Hankies

P1100171Once in Sunday School a missionary’s talk tugged at my ten-year-old heartstrings  and my eyes and nose started leaking. My own Sunday School teacher Mrs. Montgomery saw my predicament and pressed her clean hankie into my hand. I was initiated.

My grandmother probably owned quite a few handkerchiefs, but she liked modern conveniences like Kleenex, and I suspect that her cloth versions lay in a drawer, waiting to be passed on to me. Where I grew up on a farm, I never saw one.

Until I inherited Grandma’s I might have owned just this one I had bought iP1100172n Turkey, the oddest handkerchief I have ever encountered. I must not have had much experience after that missionary talk, or I would have known better than to buy a handkerchief with a grid of heavy stitching all over it, seemingly designed to irritate a nose that might already be red and raw. I keep it now only as a memento.

My mother-in-law also left many pretty examples, some of which look like they have been well used, but I think not by her. She likely inherited many from her mother and aunts, who were known to make things like this. I think this dark blue hankie must be a homemade one.

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I’ve been using hankies from all these womenfolk for at least fifteen years now, glad to stop having tissues in my pocket, because one would too frequently get into the washing machine and turn to shreds, making a mess on dark clothes. I’ve heard that the soft and sheer cloth that most of these are made from is easier on your skin than facial tissue – Do you think that is a myth?

My husband wanted to sP1100167top using paper tissues so I made him quite a few of these plaid handkerchiefs out of an old skirt of mine. He typically had one sticking out of his back pocket, and now I’ve inherited this collection, too.

There may be dust bunnies on my floors and dishes in the sink, but I always take the time to iron my hankies and handkerchiefs, and to have a stack of them downstairs and handy for when I go out, especially on a walk or in cold weather when the cold front meets the warm front….

Jeans and hiking boots are often my style, and in the backpacking era I’d have had a bandanna along, but nowadays when I reach into my pocket on frosty mornings it will be to find a dainty hankie that is a most practical accessory, and serves the added purpose of keeping me in mind of my foremothers.

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21 thoughts on “Hankies

  1. I love hankies! I have mine of course, stuck away in my drawer. I love yours and the memories associated with them. Ron has always carried them and prefers them. I love that your husband did too. What a very nice post.

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  2. You have written such a lovely post of things from a bygone era. I too have a little chest of hankies I inherited from my mother. I love seeing them as they’ve been around as long as me. Thank you for sharing a great idea about how to use them. You have a beautiful collection of hankies. My best to you. Pat xxx

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  3. This made me really happy to read! I use cotton (and one silk!) hankies. I have a real problem that my nose is perpetually itchy and I constantly need to blow it. Someone suggested to me that perhaps I had an allergy to the bleaching agents in paper hankies so I started to use cotton hankies and I find them much better! I also feel better because I am not chuckin away so many paper tissues! I like your idea of making them out of an old cotton shirt- that is a great idea and one I may take up if a suitable clothing candidate needs culling!!!

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  4. Lovely collection! My mother-in-law brought me a hankie from Ireland…light, white fabric with a delicate lacey shamrock in one corner. I’ve been scared to actually use it (or perhaps scared it’ll end up in a dark or red load), but I admit the thought of carrying it instead of tissues is really, very appealing.

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  5. I well remember the days when a box of embroidered hankies was considered a perfect Christmas or birthday gift. My grandmother occasionally would purchase plain ones and add her own embroidery or tatted lace around the edges. Over time, they’ve disappeared, but I always thought they were he prettiest things in the world.

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    1. My husband’s grandmother and aunts used to do some tatting on their hankies. I have a couple of those and you are right, they are the prettiest things. Today I looked at Irish linen ones online and they certainly make a luxury gift! I would want to know that the recipient actually was a user of cloth handkerchiefs before I spent that kind of money, though.

      I also saw some pretty tartan handkerchiefs but I think they are all for show, made entirely of synthetic material. Bah!

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  6. A grid of heavy stitching makes a hanky hard on the nose and I’ve also learned not to buy any with polyester in them as they are not at all absorbent. Very pretty though. The white one with the embroidery in the last photo is very lovely.

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  7. My father always had to have a clean handkerchief. I learned to iron as a young girl ironing them.

    When my mother was in the hospital I was in town from Arizona taking care of Daddy and also had a waitress job. I was ironing our white work shirts but just handed him a handkerchief unironed when he asked for one. He asked, Aren’t you going to iron it?

    What a simple yet unforgettable joy it is to care for our menfolk.

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  8. This is interesting! I love to iron my hankies and like many of the other commenters, keep one tucked into my purse or a pocket. I’ve never noticed any one else using them now days. My high school girlfriends (fondly) remember ironing them as part of their growing up chores, but I am the only one who still uses them. It really surprises me that so many hanky users congregate here 🙂.
    Sweet post!

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  9. You’ve given me food for thought. Like you, I detest the damage done when a kleenex stows away in the washing. I’d never considered handkerchiefs a solution to that, but they are! I have a nice collection of hankies given to me by my husband’s grandmother. I should pull them out and use them. I tried years ago to transition, without success. I’m a woman who has a kleenex on her person, and a few in her purse, and a box in each room of the house, at all times. Thank you for this reminder! Your photos are beautiful too.

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  10. Yes to hankies, Gretchen, although I keep tissues in my purse to hand ’round at church as needed. Paper tissues are used at home but I think they are rough. Considering they are made from tree pulp it makes sense, to me at least. Some of my extremely old cloth napkins are tea stained and used for hankies…those are the softest of all!

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  11. I still like to gift friends with cotton or linen hankies from time to time because they are things of simple beauty with such usefulness. And I too prefer to carry and use cloth handkerchiefs rather than tissues.
    However, I remember ironing my father’s cotton handkerchiefs as a child, and not liking it!

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