Aprons appear to have been made throughout history, and could be practical or ornamental (like the bronze ornamented one found upon the woman in the Eura grave in Viking age Finland, or the 16th-17th c. lace aprons worn in France and elsewhere in Europe).
Aprons come in a wide variety of styles and fabrics. Work aprons can be as simple as a piece of cloth with a band sewn to the top, to tie around one's waist, but can also be full length overgarments. There are a plethora of modern apron projects to be found on the Internet also; ruffled bib or half-aprons in cheerful colors or patters; silly "chef's aprons"; pinafore aprons for little girls; and more! Because this is a historical blog, I have stuck to patterns/tutorials for historical designs instead of diving into the vast array of modern patterns of all types.
Please don't assume that, because I have listed only one pattern for a period, that the pattern shows the only way aprons were made in that period! Although I have not conducted detailed research on the subject, there appear to be a variety of different apron designs for every historical period, and no reason to believe that aprons didn't vary by region as well.
Because I am not (yet!) a reenactor and have no present need for a practical period apron, I have not tried out any of these designs (except for the Eura apron, which I did a bit differently). As always, do your own research to ascertain whether a particular tutorial suggested here will work for you.
- Viking Apron Dress: Viking apron dress designs are still conjectural, but two types have a substantial amount of evidence and support; the pleated-in-the-front tube (Kostrup) and the fitted tube (Hedeby). The tutorial featured here is from the Handcrafted History blog and is a fairly typical fitted tube kind of pattern (though not necessarily what was used at Hedeby). We don't know if the Vikings used the apron dress as we would an apron (to protect other clothing) but we do know that some aprons (notably lace aprons--17th-18th centuries) were worn for style purposes, so I am adding an apron-dress pattern to this list. Note: Making such a garment might take longer than a single afternoon if you stitch it entirely by hand.
- Eura (Finland): Based upon an archaeological find near Eura in Finland that has been dated to about 1100 CE. The apron appears to have been simply made of a length of cloth, belted to the body with a piece of tablet weaving, but it was clearly an ornamental garment because the bottom edges was decorated with designs crafted from small bronze coils. Making and sewing on the coils would likely take the making of such an apron outside the range of a one-afternoon project, but finishing the apron by fringing the bottom and hemming the other edges is another possibility and would be fairly quick to do. A diagram illustrating how archaeologists believe the Eura apron was made may be found here; the original blog site (which was used by a Finnish college student to house her thesis) is no longer live.
- Medieval: Here are several different types of medieval period apron. Edyth Miller of The Compleatly Dressed Anachronist provides instruction on a type of late medieval apron associated with midwives--it's a full body overgarment. Edyth's tutorial is here.
- Medieval, part 2: The second type of apron is a smocked top apron tied around the waist; you can find it in Matilda La Zouche's LiveJournal here. (Note: If you have not done smocking before, you may wish to look for instruction on how to do smocking before you attempt this kind of apron. Gina's Medieval Silkwork blog gives a list of smocked apron tutorials, with links, here. She includes Matilda's tutorial, but you may wish to try some of the others, which give more detailed instruction about doing the actual smocking.)
- German Renaissance: (15th-16th centuries) Genoveva has a video tutorial she claims will teach you how to do a smocked apron, much like the medieval ones above, in one hour! Find it here.
- 18th c. work apron. Burnley & Trowbridge have a series of three excellent clear videos demonstrating how to make a basic 18th century style work apron. The set is in the "Sew Along" playlist; you can find the first one on YouTube here.
- Regency: The blog Sewing Empire features two different apron styles for the Regency period: this one for a quick waist-length apron, and a second one for an apron with full-body coverage.
- Victorian: Sew Historically has a tutorial on how to make a "pinner", an apron with a bib that pinned onto one's clothes. Find it here.
- Edwardian: From a blog called Cranial Hiccups comes a tutorial for a rather plain and basic, full-body apron; find it here.
- 1920s: Also from Cranial Hiccups comes this 1920s apron tutorial; yes, it's a period tutorial, complete with an image containing the actual period pattern!
Feel free to dive into the Internet (Pinterest is not a bad place to start) to look for other possible apron DIYs/how-tos/tutorials and patterns. Have fun!