Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hanky or Hankie, but Where IS Your Handkerchief?

My topic at the recent Academy of Mid-19th Century Life - the handkerchief!

Why handkerchiefs?

I needed a topic that would cover many objectives:

1.) I was asked to include a "hands on" activity as part of my presentation,
2.)Would apply to both men and women,
3.)And would be a detail often overlooked in an overall impression.

Handkerchiefs fit all those needs and more!

We started with a brief history, (the first written record of the handkerchief dates to the 1st century AD) and discussed how the frequent references found in period literature demonstrates what a common, indeed ubiquitous, object the hanky was to every man, woman and child.

Images of period hankies were shared, including this educational style:

and this vivid example of a hanky for a male.
These are some reproduction examples of men's hankies - which do you think are correct?

The answer:

The blue bandanna is a nearly perfect replica; the technology of the time allowed 4 men, operating 16 presses to create 19,200 yards of bandanna material in a 10 hour day.

The multi colored example is a reasonable reproduction, showing the multi color, botanical inspired motifs that so often appear in period examples.

The lower green example has no historic precedent, and unfortunately, is the most common example seen in the field.

We also discussed the many examples of embroidery patterns in the ladies magazines of the times, which moved us to the hands on portion of the presentation.

Participants were supplied with a kit which included a 17" square white cotton handkerchief, a scrap of cotton to practice stitches, thread, instructions for chain and satin stitches, and three pages of patterns from an 1865 pattern catalog.

With just a bit of time and effort, participants could create a lovely accessory to complement their ensembles.

The presentation included much more than I've outlined here; like so many of the topics I choose to research, it was much more involved than I anticipated. I discovered so much I had not expected and I will continue to add to my research in the future - maybe someday, I'll have the opportunity to present this topic to a new audience.


  1. what a great topic! in our throw away society we're so used to just using a tissue, no one even thinks about handkerchiefs!

  2. my mom had tons of them. many from my gram. i went thru her closet after she passed and found at least one in every pocket of everything she owned. also a drawer with her freshly laundered ones. i saved them all.