shirt –> handkerchiefs

Tom was getting rid of some shirts. This one was very old and worn. But I loved the fabric — a soft, light weight cotton shirting with a very high thread count, a bit like Tana Lawn. I just couldn’t let it go to the charity shop. A while ago, Felix sent me some lovely vintage handkerchiefs, to which I’ve become quite attached. I particularly like them because they are old. A hanky seems at its best when the fabric is well worn, softened, weathered — just like the fabric of this shirt. They are useful things to have about one’s person in this grim, grey January weather — I at least find I can’t make the transition from a brisk, chilly outdoor walk to an overheated institutional interior without scrabbling around for a hanky, and noisily blowing me nose (ahem). So I washed and dried and pressed the old shirt and then. . .

I cut out two 12 inch squares from the back of the shirt; pressed the top and bottom edges in by 1/4 inch; did the same with the two side edges; then repeated (so that no raw edges showed). Then I pressed the whole thing again, and sewed round the handkerchief edge twice (with two allowances of about 1/2 and a 1/8 inch) to create a secure folded hem. This was the easiest kind of sewing (some simple cuts in the fabric; a press with the iron; no need for pins; a couple of straight seams) and it took me less than 30 minutes in a break between one set of exam scripts and another. I now have a couple of serviceable and satisfying recycled shirt hankies. There’s enough fabric in the shirt back for a few more, and I could probably get a couple out of the fronts as well.

I don’t know how to phonetically convey the sound of a blowing nose . . .but I’m sure you can imagine it.

31 responses

  1. What a great design on that fabric!

    I’ve just recently started carrying handkerchiefs after inheriting a number of them from my grandmother. I’ve quickly found them to be indispensable. My favorites are always the relatively plain ones that have clearly been used and washed many, many times. An old, soft, shirt sounds about perfect.

  2. V nice. I love the shirt fabric. My husbands old shirts get recycled into dresses for my little girl or shorts for my boy. I *heart* felling thrifty.

  3. Those look lovely! Maybe I can do this with the scraps of old sheets that I have. I’m planning on making some summer dresses for my little girl out of the bigger scraps.

  4. We used to carry a handkerchief always when we were going out or going to school. Everyday we washed it. Picking a handkerchief is the last thing we would do before we left for school every morning.
    I hope they still do this in my country. I have been in western countries so long, forgot about this small detail. We need it to recycle like this (shirt to Handkerchief) and carrying one with you everyday more than ever before.

  5. I’ve reverted to using handkerchiefs rather than tissues over the last few years – but I manage to lose a number of them. (When I was a child in the 1950’s my mother used to pin my hankie to the inside of the shoulder of my school tunic to minimise losses; I could wipe my nose without unpinning the hankie!). As well as mourning the losses and needing to replace them, I hate ‘breaking in’ a new handkerchief. This is such a wonderful idea for softened, used fabrics.

  6. I have saved all of Mark’s shirts during throwaway sessions for EXACTLY this same purpose, though I haven’t been as efficient as you have at turning them into actual hankies.

    The soft, worn qualities of the fabric make them absolutely perfect for blowing your nose; I find my skin gets sore around this time of year and the softness of worn cloth is just the concession you need to prevent chafing and redness.

    Your hankies look lovely and I feel spurred on to dig out the shirt/hanky pile and organise myself!

  7. Another use for old shirts is a table cloth – simply cut squares and sew then together – you can zig-zag the raw edges if the cloth will be washed a lot. If you are more adventurous, use wadding and a backing and make a quilted one!

  8. What a lovely idea. I once made a patchwork quilt out of old shirts. I do not like the idea of patchwork made from new fabric – it seems such a waste, but old shirts worked perfectly. I don’t need another quilt just now,but there are always more old shirts, so I’ll try hankies. I hate throwing anything out!

  9. My youngest son hates to give up any piece of clothing. However, I’ve found that he is most comfortable if we reuse the fabric in some way so he can still have a snippet of the beloved piece of clothing around. We’ve made caps, pillows, and lots and lots of nice, rectangular rags that I use for cleaning and my husband uses when working on his bike. Who knew that we feel sentimental using a rag? I love this idea and will try it out with the next appropriate shirt.

  10. Sound of my partner blowing his nose is that of a very large elephant trumpeting for all he’s worth….I’m sure you’re a tad more delicate. I often fear for the poor little blood vessels in his nose.
    Top photo really capture the soft quality of very loved fabric.
    Great idea ;o)

  11. when my kids great grandmother died she left a trunk full of old hankies. hundreds of them – who knew that one would need so many hankies. I stitched many of them to cotton squares to stabilize them and then made a quilt alternating the hankie squares with pieced stars for my son. the other quilt for my daughter isn’t done yet but the alternate squares are gramma’s fans.

  12. I work at an antique store here in Hamilton,On and last year scooped a pile of vintage hankies for very nearly nothing. Every morning I stuff a fresh one in my pocket, and off I go.

  13. I turn my partners old shirts into hankies, too. It seemed the logical progression from taking the buttons to re-use. The heavier cotton shirts usually get turned into pot-holders and a couple have become placemats. And some of the button bands have become napkin holders.

  14. Reminds me of “Owen” by (appropriately enough) Kevin Henkes. I’ve recycled a few of my children’s beloved items into something new, but never a baby blanket into hankies, as happens in the book.

    I am getting ready to knit some old sheets into a bath mat; the process involves winding the “yarn” into a ball bigger than one’s head. I think you sharpen a pair of broomsticks to do the actual knitting.

  15. I have to disagree with most of you. I find this absolutely gross! :) There’s a reason paper tissues were invented – much more hygienic.

  16. Did you miter the corners or over lap the fabric? Can you explain how you dealt with this?

    Thank you.

    We use purchased hankies in our house but I want to dedicate stacks to each person. I have several of my sons cotton shirts waiting to me stitched.

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