, I reasoned, see where the bidding goes. I really, really wanted that treasure trove of buttons.
Luckily for me I managed to outbid the competition and went home with a car load of linen and my precious buttons. So what exactly had I bought? I confess I had not closely examined the linens as I thought they looked pretty dull. And sure enough I pulled out tray cloth after doily after crochet mat and put them straight into a charity bag.
Then I reached a layer of aged tissue paper. Lifting off the first layer of paper revealed this:
This is an Edwardian maid's uniform. It has this amazing organdi handmade apron with pleated bib top and pin tucks and ladderwork detailing at the hemline. It has wide waist straps that form the most wonderful plump bow when tied
There were also 2 head bands and the original black velvet ribbon that would fasten over the top of the maid's head.
The name of the master is sewn inside the waistband of the apron and stamped on the head bands. Underneath this maid's uniform was another organdi apron with a simpler headband. Beneath this one was a scullery maid's uniform - a simple cotton apron with a handmade cap that would totally cover the hair while the maid performed cooking and cleaning duties. Beneath this apron was a simple cotton cook's apron.
I still get a massive thrill from finding something so totally unexpected in the most unlikely places. Who knows who wore these aprons. They have been heavily repaired and have clear signs of many years of use. I hope to pass these on to someone who will display or just occasionally admire them. Now where's my Downton Abbey DVD?