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« Whit's Knits: EZ's Mitts | Main | Molly's Sketchbook: Embroidered Covered Buttons »

Molly's Sketchbook: Herringbone Handkerchiefs


I am not good at hiding my distaste when I don't like things. I make a face that Joelle affectionately calls "the Molly Meter" when I come across something that doesn't appeal to me.  One day at Purl Patchwork we received a box full of fabric from Yuwa that contained bolt after bolt of what I felt were beautiful prints, until I pulled out a bolt of sheer fabric from a line called Feather Garden and the Molly Meter went off. I thought it looked so old-fashioned, fussy and busy...  I put it away on the shelf with my nose in the air.

But as the days passed I found myself continually drawn to the sheer texture and intricate print of the fabric. Instead of thinking, "eww it's so old fashioned and busy" I started thinking "ooooo, it's so reminiscent and detailed." To make a long story short I started to love it. Like really love it. Like I wanted to buy it in every colorway and sew a bed out of it. 

Instead of doing that, I decided to make handkerchiefs. I am a big proponent of the handkerchief. They are lovely and useful, they reduce paper waste and they are soft and easy on your nose. Much like the fabric they're made of they are very "reminiscent and detailed".  I used a delicate herringbone stitch around the edge and cross stitched my initial on the corner, and even though they are entirely hand sewn they didn't take very long. -Molly 


Cut and Press


Wash, dry and press your fabric. 

Cut four 12-inch squares from the Feather Garden fabric. (It is possible to cut six 12-inch squares out of a yard but you will have to be really exact. I find it much more realistic to cut four. If you'd like some advice on using a rotary cutter, be sure to visit our rotary cutting tutorial.)



Iron a 1/4-inch fold at the top and bottom of the square. Then do the same for the left and right sides as pictured above.

Repeat this ironing and folding once more. There will no longer be any raw edges showing. 


Instead of using regular pins to keep the seam in place, which would be painful during the embroidery process, secure the corners and centers of each side with safety pins.

Prepare Thread


Thread the embroidery needle with a 20-inch length of embroidery thread. Tie a simple, one loop knot leaving at least a 3-inch tail. You will hide this tail later.


Put your needle through the bottom edge of the hem, from the wrong side, coming out on the right side.


Pull your thread through. Above is a picture of the long tail on the wrong side. Again, you will hide this tail later.

The Herringbone Stitch 

The herringbone stitch is worked from left to right, however the needle is often stitching from right to left. Even though that may seem a little counterintuitive it's quite simple once you get the hang of it. Remember to take your safety pins out as you come to them.


Turn your work around so the right side is facing you.

Push the tip of your needle through your fabric approximately 1/8-inch from the top of the hem and 1/4-inch to the RIGHT of where your needle came out in the last step.

Take a stitch that is approximately 1/8-inch long horizontally to the LEFT. Pull your thread through, but do not pull it tight. Since you are not using an embroidery hoop it's up to you to keep the tension even.


Next push your needle through the fabric approximately 1/8-inch from the bottom edge of the hem and about 1/4-inch to the RIGHT from where you last pulled out your needle. Then, poke the tip of your needle 1/8-inch horizontally to the LEFT of where you stuck it in. Pull through the thread through, again make sure it's not too tight.


And now just start again from the beginning. 


Above is a picture of the herringbone hem after a few stitches.


And here you can see how the herringbone stitch is catching both the top and the bottom of the folded hem.

Below is a demonstration of the herringbone stitch on graph paper.  The odd numbers represent where the needle comes out and an even numbers represent where the needle enters:






Oh and here is what the back should look like:











Make sure to sew through all the layers to secure your corners. 

And start a new left to right row at the beginning of each side.




On the back side of the hem make a small knot right at the point where your thread comes out of the fabric.


Pull the needle through the bottom edge of the hem, making sure it doesn't poke through to the front of the handkerchief.  Snip your thread.


Now find the tail you left at the beginning of the row and thread it. Pull your thread through the bottom of the hem and snip it, just like you did for the end of the row.

Once you've hemmed and finished all the sides the back should look neat and tidy, like this:


And the front should look like this:



The cross stitch monogram on the corner of the handkerchief is entirely optional, but it's a very easy way to personalize something. I put an "M" on my handkerchiefs but you could certainly try any letter or number you please.

Cross Stitch 

Below is a brief lesson on how to do very simple cross stitch. I am by no means a cross stitch expert so this may not the official way to do things, but works for me.

On the graph paper below, the odd numbers represent where your needle comes out and the even numbers represent where it goes in:

Here is how to cross stitch if you're making a row that's going up:





Repeat this in the next square above until you have a row of your desired length.


The back should be two neat vertical rows, no crosses.

And here's how to do rows that go down:



The Monogram 

Draw a 1-inch letter at the corner of your handkerchief with a water soluble fabric marker.


Cross stitch the letter using the pen mark as a guide. It's a lot harder to cross stitch on something that doesn't have a grid so take your time placing each stitch. To cross stitch diagonally just follow the instructions for either the up or down row (depending on the direction you're going) but place your #1 point diagonally from your #4 point instead of above or below. Make sure not to pull too tight. 

Once you're done with your monogram carefully weave in the ends in the back. Spray with water and iron to get rid of the blue marker.


All done! 

