I have a runny nose.
Not that any of you really wanted to envision that, but it’s relevant to what I’m writing about today. Being a moderately sickly sprite inspired my soup-related blog post from a while ago, and it’s driven me to write about another frugal-friendly idea today: making handkerchiefs out of old “stuff”.
When items like cotton or flannel shirts, dresses and sheets get holes in them or wear too thin to donate to a local thrift shop, where do they end up? In the garbage, for the most part. It often seems that one irreparable hole or threadbare patch means that lengths of usable fabric end up tossed into landfill every day, when there are a myriad uses for all of that cloth instead.
Some folks have never had an occasion to meet a hankie, as they have spent their entire lives using disposable tissues, and wouldn’t have come across a darling little square of fabric with which to mop up facial leakings unless introduced to one by a much older relative. My grandparents used them, my parents and nanny used them on me, and having a fascination with all things prior to WWII, I’ve had a slew of my own over the years.
Many people might be averse to using handkerchiefs because they’ve been inundated with the “ewwww” factor of mopping up their own fluids with something that then needs to be touched again and washed later. This was a brilliant (if viciously manipulative) marketing ploy dreamed up by the makers of Kimberly-Clark in the 30’s when they came up with the slogan, “Don’t Carry a Cold in your Pocket!” in order to push Kleenex tissues on people. This worked remarkably well, as is evidenced today by the speed with which people toss used tissues into the garbage without a second thought.
Do you have any idea how many trees are cut down every year just to make tissues? Only recently did Kimberly-Clark add recycled paper to their products, but most of what they create comes from virgin tree fiber… which means that thousands of trees are cut down every day so we can blow a bit of snot into pristine, white squares, and then toss them away. At $3.00 for a 50-tissue box, the cost adds up for us as individuals as well as for the environment.
Ok, so, we’ve all been trained to view mucus (snot!) as revolting or even downright dangerous. Yes, germs can pass from one person to another via these fluids, but same goes for most other forms of close contact. If you’re using a handkerchief, you’re unlikely to then chase others with it in a threatening manner: you’re probably just wiping a runny nose. Possibly blowing it. You can then fold it up well, and either toss it into the laundry (if you’re at home), wash it yourself, or if you’re out and about, fold it up, hide it in your pocket, and wash it when you’re able to.
This is how people dealt with cold and flu issues for thousands of years, and the human race doesn’t seem to have suffered much by this practice.
Moving on, then.
Making handkerchiefs! Since it’s getting harder and harder to find hankies to buy anywhere these days, and since most of us end up with cotton or flannel clothes/sheets that aren’t being used anymore, it’s easy to make your own set.
Make sure the fabric has been washed, then map out the area you’re going to cut for your hankie. For a men’s handkerchief, the standard size is a 12-inch square, while a woman’s is 8 or 10 inches. Your call.
For the sake of ease, let’s pretend we’re making a men’s hankie.
For a 12″x 12″ handkerchief, you’ll be measuring out a 14″ x 14″ square: this allows you 1/2 an inch of double-folded hem on each side to fold over for a hem. If you don’t hem it, it’ll fray on all the edges and look hideous.
Once the square is measured and marked with either a fabric pencil or regular graphite one (you can wash it out later), cut it out with a pair of sharp scissors.
Now fold down 1/2 an inch on each side and iron it down. Then do it again, folding that ironed seam over again and ironing it down, so you now have a 12″x 12″ square.
Next step is sewing the damned thing. If you have a sewing machine, splendid: just stitch straight down the hem, quite close to the folded-in edge. You can get all fancy with zig-zag stitches or what-have-you, but that’s your decision. You’ll have to turn the corners when you get to them, and you do this by lifting the presser foot and turning the fabric while the needle’s still in it. Stitch the next edge, repeat the turn, etc. until you’re done. At this point I like to draw out a bit of thread before I cut it off and do the final few stitches by hand .
If you’re sewing the entire hankie by hand, a simple straight stitch works just fine that way too. It’ll just take longer.
Voila! Your very own tree-saving, environment-cuddling, super-long lasting handkerchief of spectacularity.
Your snoot will thank you for not assaulting it with paper goods, the trees will thank you for not mangling them into items that are destined to wipe up your facial fluids, and the items that were once loved now have new purpose!