Preserving and sharing our Masonic heritage

Aprons and Textiles

Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries the sewing and decorating of Masonic articles remained the domain of the Mason’s female relatives. While women were not permitted to be members of the fraternity, they were often involved in the associated folk-art practice. Women were highly conversant with the symbolic vocabulary of Freemasonry producing colorful aprons featuring familiar symbols using embroidery, paint and ink. By stitching a Masonic apron or collar, a woman supported her husband’s Masonic activities while also learning about Freemasonry and feeling connected to him, as well as to her larger community.

The majority of aprons on display here were made by women in the early to mid-19th century in the eastern United States. New England, Pennsylvania, and the Mid-west became centers of craftsmanship in the colonial and early republican periods. As settlers from these areas moved west across the continent to California, they brought their skills and their Masonic heirlooms with them.

Artifact Img 4


Master Mason Apron | Circa 1800-1807
Watercolor and ink on silk, linen | 20″ x 17 1/4″
Acc# 79.12

Donated by Jean A. Laipple of San Francisco in 1978, this hand painted apron features the personification of Hope standing beside her anchor. The apron is a fine example of the Palatine German Folk Style as practiced by German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and New York along the Mohawk River in the 18th century An inscription found underneath the apron flap states: “Brother Ralph Hankins, Tammany Lodge No. 83, November 16, 1807.” Lodge No. 83 was founded in 1800 near what is now Milanville, Pennsylvania.

Royal Arch Apron | Circa 1800-1820
Watercolor and ink on silk, linen | 21″x 17 1/4″
Acc# 396.1


This apron, hand painted with various Masonic symbols, is typical of the Palatine German Folk Style featuring German Fraktur typography. It is a companion to apron #79.12. Althpough we have no information on its origin, it is almost identical to an apron made by Conrad Edick held by The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington, Massachusetts. Edick was an early 19th century folk artist working in the German immigrant communities based along the Mohawk River valley in Pennsylvania and New York. The design, materials, colors, Germanic fraktur-style lettering, and overall artistic style suggest the possibility that the aprons are from the same artist.


Scottish Rite Master Mason Apron | Circa 1820-1850
Watercolor on silk | 16” x 16”
Acc# 86.3

This handmade silk apron with hand painted Masonic symbols was donated by Richard Shadburne of Goleta, California. It was originally owned and used by his grandfather Ludwell McKay of Louisville, Kentucky. It hand sewn of silk fabric and trimmed with a pleated red silk ribbon. The fine needle work indicates that is was made by an accomplished seamstress. The painted symbols are arranged in a style that may have been inspired by an early edition of The Masonic Chart or Hieroglyphic Monitor written by Jeremy Cross and engraved by Amos Doolittle in the early nineteenth century.


Scottish Rite Lodge of Perfection Apron | Circa 1810-1830
Paint on Silk | 17" x 13.5"
Acc# 86.17

This handmade white silk apron with red pleated red ribbon, sequin trim, and red silk ties is another example of a female hand at work with the elaborate use of sequins, cross stitching, and ribbon for decoration. The painted gold leaf luminous equilateral triangle in the center is the symbol of the tetragrammaton or four-letter Hebrew name for the Lord God Jehovah [JHVH] used in the first portion of the Scottish Rite system of degrees called The Lodge of Perfection. This series of degrees includes the 4th° through to the 14th° and are referred to as the ineffable degrees. Ineffable comes from the Latin ineffibilis which means something that should not be spoken. The Tetragrammaton is used as a symbol in Royal Arch, Cryptic, Council, and Scottish Rite degrees.

Lodge of Perfection Apron


Master Mason Apron | Circa 1800-1825
Paint on silk | 17 1/2″ x 18″
Acc# 86.19

This handmade white silk apron with light blue pleated silk ribbon trim and metallic braid is a fine example of the painted Masonic aprons of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The apron exhibits several hallmarks of the time period – rectangular shape, use of white silk, and hand painted All Seeing Eye on the flap. An assortment of Masonic symbols – beehive, trowel, ladder, plumb, and hourglass  – are juxtaposed with the more prominent symbols of the square and compass overlaid on a bible surrounded by the two pillars, Boaz and Jachin. Donated by William Kludjian in 1986.

Royal Arch Apron | Circa 1800-1815
Silk, cotton | 16 3/4″ x 15″
Acc# 89.1A


This finely embroidered handmade Masonic apron was the property of Brother Moses Greenleaf, member and Past Master of Army Lodge under General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. Upon the death of Brother Greenleaf in 1812, the apron descended to Elizabeth P. Noyes, a relative who embroidered the Masonic emblems on the apron. In 1825 she presented it to Brother P. Lyon, Tiler of Cumberland Lodge in Massachusetts. An unusual feature of this apron is that it is signed by the artist under the flap. An inscription embroidered in a fine cursive hand reads: “Executed by Elizabeth P. Noyes, June 1821”


Scottish Lodge Master's Apron | Circa 1790-1810
Leather, paint on silk | 21” x 24”
Acc# 89.2.1

The basic form of the Masonic apron is derived from the traditional protective aprons originally worn by working stonemasons. In the early years of the Craft, most Masonic aprons were made from leather and often retained the shape of the animal from which it was made. This example has ties extending from leg-shaped pieces of leather and the body of the apron covering the wearer’s knees. This apron is a rare survival from Scotland, offering a glimpse of the type of regalia worn by early Masons. Donated by Louis Sutter in 1989, it was accompanied by a Masonic certificate dated 1825 for John Herr Black Smith of Stranraer Kilwinning Lodge No. 208 of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The lodge was founded in 1768 and is still active.




