Vintage Hankies

Vintage Hankies
Vintage hankies are much sought after, as much for their nostalgia and collectability as they are for charming examples of unexpected textile art.

Endearing for their fanciful designs of delicate flowers and birds, collectible as travel souvenirs or quaint fashionable scenes of days long past, the 10 or 12-inch square of fine silk, cotton or linen is often delicately embroidered, and lace trimmed. At times, tiny hand crocheted stitches will encircle the vintage hankie, quite often applied by generations gone by stitched by flickering candlelight or gaslight at the end of a busy day.

A most famous hankie is one from literature, as Shakespeare writes that Desdemona is given one from Othello as a symbol of love. Sigh. Soldiers were known to keep their ladies’ handkerchiefs tucked under their helmets as a keepsake for when they went off to war. Classical and Renaissance portrait paintings often show women and men of wealth with a small fabric hankie clutched in one hand.

Mid 1940’s to early 1960’s fashion-conscious women would tuck a small hankie into a purse to feel completely dressed for an occasion. Until mid-1900’s ladies attending Catholic church services and not wanting to enter a house of worship unveiled or hatless often would lay a delicate hankie upon their hair secured with bobby pin or hat pin. Such were the times.

Men have too, in recent and times past, carried a white handkerchief, neatly folded and tucked into a back pocket. The much smaller pocket square that sometimes is seen peeking out of a men’s jacket breast pocket is for show and not at all a hankie. Today, the omnipresent brand-named Kleenex or any disposable facial tissue has all but replaced the noble fabric square.

Hankies have served many functions, not the least of which were to dab away tears or smother a nosey cold but carried as a sign of genteel wealth and nobility, made into a simple doll-like toy, fluttered in greeting or implying romantic intentions, gathered posies-like into a tussie-mussie (small flower bouquet) or displayed as a keepsake in a shadow box.

Some items to make out of this humble square of fabric all of which have many examples that can be found online:

Handkerchief or church dolls (often made by a mother trying to distract a restless child during church services) where a women’s hankie would be knotted or twisted into a doll shape; hankies can be made into a pretty pincushion; folded and hand stitched into a baby bonnet to be used years later for a sentimental wedding token; gathered and filled with potpourri for baby or wedding shower décor; several sewn together for a dresser scarf; a few can be assembled with batting and backing into a crib quilt; framed and displayed as visual artifacts; as doilies on night stands; as hostess take-home gifts and so much more.

Sew happy, sew inspired.

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This content was written by Cheryl Ellex. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryl Ellex for details.