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embroidered handkerchief distraction - the fiction


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The 'embroidered handkerchief distraction' observation describes a conference attendee sneezing, then blowing, dryly into her immaculately-laundered, pretty handkerchief. Here's the story of what might have happened next

Away from the conference, and starting to relax, Rachel soon realised she'd not enjoyed her day, so far, much at all. She'd not found the speakers inspiring, the food hadn't been great and, to cap it all, she'd found the physical atmosphere in the convention centre oppressive. Hadn't the air been ridiculously dry? - something had certainly been going on with that - good grief, she hadn't even been able to blow her nose properly! Whatever had people sitting around her thought of the strange noises she'd made into her handkerchief?!

Thankfully, she was now on her way to meet up for a drink with her friend Julie and, as she walked in the fresh air of the tree-lined street, her nose was beginning to feel more like its old self. This she confirmed with an exploratory discreet sniff: yes, that irritating dryness she'd experienced for several hours had disappeared - thank heavens!

Arriving at the bar, she found Julie already seated outside, their favourite drinks already on the table - what a friend! The two of them greeted, and began to catch up; Rachel didn't feel she had to go into much detail about the conference. Perhaps as a reaction to the more humid atmosphere, she sensed an oncoming sneeze and quickly reached into her jacket pocket to retrieve her handkerchief. It was something of a personal rule, one she almost always managed to follow, only to sneeze into a handkerchief.

The impending sneeze failed to materialise, so Rachel lowered the handkerchief and placed it on the table, next to her drink. 'That's pretty', commented Julie, a recent convert to handkerchiefs, who'd immediately noticed the intricately - embroidered flowers decorating a corner of Rachel's, 'Can I have a look, please?' An expression of self-reproach crossed Rachel's face, 'My goodness, what am I doing? that's really quite dirty: I had a massive sneezing and blowing session into it earlier, I shouldn't have put it on the table!' She'd quite clearly forgotten the effect of the conference centre's dry air on her nose and that sneeze, so attempted to snatch away her handkerchief. 'Don't be ridiculous', countered Julie, 'look, it's still got your hallmark laundered folds, I can hardly believe that you've used it!' she reasoned, reaching Rachel's handkerchief first. Accepting that point, Rachel did counter that it was scarcely one of her most beautiful, as Julie well knew, having once being incredulous at the sight of Rachel's heirloom lace handkerchiefs.

Julie's inspection was suddenly curtailed by Rachel's renewed urge to sneeze. 'Quickly, please, I need my handkerchief now', she blurted. Re-positioned just in time, it received her second sneeze, the first wet one, of the day. 

'Excuse me!

'Bless you'

After a pause, Rachel's customary pattern of nose-blowing ensued: a semi-honk, followed by three softer blows: a pattern she always repeated as many times as it took. On this occasion, her second honk sounded seriously wet; by the third, surprised at her now freely-flowing nose, Rachel was conscious of masses of snot noisily overwhelming the fabric; necessarily, she continually moved the handkerchief, hoping to find another dry part of it. Looking on, Julie witnessed Rachel's handkerchief quivering under the onslaught. Folds quickly succumbed to successive torrents of snot but, gamely, the prettily embroidered flowers fluttered on in their corner, untouched

Finally, with much of her handkerchief now limp, the starched folds only clinging on around the flowers, Rachel felt able to stop blowing, and move to wiping. Determined to ensure her nose was entirely clean, she vigorously dabbed the small remaining section of dry fabric across her nostrils: reluctantly, as this was something she liked to avoid, but on this occasion even the attractive embroidery had to play its part in clearing up residual snot

'Yeuk', she declared, checking the mess before scrunching the handkerchief into a ball and consigning it to her jacket pocket, 'let's hope all that snot comes out in the wash, it doesn't always!'

Julie had enjoyed her friend's performance and openly said so. 'I'm looking forward to us going to the vintage market together on Saturday,' she further remarked, 'I've been wanting handkerchiefs as lovely as yours for ages now. I'm fed up only having boring men's ones.'

