Monday, February 18, 2008

Ode to the Humble Handkerchief

Some of you may be too old to remember your mom ALWAYS carrying a pretty, neatly folded, perfumed handkerchief in her purse. They were always my favorite item in the ironing basket, since they were flat, pretty little works of art. Gradually disposable tissue made them obsolete, so much so that the term Kleenex is generic.
Countless tissues left in my pockets, turning my laundry into a blizzard of little white specks all over my primarily black garments, were the push to rethink handkerchiefs. The pull was sensory: how pretty they are, in their infinite varieties. Kind of like snowflakes - no two are alike. And after a few washings, they are so soft. Virtue, the fact that they are endlessly reusable, did not really enter into the picture, but one does earn eco-points and frugal-kudos for switching to cloth rather disposables.
The initial challenge was finding them. I raided my mother-in-law's drawer, where she's stored them since the Eisenhower years, long since having switched to Kleenex. I bought a bunch on Ebay - they often come by the dozen or so. (Everyone has grandmothers who never parted with their collections - they used to be a popular Mother's Day type gift item.) I have also picked up a few on foreign travels in dollar-store equivalents. And sometimes flea markets and antique stores have a few. The most I've paid is $2 a piece.
I've found that in order to ALWAYS have a handkerchief available, I need about 30. I just stick them in the pocket of every jacket and vest I wear. When I forget to take one out, no problem. It just sits there in the laundry and doesn't shred and adhere to everything like Demon Kleenex.
There are statistics about how much money and how many resources you save by using Kleenex, which I will spare you. Anything you don't buy and dispose of does save resources all through the supply chain: no sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, transporting, or trashing. But in this case it's simply been a lovely quality-of-life upgrade. And don't worry. They don't need to be ironed. This is not the 1950's.
Any handkerchief fans out there want to share a story? What's your best hankie source?
photos from PinkPaint and Roses.


Nif said...

When my father died I inherited his huge stash of handkerchiefs. As a child of the 1930s, handkerchiefs were the norm for him. We often gave him more for Xmas.

Before he died I had purchased some for myself. The menswear section of large department stores was always a reliable source.

I like them a lot, but I can't convince my partner to use them when she is sick. She's OK with using them for allergy sniffles, but as soon as she gets sick she reaches for the box of tissues. It is true that when one is sick they require more hot water than we are used to using to get them clean. But they do come clean!

Jacob said...

When I started blogging one of my very first posts was about handkerchiefs vs kleenex. Later I found out it have been cited on MSN quoting something like "nostril directed snot power". I told it to my wife. She was very impressed ;O)

Betsy Teutsch said...

A reader reports hankies are not so readily available on Ebay. You can always try freecycle or - a retirement community!
I did find some online, but cannot vouch for quality. Price is very reasonable, s you can buy a few dozen:

Anonymous said...

You can get all kinds of handkerchiefs from the Vermont Country Store ( I have no affiliation; just a satisfied customer. I also use my son's old cloth diapers (which were used as burp cloths!) to blow my nose around the house. There's usually one in every room....

I also want to add that most of the advantages of handkerchiefs also apply to cloth napkins. These are SOO easy to get at tag sales, thrift shops, etc. I have some lovely linen monogrammed (not my initials, but it's still elegant) ones that are about 15 inches square. They are great! And I don't iron them, either.

Sam said...

I grew up using only hankies. My grandmother and her sisters did beautiful embroidery on the handkerchiefs. When I moved to the U.S I found it very hard to switch to tissue - especially since they disintegrate to easily. I always had a runny nose so this was annoying. And I was paranoid about the Mr. Bean effect: small piece of tissue sticking out of one nostril without my knowledge. I used the ones I brought with me for years. I eventually found some to buy on as well as gladrags. The ones from gladrags are more like napkins than hankies (fabric is thicker)

Unknown said...

I have just had given me 80 silk hankerchiefs which i believe are 1920's to 1940's they are all different and very beautifull. they may be Mackerfield silk. I wish to add to this collection and learn about it but i am having difficulty finding someone who can begin to offer me information. any ideas?

Betsy Teutsch said...

I just needed to add to my handkerchief collection. I ordered a few dozen on ebay, vintage reproductions, which shipped from China. each one is different and they're just fine.

Nanalulu said...

you can find many pretty hankies here: