In my family, handkerchiefs are a hallmark of civilized living. My father always had one or two clean white hankies secreted about his person, as does his father, and my mother’s father did the same. I learned to iron by pressing those simple white squares when I was barely tall enough to see over the board.
My great-grandmother Fern’s delicate white hankies were scented with rose and powder, and seemed to dispense comfort from their very fibers. My own run the gamut from delicate and colorful prints to fine white linen.
There are hankies for blowing, and hankies for showing, and since my entire family tends to leak our emotions (both happy and sad) out our eyeballs, having hankies of all sorts is very handy.
Our church ladies auxiliary recently had a “Gal”entine’s get-together, and each person was given a brown paper bag in which to deposit an under-$5 item that holds meaning to the individual. We did “getting to know you” activities, allowing each sister to choose a bag as a “Gal”entine’s surprise.
Church ladies need hankies even more than most, I tend to think, so I took a bit of time, lace, batiste, and thread, and whipped up a white “showing” hanky that is plenty sturdy enough for blowing as needed.
The square of Savannah lawn (a very light 100% cotton, fine-woven–I get mine by the bolt from Fabric Depot in Portland, OR, and oh-look! It’s on sale!–but they also sell by the yard) gets a rolled and whipped hem; this sort of work is best done by hand, as a machine will tend to slurp the fabric right into the mechanisms, making an ungainly shredded wad of formerly-lovely cotton. Machined work also loads in a *ton* of thread, which makes the edge stiff. No bueno.
The finished hem is about 1/16″ wide, and completely enclosed and sturdy, without being bulky or awkward. And yes, it can be done by hand without any Creative Cussing. However, the technique really only works with 100% cotton or linen; man-mades with poly blend will definitely inspire Creative Cussing, and that offends the Spirit, and peace will depart hence! So, use very nice cotton fabric, and find joy.
For the stitches to really disappear, the threads need to be similar in size to the threads in the weave. Gutterman’s cotton is lovely, as is YLI, which comes in 80wt and 100wt as well as more familiar 50wt (which is what you’ll find in standard sewing machine cotton.) (Below is the picture of “the wrong side.”)
Good cotton lace is far easier to work with than poly-nylon stuff, and is well worth the time it takes to ship it in, which you’ll need to do if you only have chain fabric stores near you. (I adore Luc’s wares from Cotton Lace–he ships quickly from the Netherlands, and has lovely, lovely stuff for very small amounts of money, so it’s easy to have a few yards on hand. Or to go nutty and order 10 yards of everything you like best. You know, whatever works.)
You can also find lovely stuff from most shops in the US, Canada, and Britain that cater to heirloom sewists; another of my favorites is Farmhouse Fabrics.
The lace and hanky edge are laid right sides together, then whipped together through one header thread of the lace, and a few threads of the hem. While you might think a single thread through minuscule bits of the lace and fabric won’t hold, it’s actually very sturdy and flexible! Each corner is pleated and whipped to ease the straight lace around the right angle, and the ends of lace are running stitched and then whipped to prevent them fraying.
Then I did up a bit of embroidery in one corner: framing stalks of “wheat” to symbolize providence, nourishment, and endless potential (wheat has additional religious significance in my faith); a beehive with a tiny bee on the inside of the wreath, symbolizing cooperative work and productive, creative sisterhood; three worked eyelets at the foundation of the ornament to symbolize God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit; five worked “seeds” above the ornament… ummm…. just because I like symmetry and making seed stitches. Not everything has to have deep meaning, right?
I tend to draw up my own embroidery designs so I can customize things, but you can use any line art to create a neat, personalized embroidery tracing! Feather stitch is a grand way to make framing “wreaths”, and you can turn virtually any font into a monogramming initial by doing “outline” and choosing a text size that prints out in a good proportion for your project.
The thread for the embroidery is actually floche, not 6-strand floss. It flattens out a bit more for more “solid” coverage, and I just like the look better. Separated 6-strand floss can work, though. The embroidery is worked in stem stitch, lazy-daisy, back stitch, seeding/granito, and whipped eyelets.
All told, it took about 3 hours start to finish on this hanky. Each minute was pleasant, so it was a delight, and each time a hanky like this gets used, it brings another small moment of delight. That makes it a worthwhile effort, don’t you think?
Finishing it up Wednesday afternoon coincided with a visit from my pastoral visiting sisters, and one of the sisters (who is a friend outside of the visiting sisters program) asked how I’d be subtly marking my bag so she could be sure to choose it for her own? We laughed about that (and it gave me a great idea for a fun surprise for her next birthday). I didn’t mark the bag (cheating at Church Lady functions is considered Not Cricket), BUT! Guess which bag my sister-friend chose? It was a treat to see it go home with a favorite Church Lady!
My own Church Lady hankies are in a sweet grey-on-white print. They’re the “Mod-Hip Church Lady” version, compared to this more traditional Church Lady Lace Frippery. And my little girls have requested their own set of Church Lady Larvae hankies, in white-ground colorful prints, so I guess they’ll be learning to narrow hem this spring!
You know, for centuries, women have been adding creative elements to the most utilitarian of objects intended for the most humble of uses, for no other reason than “because I can.” It’s very cool to rebel against paper tissues, and introduce a little bit of renewable beauty into the messy moments of life.