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I’m an avid collector. Or, an obsessive collector, depending on whether you ask my family or not. I’ve happily come to terms with this part of me, although I can’t say that the storage space in my house has in equal measure. As well, I have also come to terms with why I love to be a collector: I love the thrill of the hunt. I love finding a missing item from a collection, running across a Mary Brooks Picken’s-related piece or finding something completely new that charms me from the minute I see it.

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One of my favorite categories of items to hunt for and collect is hankies. They charmed me for years, even before I began collecting them. In that little square of cloth there is so much history and, more often than not, beauty. They transport me back to a simpler time and remind me of time spent with my grandmother, who always seemed to have one handy. They range from explosively colorful to daintily refined, delicate to utilitarian. This love I have for hankies eventually led me to write Hankie Style, my book that shows you how to turn beautiful hankies into modern, fashionable items – shirts and scarves, broaches and aprons, and so many more.

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In today’s post, I would like to give you some creative hankie options and answer the one question that looms over all sewers who collect hankies: after you’ve scoured antique shops, church bazaars, swap meets, Etsy and eBay, what do you do with the hankies you’ve found? With the up-cycling trend so very much in vogue, repurposing a hankie for a fashion project seems like a fabulous idea…until you remember that some of the hankies in your collection were from your very own grandmother, others too fragile to use. For the sake of this post, let’s divide our hankies into two groups: hankies we would never, ever considering cutting up (Group 1) and and those we would (Group 2).

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Group 1:
Just because you would never consider cutting them up, it doesn’t mean they can’t be repurposed. The first thing you should do is have them cleaned (if possible) and pressed. Next, color copy or scan them onto your computer. At this point, you can even touch up a hankie in Photoshop whose colors may have faded. You can then print them onto cotton fabric sheets using an inkjet printer. Let them dry completely and you’re ready to sew!

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Group 2:
If you’ve got some hankies ready to go, you have countless options available to you. From fashion options like scarves, t-shirts, belts and skirts (all available in easy-to-follow patterns in my Hankie Style book, to decoratives. Country Living magazine wrote a piece awhile back on “unexpected uses for vintage handkerchiefs.” In it, one of their stylists used our scarves as a table runner. It was so lovely and really showed what you can do with the a few squares and little imagination.

If you’re ready to dive right in with a hankie project, I just made an instructional video on how to make a floral brooch. It’s a very fun “first hankie” project!

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For those of you that love the look of hankies but just don’t have the time to build a vintage collection, there are even options available for you. Over at my site, The Vintage Workshop, we have seventeen beautiful, hi-res hankie scans that you can print out on the cotton sheets I mentioned earlier. Another option, at Indygo Junction, are our sets of reproduction, 100% cotton, machine-washable hankies. They range from flower-themed hankies to a Western-themed collection to a nice floral selection. While you’re there, you might also want to check out the Garden Party Pullover pattern (IJ854) that uses hankies for decorative treatments, sleeves and accents.

My advice today…take some time to discover hankies. Check with your grandmother and aunt, scour local thrift shops and see what you can find. You’ll be glad you did. Hankies are one of those rare vintage items whose simplicity of design and history make the leap to meaningful, beautiful modern fashions and accessories easily.

To get you started, I’ll reward one commenter with a copy of my book and The Bouquet of Flowers Hankie Set so you can make the floral brooch project yourself.

Thanks again for letting me share my vintage life and loves.

~ Amy

Amy Barickman is the founder and owner of Indygo Junction, The Vintage Workshop and AmyBarckman.com. She is a leader in the sewing, needle arts and retail crafting industry having sold more than two-million sewing patterns and published 80 books sold throughout the world. Her recent endeavor is the book “Amy Barickman’s Vintage Notions: An Inspirational Guide to Needlework, Cooking, Sewing, Fashion and Fun”, is already on its third printing since its release in September of 2010. Other best-selling titles include: “Indygo Junction’s Button Ware” and, most recently, “Hankie Style”.

45 Comments

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    Jun 27, 2011, 10.16 PMby tina-c

    these are all great ideas! in addition, i like to use my hankies as hankies!

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    Jun 26, 2011, 05.46 PMby braviajune

    I have a huge stack of hankies inherited from grandmothers, mothers, and aunts. I have always been hesitant to cut them up or use them – but then there they sit just being pretty in the dark recesses of my closet. There are pretty bright florals and delicate linen. I plan to copy, cut, sew – whatever. After all they are intended to be used. Right? Thanks for the inspiration and motivation.

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    Jun 23, 2011, 01.12 PMby nksm

    Thanks for your post. I never knew the origins of Indygo Junction! And the idea of scanning hankies is a great way to keep the circle unbroken yet using the beauty of the objects

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    Jun 22, 2011, 07.40 PMby writergirl

    I was just looking at my stack of vintage hankies wondering what to do with them! You read my mind.

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    Jun 22, 2011, 06.57 PMby wkhahn

    Oh no! Now you will add more competition for us hanky collectors. I would love to have this book for ideas to use my collection.

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    Jun 22, 2011, 05.27 PMby moorjenn

    Scanning and printing to fabric— brilliant! Never would have occurred to me, but it makes perfect sense! I would love to win a copy of this book, sounds like it’s filled with lovely ideas for all those fantastic hankies I pass up in the market. Then I would know what to do with them, and I could really be dangerous at the antique mall!

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    Jun 22, 2011, 02.24 PMby doctordee

    Thanks for the inspiring ideas! My mom and I both collect vintage hankies and my husband collects vintage bandannas—some of them are really beautiful and intricate. My collection just sits in a box—I would love to display and repurpose them. The scarf project is especially pretty—my mom and I both want to try that. I really enjoyed your book Vintage Notions and would love to read Hankie Style as well!

