This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Handkerchief. The most ancient handkerchief was merely a bit of silk tissue, first used centuries ago by priests at the altar. For many years, indeed, priests were the only persons in the European world allowed the privilege of using handkerchiefs at all, and they used them only at the altar for the sake of propriety. It was then called a " facial," and was left with the other vestments of worship when the service was done. Presently the grand ladies of the Court began to provide themselves with similar squares of silk, and " maids and gentlewoman gave to their favorites, as tokens of their love, little handkerchiefs of about three or four inches square, and the gentlemen wore them in their hats as favors of their mistresses." The next step was to embroider the edge of these squares. The Empress Josephine was lovely, but her teeth were not perfect, and in order to conceal them she used a small lace handkerchief, which she raised constantly to her lips. The ladies at the French Court at once adopted the fashion and handkerchiefs came into general use. Soon their convenience recommended them so highly that all the ladies and gentlemen connected with the various European courts adopted their use. The fashion thus introduced by royalty was soon taken up by the under ranks, till to-day the handkerchief is an indispensable article of apparel. In the line of handkerchiefs, all plain white hemstitched linen goods are denominated " staples," and the demand for them varies but slightly from one year to another. "Finish" is everything to a linen handkerchief, and upon it, more than anything else depends the price which the goods will bring. The raw material may be of the very best quality, but if it does not possess the requisite finish, the chances of it finding favor are very small indeed. The best grades come from Belfast, Ireland. Large quantities of swiss handkerchiefs, embroidered and otherwise worked on machines are annually imported from St. Gall, Switzerland. These swiss goods, most of which are cotton, can not be compared to the Irish linen goods, which are embellished by hand, in point of quality. The fineness of quality of a cotton handkerchief can not go beyond a fixed limit, as above a certain grade the " union " article (made of a mixture of cotton and linen), or the cheaper grade of linen handkerchiefs bars its progress. No matter how fine a cotton handkerchief may be, it can not be compared to a linen one. The cotton article loses its finish on being washed, and becomes harsh and unpleasant to the touch; it loses its color, becoming yellowish and soiled looking. Yet owing to its cheapness it will always be in demand by a certain class of trade, both in the printed and the woven effects. Printed handkerchiefs are for the most part produced in this country. Handkerchief-printing involves a great deal of labor and outlay, some mills having at one time as many as 60,000 engraved designs, some for a single color, and some for two or more. The finest of these are made on wooden blocks to be printed flat, and those blocks are always preserved so that they can be reproduced at any time. The bulk of the cheaper designs are engraved on copper rollers. From each of these rollers a "first edition," so to speak, is printed, generally about 1,000 dozen. If the pattern shows immediate popularity the roller is preserved; if not, the design is turned off in the lathe, leaving a smooth surface for the next engraving. Silk handkerchiefs are chiefly imported from China and Japan, either finished or " in the piece," that is, not separated or hemmed. Handkerchiefs of whatever material composed, are usually square, or nearly so. A " size " is one inch, the number being denoted by the inches across the web, ranging from 12 to 27. [See Bandanna, Block Printing, Calico, Embroidery. For linen and cotton tests see Linen]