Gretchen’s letter floated off the shelf in my studio and landed at my feet. It was from January and although I remembered the box of neatly folded hankies, I didn’t remember Gretchen’s name or what the note said. When I read it again, I thought Gretchen was so right. She wrote:
“I could not give these to just anyone. Call me corny, but I think they were meant to go to you. Even if you can’t use them, I am sure they are where they should be.”
I don’t have those hankies anymore, but they are where they should be. They were my first scarves and they’re scattered all over the country being worn and seen and appreciated. And since then, I keep getting more hankies. Sometimes they are someone’s life time collection, I’ve gotten boxes with 100 or more. Sometimes I get one or two in a plastic baggie that someone found in a drawer or at a garage sale or that belonged to a friends mother or grandmother. Sometimes I make them into scarves and send them back. Other times we make a trade, they choose the hankies they want me to make into scarf out of for them and I get to keep the rest of the collection. I always try to give something back when someone sends me hankies, a scarf, some potholders, a pack of Jon’s note cards. But sometimes I let them be gifts, because it seems right.
Karen sent a few hankies with the Day of the Dead Cat pillow that I bought from her. ” I added a couple of hankies” she wrote ” I know you’ll get some use from them.”
Nancy told me in a letter that she has lots of treasures packed away in her attic and every once in a while she’s able to connect one of her treasures with someone she meets. So when she recently found a stash of hankies she thought of me. She got our address from Jon and he told her I would want to do a trade. But in her letter that came with the hankies she wrote ” You both have inspired me and many others to embrace our creativity and pursue our artistic hopes and dreams. I think that is a wonderful trade, don’t you?” Boy, did I cry over that one.
Helen send a box of hankies, embroidered linens and hand made lace. Some of the pieces in the box are from Russia, before 1918 and other from Belgium before 1951. She signed the letter “from the woman you told, it was alright to cry.” And I did.
Uta’s hankies, came in a shoe box covered in flowered shelf paper. My first sewing kit was a shoe box covered in shelf paper that my grandmother gave to me. I still have it.
Every time I get hankies from someone, weather it’s been in their family for 5o years or they just bought them at a flea market, I feel I’ve made a connection with that person. Then, I make the hankies into a scarf and make a connection with the person I sell it to and the hankies go back out into the world. The hankies seem to tie us all together, a long story of hankie being passed from person to person starting with the original owner and ending in a place and with a person I’ll never know.
These hankies, such a personal object, being held and touched and stitched and sewn. Often used in very intimate ways, kept safe and cherished, forgotten and reclaimed. And now everyone one of us who touches one of them is closer to each other, even if just by a very slight thread.