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Heirloom Hankies

My colleague, Richards Jardin, founder and owner of recently gifted me his private collection of 700+ hand embroidered handkerchiefs.  To say the least, it was a humbling experience to open the boxes and view this fabulous collection.  My intention is to share them with you over the next year in the pages of Designs in Machine Embroidery and occasionally, here on the blog.

In the January/February 2019 issue, I shared this beauty and talked about a conversation I had with another passenger on an airplane. My seat mate was a mature, refined woman. She carried an embroidered linen handkerchief and told me she never left the house without one. And she has done this her entire life. She considers them a sweet reminder of how to treat yourself well, find joy in the small things life offers, pay attention to the tiny details and appreciate the time spent in creating a small, lovely gift such as an embroidered handkerchief.

I’d love to know if you remember using an embroidered handkerchief? Or maybe you still do. If not you, then does it evoke memories of a family member? Possibly, your mother, grandmother, aunt or even father? My mother didn’t carry a linen handkerchief but my father did. And no matter what time of day it was, when he pulled it out of his pocket, it was crisply folded and clean. I found that quite amazing.

Isn’t it beautiful? Such a small work of art. I love the chain of leaves and each precisely-placed tiny flower. It’s colorful yet charming. And to hold it in my hand, it’s so delicate. The thread is soft and supple and has not changed the drape of the luscious fabric.

I wish we still carried these…they are a reminder of the joy of simple luxuries. Oh I know, they are not sanitary, but they sure are beautiful. And they make a lovely gift – unlike no other. As machine embroiderers, aren’t we always on the look out for a quick gift that’s personalized?

I would hoop a plain linen handkerchief with Sew ‘n Heat and select a delicate embroidery design. After the embroidery, the Sew ‘n Heat would dissolve under the heat of a household iron. Simple enough!




  • Delores

    I remember growing up hand embroidery hankies for my father and mother. They were always a great gift. Older now I machine embroidery linen ones for special people and they still treasure them

  • Karen P

    My dad always had a cotton hankie in his pocket, and like your father, his was always crisply folded, he had a clean one for every day. It wasn’t embroidered but I remember this very clearly!

  • Shirley

    My husband always carried one, folded, in his pocket. His were monogrammed.
    It hurt me to give them away knowing my sons aren’t going to launder and iron them.

  • Michelle

    Absolutely gorgeous!

  • Dawn Westover

    I learned to iron on my father’s handkerchiefs. Latter, when I was a poor, young married I hand embroidered handkerchiefs as gifts.

  • Luci S

    I have always loved using handkerchiefs. I have at least 30 of them and always have one with me. It is a little elegance with little effort (but I enjoy the pressing of them.)

  • Colleen Bell

    Eileen, this one is so gorgeous. What an awesome gift. Do you plan on displaying them? I’ve toyed with several ideas when I inherited my grandmother’s but they are still in a drawer. I always carry one to weddings for the tears of the bride or the mothers. It can be passed up discretely.

    • eileenroche

      Hi Colleen, we plan on using them in editorial – both in the magazine and online.

  • Doree Shandera

    I still have a few from when I was a kid. They bring back many memories.

  • Sue

    I also learned to iron on my dad’s handkerchiefs. I wish I had some pretty embroidered ones. Where can I buy some?

    • Laurene

      ebay or etsy

  • Anne

    I remember my grandmother hand embroidering handkerchiefs for us when we were little. After she passed mom keep them all and with her passing I was given them. Something I will cherish.

  • Marti Morgan

    I made many of these for my mother-in-law who passed away a year ago at the age of 99. I know have the ones I made and the ones she had before, I am thinking of sewing them together to make something.

    • eileenroche

      Many years ago, I made a quilt embellished with embroidered hankies and published it in Designs in Machine Embroidery. It was a joy to make and many readers enjoyed the article. The issue is sold out now but it’s a good idea to keep in mind.

  • Belle Gray

    I inherited a number of “hankies” from Mom, aunts and friends; some embroidered, some flowered. I made a jacket from them and it brings memories of all these loved ones. I thought it better than leaving them in boxes.

  • Theresa Freeman

    Oh my goodness, I don’t carry one, but after this blog, I may. My Grandmother not only embroidered hankies, but her aprons and she made each of us grand daughters table linens. So many stitches! all very evenly spaced and perfect. I think I’ll go put it on the table today. Thanks

    • eileenroche

      Oh, won’t that put a smile on your face?

  • Pat

    I always carry one in my purse and love to use it to dry my hands when using a public washroom. It just goes back in my makeup bag until I get home. Also, on those hot summer days when one may perspire in the most lady like of ways, it is nice to be able to dab a hot face with something elegant!

    • eileenroche

      Charming thoughts, Pat. Thanks for sharing.

  • Vicki

    My paternal Grandmother and her sister, my Great Aunt Lizzie carried and made highly treasured hankerchiefs. They made sure I had a matching hankie to pin to the lower part of every dress I had. When I asked Mom what happened to them, she replied, “You loved them dearly and the hankies eventually wore out.” The edges were tatted. Alas, I lost my loved ones, before I had the chance to learn to tat but I learned to crochet edges instead!

  • Sharron Prickett

    I have on two occasions given handkerchiefs embroidered with a loved one name and dates for friends and family. They were very well received and getting ready to do another for my husbands family after his sister recently went to be with Jesus.

    • eileenroche

      That’s lovely, Sharron.

  • Donna Fecteau

    I do remember carrying one of my own when I was younger. My dad always carried one in his pocket. I did inherit about 30 from my mom when she passed away, most of hers have crocheted or tatted edges. I want to make a quilt out of my collection.

  • Elizabeth

    I have this exact same handkerchief given to me by my mother 60 years ago. I always thought that either she or my grandmother had embroidered it. Apparently this was a stock design , or maybe came in a kit with the design traced on it with the threads and instructions .. The B was for Betsy. Truly it is the exact same as mine

  • Karen W

    As tissues came in vogue during the 60’s, hankies went out of style (except w/ the older set). I have so many memories wrapped up hankies & still have a couple from my grandmother, who always one (along w/ tissues) in her purse. My father always carried a crisp white one for church, but he carried colored (some a delicate plaid) during the work week. A fellow quilter in our group bought a collection of printed ones at a yard sale & appliqued them onto quilt blocks, then we quilted each one in a different stencil motif (I may still have a photo somewhere). All of them harken back to a gentler time & are rare finds these days & certainly worthy of a place of honor.

  • Sandi

    I have a book, don’t recall the name, but it is chalked full of patterns and ideas of things to do with old hanky and dollies. I have a bunch but haven’t done anything with them yet. I hear many of you comment that you have family heirlooms – maybe you will display them and honor your families.

    • Laurene

      I remember my Mom buying blank, white, hankies with holes around the edges. She then transformed them into beautiful creations when she crocheted colorful edgings onto them.