OUR PET HANDKERCHIEFS.
Handled with Caressing Fingers, Sighed Over and Cherished.
Something About Their Styles, Textures and Exquisite Finish.
Do you pet a handkerchief? No? Then you are not a woman and this article is not for your perusal.
Some women pet hobbies, others pet dogs, a few pet babies, but all the gender pets handkerchiefs.
The woman doesn’t live with a streak of the aesthetic in her nature, who hasn’t a filmy rag or two folded away in her for-ever-and-ever box and hallowed by the memory of other times and other lives.
It is only necessary to pick up one of these sheer little napkins to experience a palpitation of the heart. It is sure to be pretty, a little yellow with age, and faintly suggestive of some delicate scent that brings back a schoolboy, a sweetheart or the hero of some Commencement ball, lawn party or kettledrum. Perhaps there is a stain of lemonade on it; maybe it’s teardrop, but whatever the blemish, it is as sacred as the pale colors that mellow an old prayer rug.
The scent of flowers will recall a woman’s face and voice to the man in a reverie and a cloud of cigar smoke, but nothing will resurrect the Jack or Tom or Billy of long ago quicker than the sight of his handkerchief. If he is dead there’s a gentle kiss to his memory, and if he is married a sigh and perhaps a scrutiny of the web as if to divine in its meshes the reason of it all.
You have to be a woman with a lot of sentiment in your soul to fully understand a girl’s love for a bit of lace and mull.
It’s a species of idolatry such as a virtuoso lavishes upon a choice piece of miniature painting. It is handled with caressing fingers, sighed over, dreamed over, rinsed in perfume, folded away in withered rose leaves, and to think even of laundering it would be a profanation.
With all her love and reverent worship of lace and fine linen, there isn’t a woman in a whole congregation who is a judge of either fabric. In buying she looks at the decoration. If it is pretty the article is purchased, and as a rule she would rather have an ornamental handkerchief for 75 cents than a sheer linen plain edge. Ironed with a silver gloss and finished with open embroidery or cheap lace, any clerk with a tongue can make the fair customer believe that she is getting all linen, which in reality is all but 1-10 of 1 per cent. Cotton.
Men, as a rule, do better in their purchases. They don’t pretend to be judges. When an article is submitted his highness shakes it in the air. If the fluff flies he doesn’t want it, and he runs through the stock playing flag with each article until one is found that beats the air clean.
The handkerchief markets of the world are in the north of Ireland, in France and in Switzerland. Perhaps nine-tenths of the trade is supplied by the Irish firms, Belfast being the real centre of supply. The fabrics are sent to the distributing agencies, by whom they are bunched with threads and patterns, to be again distributed among the skilled needlewomen, by whom they are hemstitched, decorated in black or drawn-work and white or colored embroidery. These unfortunate workers receive an incredibly small sum for their labor, but, poor as it is, they are glad to do it. Irish-made handkerchiefs vary in price from 25 cents to $3, and while warranted to be all linen the fabric may be a coarse quality.
It is difficult to say which are the finest goods of French or Swiss make. In either it would seem as though the acme of needlework had been reached, and the very perfection of linen weaving.
Textures of such exquisite finish as to suggest silk are by no means uncommon, but you will have to pay $3 for a specimen, and that, too, without a vestige of trimming or decoration. The hemstitch varies from one-sixteenth to an inch and a half, but it is a real luxury to feel the delicate web against your face. Handkerchiefs of this sort are carried by high-born ladies and by others not so high, but of equally exalted notions about the elegancies of life.
It is said that in her boots, gloves, and linen a woman’s taste mirrors itself, and there is much truth in the saying. Handkerchiefs with scalloped edges, dotted borders and needle-wrought hems are indeed beautiful, but the poetry of a handkerchief hangs about the frill of a lace, which may be one-third of an inch or a hand deep, but must be the real thread.
Of all handkerchiefs the most genteel is a dollar square of linen lawn edge with narrow valenciennes. It was a handkerchief of this sort that the gentle Elizabeth Barrett had in her hand when the poet Browning felt his heart desert him. It is, too, this same style that you will be attracted by if you ride much in the Fifth avenue stages or touch elbows with the slowly moving matrons and haughty beauties of the Knickerbocker set. You can pay $25 for a piece of Swiss embroidery or $25 for a fancy in French with a vine of open-worked lilies round the edges, neither of which will begin to champ like the sheer linen with its suggestion of fine lace that $5 will procure.
The stage is no a poor field for the study of the beautiful hand loom. Mrs. [Lily] Langtry habituated herself to the use of linen lawn that was as delicate as the inner lining of a silk-worm’s house, that could not have cost less than $50 a dozen, exclusive of the lace that edged them. Pauline Hall has some superb specimens of lace woven about a centre of sheerest linen about the size of a checker square, and the charm of Mrs. [Cora Urquhart Brown-] Potter’s handkerchief was the faint odor of violets that seemed a part of the web and lace.
[Helena] Modjeska likes a filmy piece of French mull with the narrowest edge of lace. Miss [Mary] Eastlake has a fancy for Nottingham lace that she buys in the town by the dozen, and the last consignment to Mme. [Adelina] Patti consisted of satiny hand-woven linen with two deep hems, very simply stitched.
The Evening World [New York NY] 27 December 1889: p. 2
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In some of our discussions of the cost of ladies’ wardrobes, we have frequently seen reports of very costly handkerchiefs. However, Miss Nelson asserts that it is not the cost, but the memories and sentiments associated that make a handkerchief a “pet.” Mrs Daffodil purses her lips dubiously at how useful such a “pet” accessory might be: they cannot be trained to repeat clever bon mots; they do not chase off burglars; nor are they effective mousers despite their French appellation of “mouchoir.” Scarcely worth their keep, one thinks.
Mrs Daffodil appreciates how some gentlemen show a more practical attitude towards the quality of their linen:
A Madrid journal [La Tela Cordata] is printed on linen with a composition easily removable by water, and the subscriber, after devouring the news, washes his journal and has a handkerchief.
San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 3 September 1899: p. 8
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.