Vintage Hankies

Vintage Hankies
The delicate embroidered linen hankies carried at one time by most ladies was always to be found in a purse or tucked demurely into the cleavage of a dress with lacy edges peeking out or peering unassumingly out from the edge of a sleeve hem are now consigned to a footnote for those interested in vintage fabric folk art, garment history and fond family remembrances.

For the linen hankie had several functions not the least of which was to wipe the nose. It was used in war to signal surrender, fluttered at a suitor to indicate romance assured, fiercely waved at dockside as a farewell gesture signaling Bon Voyage! to those on ship departing or for sentimental remembrances lovingly pinned inside a bride’s gown.

Although hankies or handkerchiefs, are still made today, some deliberate reproductions of delicate vintage patterns and some merely plain and functional, authentic vintage hankies have a tale to tell.

Some were made into Pew Babies, twisted into a simple doll-like form and given to a child to play with in an attempt to quiet them during church services.

Waitresses of the 40’s tucked flamboyant hankies into their uniform pocket expressing their individuality.

Hankies from the 50‘s were colorful and quirky and often came with instructions on life importance for women.

Whether emulating the warm charm of farmhouse rustic décor or affluent Victorian esthetics hankies of the past have been neatly folded into a triangle and draped over the edge of a dining room hutch or curio cabinet’s shelving, their delicate beauty contrasting sharply and visually softening the hard shelf edge.

With a nod to all things retro and vintage, there are many, many items that can be sewn and crafted from these still beautiful squares of history. The following are a few to consider that do not cut the hankie:

Pincushion – since most vintage hankies are square, simply lay the hankie face down, fold three corners to meet in the center. Carefully whipstitch the resulting seams closed being cautious to just stitch the seam edges and not to the underlying fabric. A pocket will be formed easy to firmly stuff with poly fiberfill. Then, bring the remaining triangle to the center and hand stitch the seam edges together to close. Stitch a decorative button or antique charm onto the center, this time stitching through to the back and up to the front again that will create the poufy pin cushion shape.

Lavender sachet - fold the hankie, right sides facing, and sew the long edge and one short side. Turn right side out and fill with dried lavender buds and some polyfill for softness. Tie with a ribbon to close.

Embroidery hoop framed – place the hankie in an appropriately sized embroidery hoop. Tape any overhanging edges onto the back of the hoop.

Pocket tissue-pack cover – if the hanky is small enough, simply fold two ends to slightly overlap in the center and machine stitch across each of the short ends. The resulting envelop pouch should easily hold the pocket tissue-pack. A decorative stitch and complementary thread color can also be used that as well will complement the hankie edging or design.

Garland – using a long length of ribbon or cording, fold in half or fold into a triangle several hankies that will hang along the ribbon in a pleasing pattern. Just a few hankies make a charming spring garland to hang from a mantel or across a window.

Bodice panel for little girl’s dress – if using a printed pattern substitute an embroidered or colorfully printed hankie for the fabric indicated for the bodice front of a little girl’s dress.

Today’s modern thin facial tissues (think Kleenex-types) although vastly useful lack the drama and once potential intrigue of the beautiful fluttering hankie.

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.