Monday, 1 June 2015

Do You Have Your Hankie?

Last week I was lucky to find a stash of vintage handkerchiefs.  It seems that they all belonged to one lady and I was instantly reminded of my grandmother, Louisa Amelia Jane, though those who were on first name terms with her called her Lou. Having said that, not many people seemed to be on first name terms with her. In our family, she was Nana or Mum. To the rarely seen cousins she was Aunty Lou, but to most people, she was Mrs Silva. It interested me that Nana called all her friends by their formal titles of Mrs Spencer, Mrs Dubbledan, Mrs Sherman, etc. Sometimes I wonder whether she ever knew their Christian names. But I digress... Back to the hankies.

Nana was the kind of person who, when they received something really nice as a gift, deemed it too nice to use, and put it away in a drawer or cupboard, perhaps to take it out and look at it occasionally when in the mood. Or it was kept "for best", and probably never used. I must confess that when my daughter was small and asked me when we were using the best teapot and cups on the dresser I said "When the Queen comes for afternoon tea." Abbey spent years anticipating this event with curiosity until she eventually gave up.

The lady who owned these hankies was clearly a like minded soul. It seemed that for years family and friends had given her pretty hankies as gifts, and she clearly thought they were all far too good to wipe her nose with as most of them still bore the original sticker saying "Swiss cotton", "Made in England", etc. Unfortunately, I had to remove these to launder the hankies as most had brown age spots. Most tore when being removed.

The hankie stash included lace, embroidered, floral and souvenir hankies and seemed to be from the 1950s and 1960s.  Here is my favourite:

Fine Green Lawn Hankie - 1950s

Here is a curious one. Clearly a souvenir from the Gold Coast and sporting some funky vintage bathing suits, the map has been printed upside down. I was confused about this for a while and had to check, but if you turn it upside down, the map is the right way, but all the text and other pictures are upside down. I hope they got it cheap. Perhaps it's like the misprinted stamp that collector's covet and is worth a mint, but I doubt it.

Upside down Gold Coast souvenir

Call me strange, but I actually enjoyed ironing this pile of handkerchiefs. When I was a child I remember asking my mother whether I could "help" with the ironing, and she let me iron the hankies. I guess it was hard to go wrong there. I do not remember my own children asking to help with the ironing. Just as well because we didn't have hankies. I enjoyed taking the newly clean and dry hankies, flattening them and folding them into little triangles with the prettiest corner showing.

Organdie floral hankies with the original sticker
This pair is my second favourite. The fabric is really beautiful - transparent, gauze like organdie with a restrained floral pattern.

Lace corner with embroidery and lace trim

Then there are the dainty lace hankies, with or without embroidery. Definitely for taking to church on Sunday in one's best handbag. Not for tucking up the sleeve as they may fall out and be lost. 

Pretty lace borders

However, I was delighted to find a pile of floral hankies. I had hankies like this when I was a child, they were the kind I had ironed, which must explain why I was pleased to see them again. After I grew out of babyish hankies with cartoon characters I graduated to florals. I never had a lace number, not even for Sunday School.

These are my favourites of the florals:

Poppy hankie

Crocus hankie

And I have to mention the three very delicate pink ones just because they're pretty.

Three pink pretties

 There are lots of others - embroidered sets, petit point, florals, a thistle souvenir from Scotland.

I have seen quite a few interesting projects for upcycling vintage handkerchiefs. When a customer first told me that she was intending to make doily lanterns with doilies she bought from me I felt sad that this was to be their fate, but I got over it. Doilies and vintage linens have received a new lease of life by being upcycled in creative projects. I have a Pinterest board full of upcycling ideas I have collected. 
Cushion of vintage hankies

Baby dress of vintage hankies

Butterfly quilt of vintage hankies

I have a drawer full of hankies I have collected for myself which I intend to use. Less tissues, save trees, reduce rubbish, you know. However, my problems are firstly, that I rarely seem to have a pocket in which to keep a hankie, and also that I forget to take one. A child's lesson from the past "Have you got your hankie?"


  1. I too have a passion for vintage hankies and so enjoyed reading your post. I too have trouble with cutting up a good hanky - I only cut up damaged ones for my Hanky Hearts and Hanky Cottages. My Hanky Dresses are not cut and my Heirloom Hanky Dresses are completely hand sewn.

  2. Excellent. It's great to reinvent and give them a new life. Your hanky dresses are very cute.