Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Ubiquitous Kerchief

You've probably one in your pocket right now. Thats right your instant first aid kit. Just think of all the times it was the first thing you grabbed in an emergency. Why when walking in the woods you sometimes carry two just in case.

From keeping the sun off your neck, to keeping all of your blood inside where it belongs lets not forget the usefulness of the handkerchief!

We made these kerchiefs or cravats out of feed bag material when it was still cloth like. You remember, your sister had a dress made out of them. They had floral prints and were made of soft quality cotton material. Nowadays most material within my price range is stiff and thin. Useless for a utilitarian item such as a hankie.

Over the counter hankies are great for tooting our snoot, however if you need to put your arm in a sling, make a stretcher, or tie up a splint a homemade cravat is your obvious choice. The cravat must be made out of a medium weight material, ( you can cut two from the back of a nice goodwill name brand long sleeve casual shirt the largest you can get. ) since it must withstand anything you could throw at it. Also it must wash soft, i.e. imagine wearing a burlap sack against your skin for days at a time.

Square cravats take up more material, but are stronger, and thicker. Triangle cravats are just one half of the square, are thinner, and standard in a first aid kit. If you are going to make kerchief and cravats I would make several types of each to carry on your person, and also to put in your emergency kit replacing the inferior lightweight type included in the kit.


Time to complete:
unhemmed triangle kerchief - 30 minutes
hemmed triangle kerchief - 2 hours


A 30 inch square of medium to light-weight fabric for the boy's kerchief. A 33 to 36 inch square of medium to light-weight fabric for the girl's kerchief. The square may be cut diagonally to produce two triangular scarves. A checked material with small, even, woven checks is appropriate, and easy to measure and cut.


Fabric glue, sewing machine, or needle and thread


Working men wore kerchiefs tied around their necks. Wealthier men wore a neck cloth, which was like a cravat, or a stock. They might wear a kerchief for informal occasions. The kerchief was folded or cut into a triangle, and worn either on top of the shirt collar or underneath it. It was tied in a double knot at the front of the neck. They could be made of dark or light colored material, some had polka dots or checks, and some were printed with pictures or designs. They could be made of homespun, or expensive silk. They often had a woven border the way kerchiefs do today. But whether he was feeding animals or going to church, the working man would wear a kerchief.

Women wore kerchiefs folded or cut into a triangle, over their shoulders, and pinned to, or tucked in their front. They wore them for warmth, and for fashion. Poor women and rich women all wore kerchiefs. The kerchief could be made out of a material so fine that it was translucent and edged with lace, or it could be made of wool for warmth. A utilitarian kerchief would be made of linen or cotton. It might be solid colored, or checked. White or light colored kerchiefs were the most common, but blue, brown, and red or orange-red were also popular. Women's kerchiefs also might have a woven border. Women did not always wear kerchiefs. They might not wear them working, or for very dressy occasions. But usually they wore both a kerchief and an apron.


1. Cut a square of cloth. Cut as straight and as smoothly as possible.

2. To make two triangles, fold the square across the diagonal. Make a line for cutting the diagonal by ironing the diagonal fold, or marking it with a pencil. Cut as straight and smoothly as possible.

3. The kerchief can be left unhemmed. If you want to continue to wash and use the kerchief it should be hemmed. A 1/8 inch, hand-sewn narrow hem would be the most authentic. Do not hem selvedge edges. Make the smallest hem that you can in all of the raw edges. Glue or sew the hem down.

4. In the 18th century, people sometimes cross-stitched their initials in a kerchief's corner.

Directions courtesy of

Help is only a triangle away.

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