Reader Comments (30)

I too am a big fan of handkerchiefs, but I've never tried making any of my own...perhaps I'll try some now.
February 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
I think the fabric works quite prettily as handkerchiefs. A couple of months ago, I made my own lace-trimmed handkerchiefs using one of my favorite worn-out cotton nightgowns. I just couldn't let the nightgown go without savoring some bit of it.
February 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJune
This is the perfect use for this beautiful, old fashioned fabric. How well I know the Molly Meter... but usually you're right! It's great you gave these fabrics a second look.
February 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJosie (Molly's Mom)
Molly, Sometimes I just can't take how cute you and your projects are!! You are the best and those are so lovely!
February 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterN.Lang
Great story, with a beautiful set of hankies at the end! Maybe you could use the handkerchief to politely cover your face when the Molly Meter goes off next time!
February 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMandy
Those are lovely, but I also just had to say that I too cannot hide my emotions/opinions and always thought that was called "no poker face!"
February 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnnabelle
I too have been known to show my emotions on my face- my feeling is if God didn't want us to have the so called "meter" on our face he would not have given us the ability to scrunch our facial muscles. The handkerchiefs remind me very much of ones that I have that once belonged to my Great Grandmother-they are so sweet!
February 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlissa
These are so lovely and I love the handmade feel of them.
February 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda
I have a 2-year-old and a 4-month-old who seem to have a constant runny nose. What a great thing to stick in a diaper bag!
February 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie
Oh - so niiice. I'm trying to bring hankies back and It's hard to find a delicate fabric appropriate for this. It's so ladylike to have a hanky to use/so gentlemanly to have a hanky to offer (I've converted my dh on this). Hankies are big in the Philippines (Manila air pollution is high) - the last time my mom was there she brough some hanky-worthy fabric back and I made some - will use this technique and have a look around at the fabric here - thanks!
February 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSami
These are so sweet! I might just have to make myself some hankies now.
February 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKristena
Lovely! Thanks so much for the post! :)
February 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSharp Lily
I think they are gorgeous, I absolutely love that fabric. I would never actually use them because I'm just not a handkerchief proponent. My stepdad has always used them and every time he pulls it out of his pocket and blows his nose, I'm just creeped out.

Now if they were only used to wipe away tears that is a whole different thing that I can totally get behind.
February 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKelley
oh yum. those hankies are just SO beautiful!!
February 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKristin
when I first saw this fabric, I was immediately drawn to it. It's beautiful (and i'm not much into florals!)!

Unfortunately I had no idea of what to do with it so instead I got from you guys some of the nani iro fabric (the one used as a background for the bolero post). I am still tempted to get you think it would work as pretty as these hankies, as a lined summer blouse?
February 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngie
Hi Angie-
It would make a gorgeous summer blouse!- The Purl Bee
February 23, 2008 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Is this particular pattern/color sold out? I can't find one like it online and I... I must have it! Am I overlooking it?

What a beautiful and practical project. I want to copy! Thanks for sharing, Molly... as always, you inspire!
February 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrin
Hi Brin-
Thanks so much for your nice comment. We are sold out of this color way online. You could call our store in New York City and see if they have any left. Their phone number is 212-420-8798. However, I must say that I love the other colors too. Particularly the tan, which is the #1 favorite of the employees at Purl Patchwork.
Thanks Again- Molly
February 23, 2008 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I was in NYC this week and didn't make it to your shop - it was so cold and windy. We went to the Martha Stewart Show. Hope to get to your shop in the Spring. The hankerchiefs look fabulous. I will try them.
I knit and quilt so you have the perfect shops for me. Does anyone have a pattern for a knit/crochet trim on a dish towel. They are old-fashioned and were made years ago. Thank you.
February 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDonna
I love this idea but am accustomed to Kleenex. How do you launder your used handkerchiefs?
February 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
Those are so lovely, just reading about how to do it cheered me up (maybe not enough to my own handkerchieves, however), But being cheered up on a rainy day is enough. Thank you.
February 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPatricia
Hi Robin-
You can just throw these handkerchiefs in the wash. I even wash my silk ones and they always come out fine!- Thanks for you comment- Molly
February 24, 2008 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Those handkerchiefs are wonderful!
February 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie
I love the handkerchiefs, and I learned a lot about hand-stitching as well! Bravo. Great post. :)

...although I would find it hard to blow my nose on such a pretty little hankie... hmmm.
February 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTheSteph
Hey! Has anyone tried making them out of linen? I'm thinking of making some of these for gifts, but some of the ladies in my family would prefer a "plainer" fabric, so I was wondering how solid linen would work. Personally, I LOVE this print!
February 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTeish
Hi Teish,
If you can find a "handkerchief" linen they would be lovely, otherwise a regular weight linen might be a little heavy. Alternatively, you could use the Rowan Shot Cottons which are a very delicate Indian weight cotton. You can find them here:
Best wishes, the purl bee team.
February 27, 2008 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Love this idea! Bet flannel might be nice to use too - soft on the nose! Great way to use scraps! The tutorial on the plain paper was so easy to follow...thank you for this idea!
December 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMAC
I would love to make these but noted that you no longer carry this fabric. Can you make any other fabric suggestions?

Thanks so much!

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJennie
Hi Jennie-

We recommend you use Liberty of London Tana Lawn for this project. The prints are lovely and it's a perfect weight for a handkerchief!

Thank you!

January 14, 2014 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Thanks for the post. Hankies are also great for anyone with allergies, especially to dust. There's no adding irritants back to the nose after blowing/wiping like there is from paper tissues.

A crocheted two-section basket makes a good receptacle - one side for a stack of clean hankies and the other for used ones. When you wash the hankies, toss the basket in too.

Last, don't forget some fun fabrics for kids to use. They might enjoy decorating their own with permanent markers.
May 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKzoo Kid

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