Manky hankies

Remember these?


Hankies. Handkerchiefs. Back in the day….

I couldn’t leave the house without Mum making us take a hankie.

You blew your nose. Folded the hankie up, or scrunched, if you were a scruncher. And popped the hankie up your sleeve or in your bag. (Or if you were a woman, tucked it in your bra strap. Well, maybe that was my just my mother?)

If a kid had a runny noses (and it seems kids always had runny noses – why don’t you see that so much anymore?) a mother would reach into her bag and pull out a hankie. Not a tissue. And certainly not one of those little purse packs of tissues.

My mother had a zillion in her handbag. I was always worried they were previously used ones, inspecting them for dried, crusty bits. Even if they were not previously used, I was squeamish about how long they had been in her handbag, absorbing odours.

Likewise if a child had sticky hands, mothers reached for a hankie. No wet-wipes. They didn’t exist.

Novels had the hero have a clean handkerchief (man-sized, of course) to rescue a woman – from tears, from a splash of water, all manner of worrying things. (And here’s a thought: why were women’s handkerchief small and dainty? Did we have less snot?)


And was everyone’s first foray into the ritual of ironing, ironing hankies?

And now?

No one has hankies handy when the situation calls for them. And as for blowing noses? Who wants to capture and keep mucus? And then wash it with all your other things? With your tea towels? God, no.

OK, no one has hankies except me.

I have a collection from when I was a child. Gifts from grandmothers. Mementoes from travel.


Problem is, if you haven’t worked it out, I am too squeamish to use hankies. I’m well and truly of the disposable, non-environmentally-sound persuasion, when it comes to wiping bodily emissions.

And God, washing, pegging out each individual one, ironing all the little squares!

So what to do with them?

I feel they are too good, and too wrapped up in memories, to throw away. Or to use as rags.

Maybe I’m hanging onto them for when I turn into my mother and have hankies to clutter my handbag? Or my grandmother, and have them in my hand to twitch and fiddle with?

So what do I do with them?

Pop them back in the back of my sock drawer again? S that every time I grope around for a sock I ask why I am hanging onto them and what on earth am I going to do with them?

Or do I just put them in my rag bag, and feel sad about a lost time?

Or keep them for when the world goes to ruin and we have no trees left for disposable tissues?

Who would have thought the humble hankie would be so wrapped up in emotions and dilemmas?

So what should I do?


15 thoughts on “Manky hankies

  1. Fear not – Hankies are still around, even with “the young ones.” My daughter is a fan of the hanky and can’t say I even encouraged it. Handy for keeping scrunched under your pillow at night. The germ issue doesn’t worry me and they most certainly don’t get an ironing from me. Or anyone.
    BUT I do recall ironing my Dad’s big hankies (and enjoying it?!), folding into smaller perfect shapes each time. And my Dad was always the one with the clean hanky in the back pocket – for sticky fingers, wiping hands after eating oranges, wiping noses, car sickness, mopping sweat or perhaps even carrying something with it.
    One must always have a hanky in one’s clutch for special occasions (it stays there permanently).
    Long live the hanky!

    • See, look at that long list of your dad’s uses for hankies. That’s what I mean about men with hankies saving the day.

      But as for un-ironed hankies, no, could never do that.

  2. I love handkerchiefs. I bought 4 of them years ago and have slowly expanded my collection to 12 since hubby also uses them. I keep one in my purse for out and about, but I change it out frequently. The rest are used at home. And when I’m sick, they are the best – much softer than tissues and sturdier too.

    I don’t have any suggestions for what to do with yours though . . I would keep them a bit longer if I was undecided.

    • You, and the other commenters, have prompted to re-evaluate my anti-hankie sentiment. I have changed – well at least have put a couple in my bag. Stay tuned for an update!

  3. Hahaha my dad still carries an ironed hanky daily, and yes as a kid I ironed them. In our house, we have countless, dutifully doubled hemmed for an op shop bed sheet. They live in paper bags in the bedroom and living room. The BF ACTUALLY uses them too!? So I’m delighted in that little zero waste win! My little brother also carries hankies, though not always I don’t think, but he is prone to a runny nose.

    Just hold onto them for now – no need to declutter things you aren’t ready to, as Amanda said, and our blog matchmaker, Colleen. The time will come when you know what the right action is! I know I’d be delighted to find them in op shops (and occasionally do – they fetch well about their ‘weight’). So would many others – so if the nostalgia ever fades… (i think making them humble rags would probably be beneath their worth…)

    • I definitely won’t send them to the rag bag. I’ve seen the light when it comes to using them.

      Why do you store your hankies in paper bags? And did you hem the hankies from sheets yourself? By hand or machine?

      • Hemmed by machine and ironed first (for ease of sewing the double hem, in light of not having an overlocker here). The paper bags are a good ‘grab it’ way to have a stack around. And reusing paper bags I had? I even made some mfrom blotter paper, which I didn’t like how the red paper bag clashed with my decor 😉

  4. I have a couple of handkerchiefs and a big stack of bandanas (x-large) and always keep one in my purse for “inconveniences” like wiping glasses when it’s been raining, dabbing at stains, cleaning up spills, and drying hands. And yes, sometimes for wiping nose! They are not shared with anyone.

  5. Mementos from travel…what a great idea for souvenir buying! Wish I’d thought of that. I would use and wash them but it doesn’t seem very lady-like. And being in schools there’s always a tissue box handy at arm’s length.

    Funny though…Grandma gave Mr. 10 a hanky last week and he has been taking it everywhere like some kind of coming-of-age totem.

    This prompted me to try and find our household hankies and for the life of me, I don’t know where they went. We used to have a dozen or more. Another casualty in my cut-and-burn decluttering, I think!

    • Funny how our view of what’s ladylike has changed. I will use tissues for nose blowing but keep hankies handy for delicate dabbing of noses, wiping away tears or dabbing the gentle glow of perspiration.

      When my kids were given hankies, they refused to use them. But I am sure my non-use influenced them too.

  6. Ooh, hankies. I have a collection embroidered by my great grandmother and granny, which I never use. The children have some, donated by their grannies, which they do use occasionally, and then I have to soak them in salt water (as mandated by grandma, for some arcane health reason) before washing. I always iron, or the girls do, because that’s how you KILL THE GERMS (again, according to granny). It seems grannies rule with hankie etiquette. I mostly use tissues, but feel morally obliged not to now..

    • Never heard the salt thing. But was told the ironing-to-kill-germs thing. And still hold onto it for tea towels. Though Mr S tells me drying in the sun kills all the germs anyway.

      I’ve been morally guilted into hankie use too. As my next post will attest.

  7. I’ve recently gone back to using hankies, but just for dabbing – still only tissues for colds. I have bought some pretty embroidered ones, also a packet of el cheapos that looked nice but had so much stiffening that sandpaper would be gentler. it took three washes to make them usable.

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