Grandma’s Hankies

Does one do with vintage handkerchiefs? My aunt asked if I could make a quilt with them. I was excited about the project when she first sent the hankies that belonged to my grandmother. They were from an era when every woman cared one in her, and they had a multitude of uses that included the spit and wipe of a grandchild’s face when riding in the care to church.
All of the hankies had some kind of embellishment from a tatted lace edging to monograms of the owner. Many bore flowers prints that may or may not match one of the few dresses this farmer’s wife owned. A couple had seasonal Christmas motifs of printed poinsettias with the leaf extending out of one corner. She received many as gifts for Christmas or birthday in l flat dime store packaging which she tucked into drawers or closets. She kept these to use “for good,” some occasion deemed unique enough to warrant the extravagance of a lace hankie with her initial embroidered in lace. I am not sure how many of these hankies were still in the original boxes when she moved from the house where she raised her family.
By the time my aunt sent me the collection, some were thin from use, others merely thin. A couple of the smaller ones were stained from use, and others still crisp and waiting for the special occasion.
I chose a soft pink floral for the quilt. The florals for the pansies Grandma loved, the gladiolas that lined the edge of her garden, and the African violets that sat on her kitchen window. I chose the soft pink to emphasize the feminity, the gentleness, the refinement of time when women wore hats, donned gloves, and carried hankies.


The project took years longer than I expected. This due in part to job changes, house renovation, and quite simply, the stuff of life. But I was not happy with the look of the original design where I placed the hankies on the lighter of the fabric. I couldn’t quite name the reason for discontent I felt other than I just didn’t like it. I came back to the project with the same sense that this design idea wasn’t right, that the hankies didn’t stand out. The solution turned out to use a plain white as the background for the hankies and frame the block with the Attic Window pattern. I am not necessarily a fan of the inset Y-seam, especially since I prefer to machine piece my quilts. I solved the fussy nature of piecing the Y-seam using 3” wide pieces for the window frames, pieces wide enough machine sew and stop the required 1/4” from the end of the seam to insert the third piece. Still, this was the perfect way to show off vintage handkerchiefs.

Grandma’s Hankies Pattern

Grandma’s Hankie

Materials need for this quilt

  Throw size 46 x 58 Full size 70 x 82
White background  3/4 yards 2 yards
Light pink 1 3/8 yards 2 1/8 yards
Dark pink 1 3/8 yards 2 1/8 yards
Handkerchiefs 12 30
Lightweight fusible Interfacing 1 yard 2 yards
Backing 3 2/3 yards 5 yards
Binding ½ yards 5/8 yards
Cut   Throw size 46 x 58 Full size 70 x 82
White Cut 12 squares at 8 ½” cut 30 squares at 8 ½ “
Light pink Cut 12 strips 4 7/8” x 12 ½ “ Cut 30 strips 4 7/8” x 12 ½ “
Dark pink Cut 12 strips 4 7/8” x 12 ½ “ Cut 30 strips 4 7/8” x 12 ½ “
Handkerchiefs 12 30
Interfacing 12 to match hankies 30 to match hankies

­­Pair the light and dark rectangles right sides together.

Draw a diagonal line making sure all the diagonal lines are drawn in the same direction.

Sew on the line stopping ¼” from the lower edge to allow for the inset square.

Cut ¼” from the line. Press the seam open.

Preparing the Hankie

Cut fusible interfacing to match the handkerchief leaving any decorative lace edging free. Fuse to handkerchiefs according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Cut the hankies to fit the background squares depending on the size of the hankie. The size of the cut hankie should be no more than 7 inches. Most hankies can be cut into quarters and still be usable.

Place hankie on top of white square matching raw edges and baste the raw edge.

Top stitch decorative edges to secure to hankies to the white background.

On the corner diagonally opposite the hankie make a small mark ¼” from both edges. This is the stop point when sewing the square to the arms of the window frame.

Right sides together sew the square to one of the arms, being sure to stop at the mark.

Carefully sew the other side, also stopping 1/4.

Press. The unfinished block will measure 12 ½ x 12 ½ inches.

Finish the quilt

For the throw sized quilt sew four rows of three blocks each.

For the full-sized quilt sew six rows of 5 blocks each as shown in diagram below.

Cut border pieces 5 ½” wide piecing as necessary for length.

Each quilt uses one short and one long border of each color, mitering the corners to create another shadow box.

  Throw Size Full Size
  Top and Bottom One light 5 ½” x 46 ½” One dark 5 ½” x 46 ½” One light 5 ½” x 60 ½” One dark 5 ½” x 60 ½”
  Sides One light 5 ½” x 58 ½” One dark 5 ½” x 58 ½” One light 5 ½” x 72 ½” One dark 5 ½” x 72 ½”

Quilt and bind.

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