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    Jun 22, 2011, 12.45 PMby darcyi

    I never knew hankies were so beautiful! I will be keeping my eyes open for some!!

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    Jun 22, 2011, 12.26 PMby karensarickfan

    I have a huge collection from my Mom & Aunt! I’m almost done with school so I may try the brooch soon! Love the idea of scanning old fabric! Not sure I ever would have thought of that! Thanks!

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    Jun 22, 2011, 11.55 AMby weaverbec

    I too, have a hankie collection. Your ideas have inspired me. I love the idea of scanning and printing on fabric. I’ve had some of my cherished hankies since before the first grade. I still carry a hankie in my purse. They are great for cleaning eyeglasses.

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    Jun 22, 2011, 04.56 AMby jbesoin

    My sister would have the most amazing set of hankies ever – if only she didn’t drop them on the floor/road/supermarket etc. All her friends know to give her hankies as gifts because she always needs more. Now I’m regretting the lost opportunity to re-purpose them.

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    Jun 22, 2011, 04.39 AMby MoeWest

    I have some hankies from my great aunt, but it never occurred to me to scan them to fabric. Thanks for a great idea!

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    Jun 22, 2011, 03.56 AMby cdferr

    Hi!! I have a collection of vintage hankies, not a ton right now, but I love love them so! I usually keep one in my purse to help me wipe any sweat off my face in the summer.

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    Jun 22, 2011, 03.26 AMby julia819

    I am sitting by my scanner reading your blog post – Thanks for the inspiring ideas! I can’t wait to try it …now to get my hands on your book and the proper supplies and I’ll rock that dolly quilt and then some little curtains, and then … and then….Truly, I have been looking for a great and honoring way to use my Nanna’s and Grandma’s hankies so Thank you! Julie Anne

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    Jun 22, 2011, 01.02 AMby amythst63

    Thanks for the great ideas! My Gram always had one in her purse and insisted ‘a lady always has use for a hankie’. To this day, I always carry one ‘just in case’.

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    Jun 21, 2011, 11.19 PMby mercedesgilces

    Great!

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    Jun 21, 2011, 11.06 PMby sojeles

    I never thought of scanning them…great idea. I used my collection to make a small crib sized quilt for my daughter. she loves it and all the different fabrics and colours.

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    Jun 21, 2011, 09.44 PMby zanne101

    I have hankies that were given to me as a child in the fifties (strange gift for a child?). I’ve never done anything with them, but now have some ideas from you. Thanks.

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    Jun 21, 2011, 09.04 PMby unsympathetic

    I am always drawn to stacks of hankies when my BF and I go antiquing. I have always restrained myself with the thought "but what would I do with them). I’m very excited about the idea of making something new out of something old. I would love to win a copy of the book, but I know I’ll definitely have to check it out next time I’m in the bookstore.

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    Jun 21, 2011, 08.29 PMby Angela Fruge

    I love old hankies! My great-grandmother used them and my grandfather still does. I would definitely like to make some of the cute items you’ve suggested with hankies. Thanks!

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    Jun 21, 2011, 08.18 PMby thefabledneedle

    Scanning and re-printing vintage hankies is such a good idea! I’ll have to use that. :) I made a hankie dress last year and I love it. The trick for me was to keep all the hankies in the same colorway. This kept it from looking too patch-y. (Although that can be nice too!)

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    Jun 21, 2011, 08.04 PMby ratherbesewing

    Thank you. Amy, for more creative ideas. I trimmed some capri jeans with hankie corners and can’t wait to make your hankie scarf. Reading Vintage Notions luxuriously leisurely this summer – would love to have your hankie book, too.

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    Jun 21, 2011, 07.44 PMby Weena59

    I absolutely love old hankies! I remember my mom and aunts always had such pretty ones in their purses. (My mom always had tissues for actual use!) I marvel at how much beauty and creativity was lavished on these small squares of fabric.

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    Jun 21, 2011, 07.05 PMby jtparrish

    Lovely! So creative and colorful!

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    Jun 21, 2011, 06.24 PMby uglybeat

    So cool and inspiring! I have a bunch of cute hankies I found that I’m looking at with fresh eyes. I also like the idea of scanning the older ones. Thank you!

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    Jun 19, 2011, 06.51 AMby emlynn

    Perfect! I have some hankies and hankie sized scraps of interesting fabric I alllllmost got rid of, but now I can make something to wear!

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    Jun 19, 2011, 02.32 AMby detta

    i love the idea of scanning and printing favourites! a friend of mine made curtains for her shop by collaging a number of vintage linens (hankies, embroidered runners, tea towels, etc). it’s a wonderful idea and i’ve begun my own collection to make kitchen curtains.

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    Jun 17, 2011, 03.59 PMby fabled

    I recently went on a quilting trip with my mum. I wonder if I could do any of these things with some fat corners!? I think I could!

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      Jun 21, 2011, 08.00 PMby dhcatlady

      I’m not sure what you mean in your post…fat corners? Are you talking about fat quarters, the 18×22 pieces of fabrics quilters use a lot? If so, that’s probably a great idea!

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    Jun 17, 2011, 03.19 PMby phrbacek

    I have instructions for making handkerchiefs from old dress shirts in my new arts and crafts column. http://www.examiner.com/childrens-arts-and-crafts-1-in-panama-city/paula-hrbacek Click subscribe at the bottom of the page, and new craft projects will be sent to you by email for free. Or, you can follow me on Twitter as PHrbacek. My column covers arts and crafts for kids, youth groups, art teachers and after school providers.

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