Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ruth's Handkerchiefs

Her name was Ruth, and she liked handkerchiefs.

No, scratch that.  She loved handkerchiefs.

Seriously, the picture shows about one-third of the hankies that came home with me, just from the one estate sale.  Ruth, whoever she was, had very good taste and loved her hankies, especially the ones with flowers.

Daffodils and Daisies


I had to find out more about what fueled this sort of passion, so I started doing some online research on the humble handkerchief and discovered how it evolved from something with which to wipe your nose or your eyes, to a tiny work of art.   The hankies Ruth collected were in their heyday during the 1940s and 1950s, some of the vintage hanky websites told me, when women could freshen up a drab wartime wardrobe with these small splashes of color.  They carried hankies with red, white and blue designs in honor of servicemen far away.  

Ruth had hankies for every occasion, every holiday.  At Christmas she could carry any of more than a dozen Christmas designs, including these.

Reindeer Conga Line with More Poinsettias
Ruth, like many women in the 1930s through 1950s, crocheted borders on her plain handkerchiefs.   Among her collection was a pamphlet dated 1931, explaining how to add these colorful edges to liven up a plain square of cloth.

Apparently Ruth spent a lot of time doing this over the years.

The Internet is blanketed with vintage handkerchiefs.  I found them on Pinterest, and on sale sites like etsy and eBay.  I found well over a dozen websites that chronicle the history of hankies, and even more that show modern uses for them.  Vintage hankies are very popular with collectors.  Modern-day brides have their wedding invitations printed on vintage hankies, so the guests will have something to wipe away the tears of joy.   Seamstresses and crafters use hankies to make clothing, curtains, wall hangings and more.  Vintage hankies can be made into baby caps, with the idea that when the child grows up and is married, the hanky can be "something old" for the bride to carry up the aisle. 

So a hanky, small as it is, can be an important part of a larger whole.

Looking up the uses of vintage hankies reminded me of a classic scene from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, as Meg and Jo leave the house for a party:

"Have a good time, dearies!" said Mrs. March, as the sisters went daintily down the walk. "Don't eat much supper, and come away at eleven when I send Hannah for you." As the gate clashed behind them, a voice cried from a window...

"Girls, girls! Have you you both got nice pocket handkerchiefs?"

"Yes, yes, spandy nice, and Meg has cologne on hers," cried Jo, adding with a laugh as they went on, "I do believe Marmee would ask that if we were all running away from an earthquake."

"It is one of her aristocratic tastes, and quite proper, for a real lady is always known by neat boots, gloves, and handkerchief," replied Meg, who had a good many little 'aristocratic tastes' of her own.

I wonder what Meg and Jo's pocket handkerchiefs looked like?  Whatever style they were, we know Ruth, like Marmee, would have approved. 

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