And with that, this particular sneezing and handkerchief episode drew to a close. Rachel and Julie moved on to other topics of conversation; out of sight, Julie's 'boring' men's handkerchief and Rachel's spare, and extraordinarily beautiful lace one, remained pristine within their respective bags for the rest of the evening

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What a lovely story, thank you - Rachel's careful handkerchief use was so well described, and I love that she's a practiced enough nose-blower to have a "customary pattern". I was starting to wonder if she'd have to depart from that and give her nose a full honk...

So great that your obs inspired you! I really hope there's a second part - given how open Julie was that she "enjoyed the performance", maybe after the pair pick up some nice handkerchiefs from the market, she shyly asks her friend "can you teach me how to do that like you do?" 😃

Edited by Rick
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Thank you for making the effort to reply to my first piece of fiction - greatly appreciated! Rachel's character is based on that single real-life observation so, even though there are traits I want to retain, there's plenty of scope for development. Julie's essentially a blank page (or maybe now not quite - thanks again!) Yes the market trip, and a continuing storyline centred on sneezing and nose-blowing into beautiful vintage handkerchiefs, is very much on the cards!

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On 8/23/2022 at 12:28 AM, Rick said:

Какая прекрасная история, спасибо - осторожное использование носового платка Рэйчел было так хорошо описано, и мне нравится, что она достаточно практикуется, чтобы иметь «обычный рисунок». Я начал задаваться вопросом, не придется ли ей отойти от этого и дать своему носу полный сигнал...

Так здорово, что твои обсы вдохновили тебя! Я очень надеюсь, что есть вторая часть - учитывая, насколько открытой была Джули, что ей «понравилось выступление», возможно, после того, как пара возьмет несколько хороших носовых платков с рынка, она застенчиво спрашивает свою подругу: «Ты можешь научить меня, как это делать, как ты делаешь?» 😃


On 8/23/2022 at 10:35 AM, launderedlace said:

Спасибо, что приложили усилия, чтобы ответить на мое первое художественное произведение - очень ценим! Персонаж Рэйчел основан на этом единственном наблюдении из реальной жизни, поэтому, хотя есть черты, которые я хочу сохранить, есть много возможностей для развития. Джули, по сути, пустая страница (или, может быть, теперь не совсем - еще раз спасибо!) Да, поездка на рынок и продолжающаяся сюжетная линия, сосредоточенная на чихании и сморкании вкрасивые носовые платки v intage, очень на картах!

Wow. It's a wonderful story. I'm looking forward to continuing. I agree, the storyline with an increase in the collection of handkerchiefs of one, and possibly both, girls looks good. How about one of the characters catching a cold? In my opinion, this will give more scenarios for using handkerchiefs.

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As arranged, and it had needed an effort from each of them, by nine-thirty on Saturday, Rachel and Julie were at the antique fair's vintage linen stall that Rachel knew so well. Ten minutes beforehand they'd met outside, giving Rachel a chance to share advice with first-timer, Julie. 'It's overwhelming at the beginning: there's so much gorgeousness, lovingly laundered and presented, you probably won't know where to look - but don't worry, I was the same! We'll concentrate on starting your embroidered and lace handkerchief collection; twenty or so should be fine and, unless there's something exceptional, let's not get distracted by anything else.'

Julie concurred: twenty did feel a little on the high side to her but, as a handkerchief novice and trusting Rachel entirely on this, as with many things, what did she know to the contrary? 'Although', continued Rachel, reconsidering slightly, 'I might indulge myself in one or two more antique French handkerchiefs if there's anything particularly beautiful, and I'm still eager to find a practical, large, white apron with a frilly broderie anglaise trim.'

Julie had been looking forward to today; a real chance to grow her tiny collection beyond 'boring' men's handkerchiefs. Yes, she knew Rachel would gladly have lent her some pretty ones anytime, but had never quite plucked up the courage to ask. Rachel warmly greeted the stallholder, Louise, and introduced her to Julie who was already feasting her eyes on the treasures laid out before her: she'd never seen anything like it. 'Oh my goodness, just look at all these beautiful vintage handkerchiefs, there must literally be hundreds!' Rachel and Louise smiled at each other.

