In December 2013 a client brought her collection of old handkerchiefs to me and requested that I make as many quilts as possible. I began with the lap-size projects for her grandchildren and finally made one for a queen-size bed with the whites and off-whites.
The initial step was to get them clean and machine washing was not enough. The old-time method of simmering on the stove was the best solution. There are different recipes for “scouring” linen and cotton, but I used the one for cotton so I would not have to separate them in to too many lots (I was dealing with colors and whites, and ultimately over 200 pieces. General recipe for “scouring”: in 2 gallons of water dissolve 1 T gentle soap and 4 t washing soda; bring to simmer and add hankies so they are loose and can more; simmer for at least an hour, stirring gently and often. Remove hankies and rinse well in fresh water.
Above is a photo of the nasty water from one batch of hankies. Care must be taken with the colored pieces, some will lose color. There were a good number that had holes from use and/or stains. Some stains never came out. I was able to use parts of the damaged ones as setting triangles or for patchwork.