Monday, September 23, 2019


By Mary Davis

Squares of fabric tucked into a pocket to be at the ready for a variety of uses. Originally known as HANDKERCHIEFS but affectionately known as HANKIES. The first known use of “handkerchief” was 1530, but people had been using these nifty pieces of cloth for millennia. I wonder what they were called before handkerchief. The term hankie didn’t come into use as an abbreviation until late in the 19th century.

Handkerchiefs have a myriad of uses, from drying tears to mopping a brow to cleaning a child’s face to keeping dust out of ones mouth and nose to commemorating special events to getting a man’s attention and gifts of affection. Its utility is vast. The most common one is to blow or wipe one’s nose.

Obviously, people had need of these small squares of fabric before 1530. Depictions of handkerchiefs in art dates back to 1000 BC. Handkerchiefs also appeared in Shakespeare plays as well as elsewhere through history.

For a long time, handkerchiefs were something only the wealthy could afford because linen and silk were expensive. Because handkerchiefs were valued, they would be listed in dowries and bequeathed in wills. The wealthy would have bigger and bigger handkerchiefs and more elaborately adorned to display their wealth. 

In 1785, Louis XVI didn’t want anyone to have a handkerchief bigger than his, so he mandated a size and shape. He decided on the square shape as well. Before then, handkerchiefs could be square, round, rectangle, or even a triangle. Louis decided that square was the most pleasing. All handkerchiefs from then on made in France had to be of that size and shape.

Queen Elizabeth I had handkerchiefs embroidered with gold and silver thread. She created a whole silent language with handkerchief gestures to communicate with her servants in court.

Savvy moms of the 1800s devised the “Show and Blow” campaign. To promote hygiene and reduce the spread of illnesses, school children were required to bring a clean handkerchief to school everyday. Moms wanted their children to appear spic and span, so they sent two hankies to school with their children, a clean white one for inspections and utilitarian one for actual use. These were usually made from a calico or other leftover fabric.

Well into the 1920s, handkerchiefs for the average man were white. If a lady wanted something different, she could embroider colorful flowers and designs on her hankies.

During the depression of the 30s, women didn’t have the means to buy new clothes and often could only afford a new hankie as a fashion accessory. A lady would “change” her outfit by sporting a different hankie. In the 40s and with WWII, women collected a whole “wardrobe” of hankies; draped over belts, tied on wrists, peeking out of pockets, or tucked through a buttonhole.

During WWI and WWII, pilots were given kerchiefs with a map of area they were bombing printed on it in case they got shot down. They literally had an escape route in the palm of their hand. Hundreds of others were printed as mementos during the wars.

Handkerchiefs boasted a strong popularity in the late-1940s and 1950s with designers utilizing them in their fashions

The cloth handkerchief fell out of favor when Kleenex created the paper facial tissue. They were created in the 1920s as a face towel for removing face cream. In the 1930s, Kleenex had the slogan “Don’t carry a cold in your pocket.” But is was Little Lulu and Golden Books who tipped the scales in paper facial tissues’ direction in the mid-50s. The children’s book line featured Lulu making things like bunnies, doing magic tricks, and more with facial tissues. The first printing was an astronomical 2.25 million copies.

I remember ironing my dad’s handkerchiefs. My sisters called foul when I ironed all the handkerchiefs and pillowcases, leaving the more difficult dress shirts and pants to iron to them. I figured since they were older, it would be easier for them to iron the difficult things. Or maybe I just wanted it easy. I did start ironing shirts and pants too and left a hankie or two for them.

I have recently been more conscientious about single use items like facial tissues, plastic grocery bags, and paper towels. I’m making efforts with reducing my trash footprint by reducing my use of paper towels and plastic bags. I haven’t thought much about how to reduce my use of facial tissues. I have some nearly-antique hankies that were my grandma’s, but I don’t want to use those heirlooms. Strange to think of something one blows one’s nose on as an heirloom. I think I’d like to start using cloth hankies for light-duty use, but for seasonal allergies when my nose is a nonstop waterworks for weeks or when I have a nasty head cold, I think the disposable one might be called for.

If you have some vintage hankies you’ve been wondering what to do with, here is a link to many things you can make and do with them.

What about you? Do you use cloth hankies? Sometimes? All the time? Never?

THIMBLES AND THREADS: 4 Love Stories Are Quilted Into Broken Lives
When four women put needle and thread to fabric, will their talents lead to love?
Click HERE to order.

“Bygones” Texas, 1884
Drawn to the new orphan boy in town, Tilly Rockford soon became the unfortunate victim of a lot of Orion Dunbar’s mischievous deeds in school. Can Tilly figure out how to truly forgive the one who made her childhood unbearable? Can this deviant orphan-train boy turned man make up for the misdeeds of his youth and win Tilly’s heart before another man steals her away?

MARY DAVIS s a bestselling, award-winning novelist of over two dozen
titles in both historical and contemporary themes. Her 2018 titles include; "Holly and Ivy" in A Bouquet of Brides Collection (January), Courting Her Amish Heart (March), The Widow’s Plight (July), Courting Her Secret Heart (September), “Zola’s Cross-Country Adventure” in The MISSAdventure Brides Collection (December), and Courting Her Prodigal Heart (January 2019). Coming in 2019, The Daughter's Predicament (May) and "Bygones" in Thimbles and Threads (July). She is a member of ACFW and active in critique groups. Mary lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband of over thirty-four years and two cats. She has three adult children and two incredibly adorable grandchildren. Find her online at:

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  1. I remember receiving jammies as a gift in the 70s. It was from an older woman who took great pride in her hankies. I also have some heirloom ones. They're packed away.

  2. That older woman might have used them as a wardrobe accessory during WWII. My heirloom ones are packed away too. I look forward to moving to a larger house so I can unpack some of those things.

  3. I have saved several hankies from relatives. Such precious memories of my loved ones.

    1. It's neat how something so small and simple can hold things so dear as memories.

  4. I have several vintage hankies. I remember well the Little Lulu Golden book with the Kleenexes. It was a favorite!

  5. What a fun post! My mother in law made some Christmas ornaments with her mom's hankies.

  6. For utilitarian hankies, we just cut up old t-shirts into about 5 inch squares, stuff an old tissue box with them, then use them once and toss into the wash!