The handkerchiefs, almost entirely ladies ones, occupied a quarter of the stall and were methodically organised by style and size. Immaculately laundered, each had been ironed into quarters, so that those embroidered only in one corner were still displayed to best effect. Closest to Julie were a pair with pretty blue flowers which, despite their differently coloured embroidery, reminded her of the one Rachel had been using the other evening. 'Right', she said, decisively, 'first choice made, I'll take those, please!' Louise did point out that the price reflected that the handkerchiefs were very pre-loved, with an edge of one beginning to fray. 'Well, I'm going to love them even more', stated Julie and, after checking with Louise, tucked the slightly frayed one into her sleeve.

Julie had already decided she'd prefer large handkerchiefs: that was something she did appreciate about her men's ones, so now she and Rachel focused on generously-sized, prettily embroidered, appliqued and lace ones, including some with huge monogrammes extending to their centre. Finding twenty of these turned out to be easy and Rachel, also, was delighted to discover a huge hundred-year-old French lace wedding handkerchief. To cap it all, she also spotted and purchased two aprons of the type she'd been hoping for; 'They're from Germany', Louise informed her, 'and I've already sold a third identical one to a waitress in the pop-up vintage tearoom'

Which, after paying Louise a substantial but entirely reasonable amount, was exactly where Rachel and Julie found themselves. By chance, they were served by the waitress now already wearing the other identical apron, still spotless despite nearly an hour's busy work fluttering around tables. Before suggesting that they look at some of their purchases, it occurred to Julie that Rachel would already have one or two other handkerchiefs with her, so asked if she might see them. Obligingly delving into her pocket, Rachel produced a large, gorgeous lace handkerchief, equal in beauty to anything they'd seen on the stall today. One corner was entirely covered with the most intricate embroidery and applique imaginable, an extraordinary vista of huge white roses and butterflies. 'I bought it from Louise some time ago', explained Rachel, 'there's provenance proving it's a French bridal handkerchief from 1924'

Holding the now fully-unfolded handkerchief, so revealing the sixteen crisply starched squares produced by Rachel's ironing, Julie, almost dumbfounded by the staggering loveliness, began to examine the craftwork. 'Rachel, this is honestly the most gorgeous thing I've seen in my life!'

Suddenly, and entirely unexpectedly, Julie felt a twitch in her nose which, instantaneously, evolved into a huge sneeze. 


With no time to retrieve her new handkerchief from her sleeve, Julie's instinctive reaction was to lift her hand towards her face; the hand which held Rachel's wonderful heirloom handkerchief. The sneeze was a wet one; fortunately, the huge spray from it was contained but, to Julie's horror, this was by the pristine folds of Rachel's handkerchief. 

'Rachel, I'm so sorry', groaned Julie, 'that's absolutely the last thing I wanted to happen': she sniffed, feeling snot beginning to trickle inside her nose.

'Silly', replied Rachel, smiling, 'quickly, just use it to blow your nose: after all, it is a handkerchief and that’s what it’s for!'

Reassured by her friend’s kind generosity, and after some tentative and futile dabbing, Julie began to blow as Rachel suggested: gradually at first, then with increasing force. The volume of snot and the noise escalated; Rachel looked on as her handkerchief absorbed the mess. Butterflies and roses fluttered, flamboyant trimmings of lace twitched, and her precisely starched squares began to dissolve. As Julie moved to different parts of the handkerchief, making successive loud and messy blows, Rachel noticed patches and streaks of Julie’s snot glistening on the cambric.

By the time Julie’s nose felt clear almost half the handkerchief, but not the prettiest portion with roses and butterflies, had been used. As she pushed the luxuriously soft fabric into both nostrils, making a massaging motion, the broad lace border leapt and danced in an ever more agitated manner. Finally, carefully scrunching the heavily besmirched section of Rachel’s handkerchief in on itself, Julie tucked it into her sleeve alongside her own new clean one awaiting there. With the lace being so extensive and sumptuous, a snot-free portion of it together with an appliqued rose remained visible and, for the next hour or so, whenever Julie gesticulated in her usual animated fashion, the starched lace served to further emphasise her hand movements

