Art, Crafts


The Ginja Ninja asked the other day, as we were out together for something else, if I would please take her to the flea market. I knew what she meant – we live a few miles from two of the largest flea markets in the world, but that’s not where she wanted to go. They are more shops filled with cheap mass market crap. No, the one she wanted is something between an indoor garage sale, and an antiques market. It’s broken up into little booths and each booth owner’s selections are… let me put it this way. You never know what you will find in there. It’s fun to walk around. Not only that, but my girl is rapidly maturing into responsible adult territory, and I don’t know how many more little expeditions we get like this. So off we went. 

The GN found furbies, because of course she did. She also bought me a cookie jar for my Mother’s Day gift – I’m not sure when I started collecting them, but evidently I do now. Must bake more. I poked along looking at old books, debating this and that… and then she pointed something out to me. “Look at those. Wouldn’t the Jr. Mad Scientist like that one?” 

Those were a display of intricately worked handkerchiefs, all pinned up on a drying rack. There were dozens of them, little squares of white linen with delicately crocheted lace edges. Some, like the one she wanted to get for her sister, were more fanciful than useful. The purple butterfly at the corner was lovely, though, and I was happy to agree we should get it. But as I stood there talking to her about the imaginary little old lady we decided must have made these, I decided I was going to rescue a few of them. I was thinking about Jonna Hayden, and her mother’s stash of pretty things that are now being released into the world to find those who will love and use them. These delicate little remnants of a distant past… 

The Jr Mad Scientist’s hankie.

It’s not just who has the time for this kind of embellishment and needlework any longer. Or who has the skill to create what is a dying art. It’s that who uses a hankie any more? Now we have the disposable and ubiquitous kleenexes. Blow, toss, get another one. In terms of biological safety, far superior. Still, I can’t help but feel that we have lost something. 

A scrap of elegant linen. The decoration that proclaimed it’s owner a woman of certain skill, with the ability to create precise beauty. Little things like this were once given as gifts for special occasions, embroidered with a prospective bride’s new initials to add to her trousseau, of simply as a momento of friendship and love. Girls sat at their grandmother’s knees learning the stitches passed down through the generations. A language of women, spoken in fibers and dyes. 

Hobby Holly is a traditional design in quilts, and needlework as well it seems. This was the Ginja Ninja’s choice for herself. 

Handkerchiefs for women seem like they are long gone, but men still seem to carry them. At least my Dad, and First Reader do in the form of large colorful bandanas. These utilitarian squares serve a lot of purposes besides the snotrag. Carrying home a stash of black wanuts. Binding up a small child’s booboo. Offering to a crying loved one, with assurances of ‘it’s clean!’ to wipe tears away with the cotton worn soft as flannel. 

The colorful aniline dyes tell me these are not antiques. Vintage, certainly, and well-used in some cases.

I got several for my own purposes. Not to use – I have a neat stack of plain white linen and cotton for my pockets in my underthings drawer at home. But for what the elaborate designs were doubtless intended for. As gifts. To give beauty to another person, and share something that would make them smile, and keep in memory of the fondness between giver and gifted. I haven’t got the skill to make them myself. I do know who among my friends and family will appreciate the idea that stretches back into the past to the unknown little old lady with the nimble fingers. She shall live on in our sharing of her art. 

11 thoughts on “Handkerchiefs

  1. Your Great-great Grandma Gladys Haring used to make these, and so did your Great-grandma Rosie Fales. I used to have some, but don’t have any now. Grandma La Vaughn might still have some; I think the ones from Grandma Rosie went to Maranatha, but I don’t know if she kept any.

  2. Too many years ago, my fifth (or sixth) grade male school teacher insisted that all his male students have handkerchiefs in our pockets (don’t remember if he did the same for his female students).

    Dear Old Otto Smith, I still don’t feel dressed if I don’t have one. 😀

  3. Brings back memories of 2 places near my childhood home. We had the Montgomeryville Mart, was like your place sounds like. Lots of stalls under 1 roof selling all kinds of stuff. And the Bazaar of All Nations, which was more eclectic (and bazaar). It burned down when a Navy jet crashed into it on takeoff.

  4. My dad – and my stepdad – used to carry hankies. I think my stepdad still does. I carry eyeglass cloths, and my FlyLady pink rag, in my purse. I have a collection of bandannas that my granddaughter has started snaking from me.

  5. My sister and I are the last women in the family, and as such, we wound up with boxes of various items. Hankies and doilies, and lace gloves. Amazing hand work.

  6. My grandmother used to put lacy edges on pillowcases. Sadly I think they’ve all been worn out and discarded, their lace reduced to rags and lost.

  7. I heard in a lecture once by Dr. Elliott Engel, the subject being Edgar Allan Poe, that handkerchiefs in the 19th century were often embroidered with strawberries, raspberries, roses and other red motifs because of the prevalence of tuberculosis, which resulted in the coughing up of bloody sputum which the handkerchiefs would tend to disguise.

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