Master Mason Apron | Circa 1820-1850
Paint on Silk | 15 1/2" x 17"
Acc# 98.9

This triangular-shaped silk apron resembles the painted aprons created by Nathaniel Negus, an ornamental artist working in Boston in the late 18th century. Professional ornamental painters of the period in New England often incorporated Masonic symbols into their work painting clock dials, furniture, signs and tracing boards. Their designs were based on book illustrations and engravings of the period. This apron shows a layout with symbols of the Master Mason, or third degree.


Master Mason Apron | Circa 1820-1850
Paint on leather | 15″ x 14 1/2″
Acc# 249

This apron originally belonged to Marvin Steward born in 1828. He passed the apron to his son, Charles Richard Steward, who then passed it to his son, Clifford Richard Steward. It eventually was donated by Bradley Clifford Steward–great grandson of Marvin Steward. On the reverse of the apron is an inscription that reads: “1850, Springfield, Illinois.” The apron is a fine example of a hand painted lambskin apron from the middle of the 19th century featuring the classic symbols of Freemasonry:  an All-Seeing Eye on the flap and on the body are steps, two pillars with orbs and an altar with three candles surrounded with an assortment of Masonic symbols including the beehive, trowel sword pointing to heart, moon with stars coffin and sun.

Royal Arch Apron | Circa 1800-1820.
Paint and ink on leather | 14″x 13 1/4″
Acc# 284.1


The design on the flap and front of this apron is printed from an engraving in blue ink, hand painted, and gilded with gold paint. Designs for aprons in the early 1800s were often copied by engravers from book illustrations and then printed on aprons. Professional painters would then paint the designs and add their own artistic touches such as gilding. The apron is unusual as it lacks a fabric backing and the usual ribbon trim of most aprons from the period. This is most likely due to deterioration and the passage of time.  Although little is known about the owner or the origin of the apron, the symbols indicate he was a Past Master and a member of the Royal Arch.


Royal Arch Apron | Circa 1830-1850
Silk, hemp, linen, cotton | 23 1/2” x 24”
Acc# 2007.3.1

This Scottish apron decorated with appliques and embroidery is obviously homemade, constructed from hemp linen with blue, pink, and yellow silk appliqued Masonic symbols accented with embroidery. The apron is of an unusual size, mimicking the workman aprons worn by operative stone masons of the period.


Order of Free Gardeners Apron | Circa 1840
Silk, cotton | 31" x 20"
Acc# 2019.2.1

This very large embroidered apron made of blue silk with various symbols and emblems, has dramatic visual appeal. Embroidered on the apron are the letters P, G, H, E, initials of Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel (Tigris) and Euphrates, the four rivers of the Garden of Eden, and A, N, S, initials of Adam, Noah, and Solomon, all known to be master gardeners. Additional symbols include scenes such as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, and representations of gardeners’ tools. The Free Gardeners Society originated in Scotland in the 17th century to promote and regulate the gardening profession and also act as a benefit society. It then spread to England and eventually to the United States. Their organization resembled Free Masons with Lodges, Grand Lodges and lodge officers. Free Gardeners symbolism was influenced by Freemasonry seen here in their version of the square and compass that included a grafting knife.


Royal Arch Apron | Circa 1820-1840
Silk, cotton | 25″ x 18″
Acc# 2019.2.1

This apron was recently found among a trove of items belonging to Leslie Woodworth, a collector of Masonic memorabilia who donated a large part of his collection to the Grand Lodge of California. Although a bit damaged, the knee length Royal Arch apron is beautifully embroidered with Masonic symbols on pale beige silk with a double border of black and red ribbon. The skill of the embroidery indicates a female artist at work enhancing the Masonic regalia of a father, brother, son, or husband.

Emblematic Carpet | Circa 1860s
Wool | 87″x 36″
Acc# 24


Red and black ingrain-woven carpeting showing a full repeat of a Masonic pattern consisting of a tiered series of arches labeled “EA” (Entered Apprentice), “FC” (Fellow-craft) and “MM” (Master Mason). Repeat runs of patterned carpeting were sewn together to form large area rugs. Apparently, this carpet fragment was cut apart and used as tapestry after Esmeralda Lodge No. 170 became part of the Grand Lodge of Nevada in 1865. It may have been woven by the Sisters of the Order of Holy Cross at St. Mary’s College, South Bend, Indiana as other examples of this carpet have been cited as produced by the Order on contract.


Knights Templar 22nd Triennial Conclave Ribbon Quilt | Circa 1883-1900
wool, silk,satin, corron | 70 1/2” x 72 1/2”
Acc# 2109.3.1

Composed of 115 ribbons from the 1883 Knights Templar Triennial held in San Francisco, this quilt is a unique example of Masonic folk art. The silk ribbons from the various Commanderies that participated in the conclave were considered souvenirs of the event and became collectors’ items for spectators and participants. The size of this quilt suggests that it was a decorative piece – at 70 ½ inches wide and 72 ½ inches long it is not quite large enough to be used on a bed – likely used as a sofa throw blanket or piano cover. The silk ribbons are pieced together in a style known as a “crazy quilt” which was popular in late 19th century. Crazy quilts often functioned as status symbols, demonstrating that their female makers had leisure time and wealth at their disposal.