Time to leave; the waitress returned to the table to help settle the bill. By now, her voluminous and gorgeous apron also demonstrated that prettiness and practicality can be complementary: hand-shaped smudges extended from each pocket out towards the spectacularly-ruffled frill

Needing to go their separate ways for the moment, Rachel and Julie agreed to meet again the following day. ‘If you come round to mine for two o’clock,’ suggested Rachel, ‘and bring your new handkerchiefs, we’ll have a proper look at them together. Bring any others you have that need laundering, maybe including that one of mine that’s tucked into your sleeve, and I’ll show you what’s necessary to get delicate vintage linens looking spick-and-span.’ They had a plan so, after a quick embrace, causing one final twitch to the lace of Rachel’s handkerchief still protruding from Julie’s sleeve, they parted   

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What a nice update! We've already seen Rachel being embarrassed about the "strange sounds she made into her handkerchief" when her nose was dry at the conference, we know she can be a bit of a honker,  and now Julie making an "escalating noise" after being gently encouraged to blow her nose. There  could a real cacophony of different sounds when they unpack those new handkerchiefs together in private, and share some tips on handkerchief care - and use!

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Thank you again for more thoughtful comment - it's certainly being taken on board! Part three (and I need to start titling them, I think) is in draft; ideas for part four are evolving in my head. It might be a four-parter, then with a pause for reflection and/or deciding whether the storyline can still be sufficiently developed to keep 'beyond part four' interesting!

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Part 3: at Rachel's 
[Part 1 took place at the bar after Rachel's conference; Part 2 featured the vintage market]

Sunday afternoon: Rachel, resplendent with one of the two stunningly huge, bib-less, frilly white aprons tied around her waist, opened her front door in response to Julie’s knock.
‘Rachel, oh my goodness, I’m not really an apron person, but you look amazing in that,’ exclaimed Julie, a view that was only accentuated as she followed Rachel into the house and caught sight of the enormous, meticulous bow which Rachel had crafted behind herself.

‘Thank you, yes, I’m really happy with it; I so wanted something that was practical and unmistakably not fancy-dress, and seeing that waitress with an identical one yesterday convinced me I'd made the right decision! I’ve been baking cakes, so it’s been a perfect occasion to wear it.’

‘Come on, Rachel, I bet you’re so in love with it that you’d wear it just to rinse a teaspoon’, teased Julie 

‘Alright, that’s probably true’, conceded Rachel, ‘however, before you get too comfortable, there is a bit of bad news, I’m afraid.’

‘Oh, no, what is it?’, queried Julie

‘Only that I’ve had a bit of a sniffle for the past few hours’, answered Rachel, ‘so if you want to escape, now’s your chance!’ 

'Is that all, I thought it was something serious; even if we both end up with a cold, it's not like we've a shortage of handkerchiefs, is it?!' On her way over to Rachel’s, Julie had blown her nose into the first handkerchief she’d bought yesterday from Louise, the slightly frayed one with prettily embroidered blue flowers. Right now, and she’d deliberately arranged it this way, the handkerchief’s corner and a section of embroidery were visible at her wrist

'Very true,' agreed Rachel, who’d noticed approvingly the styling at the end of Julie’s sleeve, 'and you can see I'm already prepared with a system,' she went on, patting her apron pockets. Julie discerned embroidered outlines within one pocket, seemingly a supply of clean handkerchiefs; poking from the top of the other pocket was the lacy corner of another handkerchief which Rachel had presumably already used. 

‘Before I forget to tell you, when I was out with Fred last night on only our third-ever date’, related Julie, ‘I had to use your handkerchief again to cover a sneeze and then blow my nose. Although he didn’t say anything, I could tell he was very interested in it’

‘That doesn’t at all surprise me,’ reflected Rachel, ‘lots of men are intrigued by so-called women’s handkerchiefs, although it’s probably quite a small fraction who’ll admit they’d like to use them, and even fewer who actually do something about it, despite there being many more openly gender-fluid people in society these days. James and I are further into our relationship than you and Fred are, but it was still only last week that I coaxed him into using one of mine for the first time. I don’t know if he’ll ever get to the stage of blowing his nose in public using one of my lace ones!’

