Do you use handkerchiefs?  Do you even have handkerchiefs?  They seem to be token textile remembrances from an earlier era, an item you might find in time capsule.  Like butter churns and girdles, they still serve a purpose but are seldom pressed into service.

This petite monogram is only 1" tall.

Well, now that I think about it, occasionally a bride will carry a hanky which is later made  into a bonnet for her first baby.  But for tear jerkers and bad colds, a box of Kleenex is today’s wipe of choice.

Every school day when I was 8 years old, I rode my bicycle one block to Curtis’ house where he would be waiting on the front porch for me.  As he mounted his Schwinn, without fail his mother would call from the kitchen, “Curtis, do you have a clean handkerchief?”  Without fail, he would replay, “Yes, Mama!”  and we rode off to school.


My routine departure from home did not include a handkerchief check.  I sometimes wondered if this were a serious breach of etiquette.  Like every school girl in the ’50, I always wore dresses.  Since I had neither a pocket nor a purse in my school girl dresses to carry a hanky if I had one, I concluded that it must be a boy requirement. 

The highly raised padded satin stitch E is surrounded by shadow work daisies.

On shopping trips to the 5&Dime, I gazed at the extensive display of handkerchiefs.   Soon I had a few of my own and asked my mother to include pockets on the dresses she made for me.  But my hankies were nothing like the beauties that were available in the high end stores where I seldom shopped.

Before aloe infused tissue paper pushed lace edged, monogrammed linen squares  from ladies’ pocketbooks, these delicate squares had morphed into exquisite examples of expert needlework.  Hours were spent lavishing linen or cotton batiste with elaborate surface embroidery, fil tire’, applique’ cord, drawn threadwork, shadow embroidery, cutwork and Madeira applique’.


Not all were stitched at home in front of the fire.  Around the world, by hand and machine, exquisite handkerchiefs were made for the world market.  I know of nowhere you can find such a concentration of fine needlework as on a ladies handkerchief.

Through the years, I have assembled a nice collection of handkerchiefs, including  monograms, souvenirs, novelties.  Others were selected simply because they were beautiful or had creative, interesting design.

They are a source of design inspiration  as well as a three dimensional stitch library.  Serious students of needlework, both hand and machine, could learn  a great deal from close examination of vintage and antique handkerchiefs.

This 16" giant must have been made for Amazon women or Northern ladies whose colds last as long as their winters. It has a tiny "Madeira" label. That is the only thing tiny about it.

Some of these were purchased when it first became popular to use handkerchiefs for children’s collars.  That is still a great idea, but I haven’t seen any lately.

I did make one for Rebecca when she was in 1st grade.  Karoline, the 2nd grader in our carpool, asked about the collar, was it really a handkerchief?  Yes, I assured her, it was.

“Good idea,” Karoline  replied.  “Then you can just blow your nose on your collar.”  I guess she didn’t have a pocket or a purse either.

Recently, I read that someone had removed colored tatting from a handkerchief to trim a baby dress.  That moved me to pull out my hankies for a fresh look.  What good is a collection if you never look it over?  I thought you might enjoy seeing some of my monograms.

I am working on a monogrammed summer dress for my granddaughter Laurel.  I thought it was quite nice until my eyes rested on these beauties.  Compared to them, my machine stitched monogram will be more like a laundry ID, strictly utilitarian.

Great book for anyone interested in handkerchiefs.

11 responses to “Handkerchiefs

  1. I like handkerchiefs. I still have, and regularly use, the one with my name on it that my mother gave to me when I was a child. It’s a staple in my purse, though I don’t check for it every time I walk out the door! I’m also the proud owner of hand-me-down hankies from both grandmas. I give them to my sick children at bedtime because regular Kleenex don’t stand up well to the bed-thrashing of little ones. I tell them they are “special tissues” and aren’t to be thrown away. We even have one much-in-demand handkerchief with a clown on it.

  2. I also use hankerchiefs everyday and have for years, I love to find some old ones and see the beautiful designs that someone did by hand. Janice, your collection is beautiful. I also buy “blank” hankerchiefs and embroider my initial on them but haven’t thought to add a design, I may try that.

  3. Shirley, AZ

    I just love your profound comment “What good is a collection if you never look it over?” Those are my sentiments exactly, so frequently I have to look over my lace collection, fabric, handkerchiefs, etc. etc. I have many fond memories associated with the handkerchiefs I have collected and when my mother died a few years ago, I discovered she had quite a collection too. So now when we come to Minnesota for the summer I get to “look over” her collection as well! Thanks for letting us see some of yours.

  4. I have enjoyed this post immensely! I love hankies. And I adore the exquisite handwork that has been stitched on yours. I do use a hanky and try to always remember to tuck one in my purse. Like you, I am always on the prowl for them. And they are fun to iron.

  5. What a lovely collection of hankies! It would be a shame if they were always hidden away and never used or admired. I have a drawer full of hankies — gifts through my childhood from my mother and grandmothers, as well as their hankies which came to live with me when they both passed away. I still carry a handkerchief to weddings, funerals and church. I have also tried to incorporate them into sewing and decorating, but it is very difficult for me when there is any cutting with scissors involved!

  6. Thank you so, so much for sharing your lovey hankies. I can’t decide which I love more as they are all so beautiful.

  7. I love your hankies, and I love the whole new look of the photos with captions, Good Job! Now figure out what a widget is and how to use it, then tell me! LOL I laughed about the collar/hankie idea… my son just uses his sleeve! I’m personally glad we don’t carry hankies…ew… the germs!!!

  8. I’ve just purchased a box of hankies I intended to cut up for a crazy quilt. As it turns out they came from a museaum and date back as far as the mid 1800s. But then again they probably go up to the 50s. I’m astonished at the needlework and deeply in love with the ones done by polish school girls (they had notes with each girls name and the town they came from). But now I obviously can’t cut them up. I have hanky panky coming express, but is there any other source I should seek to identify these with? I have a great respect for history and don’t want to ruin fine pieces for the sake of a pretty quilt.

  9. Oh, Dawn, you are so lucky!!!!! And I so admire your respect for the historical and intrinsic value of these precious hankies. They are not meant for cutting! Hanky Panky is one of my favorite reference books, but it doesn’t go into the kind of detail I think you will need. I suggest you look at books on antique textiles, from lace to linens. Pat Earnshaw’s Dictionary of Lace would help you with identification of the trims and that might put a time frame on a hanky. But then again, I use antique laces on handkerchiefs I have made so that is not entirely reliable. Another source I love is Love of Lace by Cynthia Hart and Catherine Calvert which covers the history and identification of lace from long, long ago. My duplicate copy of that is available for sale in my little store for $10, but I don’t recommend it to make a sale. Martha Pullen has published a lovely, informative book on Glorious Linens, by Elizabeth Pugh that I love to read through. I have learned a lot from that. There are more, but if you get one or two of these books from the library, you will find a list of references in the back that could get you started on a fascinating study of antique textiles. Let me know what you find out. And if you would be willing to share any photos, I would love to see them.

  10. Leeanne Carr

    I was a subscriber to Creative Needle magazine & I remember a really quick & easy pattern for a “As a Baby as a Bride” Bonnet/hancherchief. Do you have it? I need it ASAP & am willing to pay whatever it takes :-). Thank you!

  11. Leeanne, I’m sorry but I cannot locate the issue in which that appeared. I’ve gone through every issue from 1994 have just run out of time to look through earlier publication dates. However, I am missing nov. Dec 2000 and Sept. Oct. 1994 so I haven’t checked them. I hope you can find it.

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