Handkerchief Quilts Are Nothing to Sneeze About

“If you have a handkerchief, put it in your pocket and use it.” 

                                                                                                – My Mother’s Words

I learned how to iron by flattening out, one by one, a stack of handkerchiefs. Every week. All the corners needed to be pressed down, and no creases left on the fabric. Most were pure cotton, but some were pieces of high quality linen or satin. Lace embroidery around the edges honed my ironing skills with their frilly challenge. Elaborate embroidery caused no problems. Probably my favorite handkerchiefs were from my brother stationed in Hawaii. He sent a box of hankies with cartoonish animals stenciled on them. A real prize.

We used our hankies. The country school’s one room did not have boxes of Kleenex sitting around. In an era of perpetual dripping noses in the winter, a clean and dry handkerchief proved invaluable. As a teacher in recent years, my classroom utilized boxes of tissues in the snowy months of the year. I was probably the only one in the classroom with a handkerchief tucked in a sweater pocket, or folded under a bracelet for quick retrieval.

When my mother passed away, in her upper bureau drawer was a stash of beautiful handkerchiefs. Many had been received as gifts from her sisters in Iowa. Others bore the names of places she had visited. Each piece of cloth held a story within its folds.  I knew most of those stories, so I kept the hankies and have used them ever since. My purses and coat pockets keep my memories near.

A quilt by Jane Haworth


The beauty of the handkerchief quilt is intriguing. The sense of history that these vintage squares evoke is mind stirring. The hint of untold memories teases the imagination. If this type of quilt is appealing, but the supply of handkerchiefs is low, a quick trip to a thrift store, estate sale or an antique shop can solve that problem.

Twenty handkerchiefs is the common number needed for a quilt. The best advice for stitching the hankies is to applique each square to white background fabric, possibly a sheet. That shows off the curvy edges or lace borders. The space between the handkerchiefs gives the impression of sashing. A colorful binding and a trip to a long arm quilter will create a beautiful quilt. Colorful and comfortable.

This type of quilt presents handkerchiefs that do not need a good ironing. They look lovely just the way they are. Stitched as a comforter, these vintage hankies wrap around a body to become a cuddly warmer when the icy winds blow and the nose is red from dripping. A reminder of days long gone.

Photo courtesy of Quilting Digest, October 28, 2016


“Wet handkerchiefs are often found in the pockets of people having smiling faces. What an ability these people have to erase sadness’s traces.”

                                                            -Tavish Pattanayak, The Silent Thoughts


Meme photo credit: https://morguefile.com/creative/gracey

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