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Handkerchief Doll Kit

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Continued from product description on Historical Doll Kits' Page Two...

Historical Background: During the Civil War (and at other times when supplies were scarce), dolls were made from handkerchiefs for little girls. These "handkerchief dolls" were carried to church and did not make noise if they were dropped. They were also known as one of the "Sunday toys" that children were allowed to play with only on Sundays, along with Noah's Ark, Jacob's Ladder (2005), Buzz Saw (2001), and other quiet toys. Some mothers would put sugar cubes or candy in the head of the handkerchief doll for a youngster to suck on to keep the child quiet during the long church service. Other names for the handkerchief doll are: "church doll," "church babies," "pew doll," "pew babies," and "prayer doll."

The pocket handkerchief is about 400 years old, but the history of the handkerchief begins as far back as Classical Greece and the Roman Empire. The handkerchief was first mentioned in literature by the poet Catullus (87-57 B.C.). It was also written about in great detail by William Shakespeare in "Othello." The handkerchief given to Desdemona by Othello passes into many other hands before the end of the play.

Handkerchiefs were not only used as face cloths for absorbing perspiration, they were used to hide one's face and to cover the mouth during adverse weather conditions or prevent inhaling infectious germs. The handkerchief was also an important favor for a man to give to a lady, and vice versa.

During Classical Greek times, a perfumed cloth was used by the wealthy. These were known as "mouth cloths," or "perspiration cloths." In Rome during the first century, men of rank used an oblong linen cloth to wipe perspiration from their hands and face. Throughout the Roman Empire, women carried a silk or cotton square handkerchief. Roman games were signaled to begin when a handkerchief was dropped. A handkerchief was waved by spectators at these games to show their sign of approval.

A handkerchief used during the Middle Ages was a sign of being wealthy and was clearly displayed as such. A knight would wear a lady's handkerchief to publicly show he had her favor. In the early Christian Church, the officiating priest carried a handkerchief in his left hand. This evolved into a folded band, which became known as the "maniple" by the 12th century. During the Renaissance, the handkerchief (now called a "napkyn") was made from silk, cambric, and lawn. These napkyns were usually embroidered and/or featured exquisite lace. These handkerchiefs were used by both men and women.

A Venetian lady cut a square from pure flax, decorated it with lace, and showed it while in public. Those who saw it were curious indeed. From Italy, this idea spread to France and became a favorite with the lords and ladies in the court of King Henry II. This handkerchief was no plain square of fabric! It was made from the most expensive fabrics (such as silk or linen) and was often embroidered. In 1850, German royalty adopted the idea of the luxurious handkerchief. The handkerchief we think of is square, but some handkerchiefs were made round or triangular.

The handkerchief became an important piece of a gentleman's attire and was worn in the left breast pocket and folded in a particular way. A white handkerchief was always proper with a dark suit and multicolored tie, but a silk colored handkerchief was appealing for a more invigorating look.

The handkerchief saw dramatic change in Europe during the 16th century. It was richly decorated, adorned with various laces or fringed edges, and was meant to be displayed as a fashion item rather than as something useful. Because it was such a beautiful item, it was not used in the 17th century by elegant ladies who took snuff. These ladies could only use a colored cloth, which would hide the brownish stains caused by the tobacco. During the 18th century, the handkerchief was considered a necessity to have at the tragedies in the French theater. In the 19th century, ladies carried handkerchiefs in their hands instead of hiding them away in bags or purses. They were so common that everyone carried a "hankie" everywhere they went. During the Victorian era, this made it possible for a young woman to make signals across a room to a young man with her handkerchief in much the same way romantic signals were done with the fan. Handkerchiefs were considered the perfect gift for anyone, young or old, male or female, good friend or mere acquaintance.

After Kleenex facial tissues became popular in the 1930s and 1940s, the cloth handkerchief was less used. Handkerchiefs are still fairly popular and sold in many stores. Also, a lot of handkerchief dolls are still being made, not only for little girls in church but as collectors' dolls and as decorations. Today, small handkerchief dolls are hung on Christmas trees to add a touch of Victorian tradition. After all, it was Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, who introduced England to the German tradition of putting up and decorating Yuletide trees.

Fun Fact: Marie Antoinette decided that the square form of the handkerchief was more aesthetically pleasing, and King Louis XIV published a decree ordering the length of the handkerchief to be equal to its width.

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Handkerchief Doll Kit
Handkerchief Doll Kit
Item Number 4705

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