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'Found Fabric' Tutorial: Vintage Handkerchief Pillows

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This 'Found Fabric' tutorial is for all our S4H friends out there who, like me, have a hankerin' for hankies. Although I haven't used one lately to blow my nose, mop my brow or bestow as a favor on my knight in shining armor, I still love them. They're little squares of highly-concentrated beauty, like miniature works of art. Dig out your collection and turn them into a set of one-of-a-kind vintage pillows.

There are some truly exquisite vintage handkerchiefs that date back hundreds of years and are wildly rare and costly. One story I read pointed to their use by actors in the ancient Roman theaters!

If you're descended from European royalty, perhaps you have some linen and lace treasures in the family vault. But, chances are better you have a kindly older relative or friend who is willing to part with some of her hankies from the first half of the 20th century. These vintage hankies are the easiest to find and can still be collected for just a few dollars a piece. The most common are screen printed with beautiful florals. Some feature decoratively cut edges and many are embroidered.

Here are a few I found on Etsy recently. One note when searching online: don't hesitate. If you see something you like, snatch it. The prettiest ones go quickly. Thrift stores and garage sales are also good sources, but be prepared to hunt. A lot of people are hankie fans. My pillows are designed to inspire you rather than provide step-by-step instructions. Since vintage hankies are so unique, you're unlikely to have a set just like mine, but the techniques I used are easily transferable.

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One great thing about hankies as 'found fabric' is they are the perfect size and shape to fashion into a pillow. However, they are also usually quite thin and sheer, which means they work better if lined or layered over a base fabric.

I made three pillows from my Etsy hankies, and none of them took me more that two hours to complete – that's from cutting out the fabric to stuffing in the pillow form!

My first pillow features two complimentary hankies with a fun fan fold in the center to show off their beautiful embroidery and scalloped edges. I simply stitched the hankies to the base pillow top in opposite corners, leaving the inner triangles of each free. I fan-folded the free edges and added a vintage button to hold everything together in the center.

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I loved the delicate edge on this hankie and the design is so sweet. But sadly, there was a bit of a stain in the middle that just wouldn't come out. So, I carefully trimmed out the center, folded under the raw edge and added some baby ric rac to create a little peek-a-boo frame for my pillow top. A selection of antique buttons accent the ric rac and cleverly hide where it joins. I sewed on the yellow buttons with pink thread to pick up the pink roses in the hankie.

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This last example is as simple as simple can be. I used the plain hankie as my pillow top with a white piping accent that matched the white highlights on its design.

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I've seen darling pillows made from souvenir hankies, ring bearer pillows made from intricate lace hankies, even super cute kitchen curtains made from a number of hankies patch-worked together into panels. So have fun .... and "bless you" for giving your hankies a new lease on life.


Comments (3)

Mrs.T said:
Mrs.T's picture
Just lovely! I have a stash of these and have been turning them into table runners. But there will be some left over, and this may be the perfect use. Thanks for sharing!
crescentcity said:
crescentcity's picture
Just Beautiful!..I love the brown floral..I have some vintage hankies and was wondering what I can transform them into..Wonderful Idea, thank you.smilies/wink.gif

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