Tuesday, October 4, 2016

An Old-School Gift

Now and then my grandmother would open a letter to find a top-quality handkerchief enclosed. A new handkerchief came with a little sticker from the maker pasted on. It had no label. Recently I hunted up fine linen men's handkerchiefs in lieu of ornamental pocket squares. Good goods are still on the market, but I had to call Victoria to order some. Paying for the handkerchiefs taught me that finding one in an envelope is a gift indeed.

Should you opt for craft rather than disposable, accept only hand-embroidery, if any. Following are directions for laundering flat work, as pocket, table, and kitchen linens are called. 

These technical comments are for 100% Irish linen. A good handkerchief is cut and hemmed perfectly on grain, thread by thread, so that it can be folded accurately. Perfect grain ensures that it lasts as long as it is meant to.

Linen is back on the market, but the old way of indicating quality, the thread count, is not. The number of threads per inch of weave tells how fine the work is and how long the fabric is likely to last. Recent hemstitched handkerchiefs can be  considerably coarser than the old stock. They will do, though, as ritual accessories backed up by a pocket pack of disposables.

Wash a handkerchief in hot water and line dry, pulling the grain square as you hang it. When damp-dry and tender to the touch, press with a hot iron. I use a table pad, the fastest way to finish flat work. Iron from the back to emphasize the grain of the fabric on the front. Iron on the front to flatten and polish the appearance of the piece. I prefer to iron from the back because ironing causes wear.

A piece that is hemstitched, with a row of little holes along the fold of the hem, is vulnerable to tear eventually if the hem is pulled while it is being ironed, so work carefully. Those holes are perforations. If you are lucky enough to own hand-embroidered linen, iron from the back on a padded surface and cover the embroidery with a thin white cotton cloth to protect the stitching from wear. A piece of unbleached muslin or flour-sack towel will work.


For all pieces, remove from the work surface and leave flat until bone dry before folding. Store flat if you have room. Never iron a fold. The net has a world of fop-tech for folding. A straightforward double fold folded to the width of the pocket and inserted with half an inch parallel to the top of the pocket is the simplest. I would check the preppie clothing chain for current practice -30-

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