Rachel’s smiley expression changed as a wet sniff took over. 'Oh oh, here we go,' she muttered, pulling the already-used lace handkerchief from the apron's right pocket. 'Already used', by Rachel's standards, usually meant that a handkerchief hadn't been used more than twice already: to many people it would be almost clean, with tell-tale signs of remaining crisply-laundered folds still evident. On no account would it be totally crumpled or approaching grubbiness; anything remotely near that state would have been disdainfully relegated to her laundry basket.

Rachel blew her nose in her usual manner: one 'almost honk' followed by three softer blows. A clean part of her pretty handkerchief, whose principal features were a border of fine quality lace and a huge appliqued and embroidered 'F' monogramme, succumbed to a greater than usual amount of snot. 'Well, that's finished', she lamented, after a final few large wipes, 'into the wash with that one!'

They sat down to tea and cakes with the intention of looking over Julie’s new handkerchiefs, once they’d discussed practical dos and do-nots of laundering them

Rachel believed that her sniffles were not worsening, and shared that hope with Julie; so what happened next took them both by surprise. With only a fraction of a second’s warning, she was overtaken by a huge sneeze; even the normally well-prepared Rachel was caught out: still holding her tea in one hand, she frantically tried to extract a clean handkerchief from her apron pocket in time. Nearly, but not quite, she succeeded: an only partly unfolded handkerchief got within inches of where it needed to be, and so captured some of the thick snot that erupted horizontally from her nose. Her whole body had shaken, including the hand still holding her tea, causing much of it to spill onto her beloved apron. Worse, some of the snotty projectile headed towards the equally unprepared Julie, who, before she’d had a chance to comprehend what was happening, felt globules of it landing on her face.

A brief frozen moment in time; then both Rachel and Julie began to move as if in slow motion. Rachel’s now completely opened heirloom handkerchief lifted to mask, absorb, and be soiled by, the uncharacteristic, thick, glistening stalactites of filthily-coloured mucus hanging from her nose; concurrently, Julie pulled her first-ever pretty handkerchief from her sleeve, and began to wipe her face. Still without speaking, Rachel moved into her customary nose blowing routine, albeit one that involved much more snot than usual, and the like of which the vintage handkerchief's two parallel borders of exquisite lace had, most probably, never dealt with in their century-long lifetime

Their eyes met: an uncertain look, then a smile, which rapidly turned into a mutually shared laugh

‘Whatever happened there? asked Julie, the first to speak

‘Well, to be honest, I think we’ve both been victims of one of the messiest sneezes I’ve ever encountered, and it happened to be mine. I’m really so sorry about that, Julie; if anything like that had happened to me, I’d doubtlessly be screeching hysterically at the other person!’

Julie, now resorting to using her handkerchief’s embroidered blue flowers to wipe the last of Rachel’s snot from her own face continued to laugh; she clearly was not freaked out by anything that had happened. ‘I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as a victim; oh, look at your pretty pinny, Rachel, it’s got tea splashed all over it. Turn around and I’ll untie it for you, and don’t forget to take your other handkerchiefs out of that pocket: I hope they’re also not soaked in tea.’

An upside of the calamity was that it provided a natural lead-in to Rachel’s demonstration of laundering vintage linens : her tea-stained apron, as well as used handkerchiefs belonging to each of them, were carefully hand-washed using various gentle eco-products. ‘I normally prefer to do things by hand,’ she explained, ‘although it’s fine to wash less delicate fabrics by machine on a gentle cycle.’ Julie, literally gaining some hands-on experience, felt she’d now be able to care for her new collection, including the process of lightly starching and precisely ironing her handkerchiefs, as Rachel proceeded to show her. ‘To be honest,’ shared Rachel in an almost confidential tone, ‘that’s how I prefer my handkerchiefs to be: crisp and precisely ironed, yet still comfortably soft, ready to be shaken open and receive their first sneeze or blow’

Finally, they got to examine the rest of Julie's new handkerchiefs, still carefully arranged as they'd been on Louise's stall. Unfolding each one in turn, the pair admired the skilled handiwork adorning each of the beautiful handkerchiefs. 'Honestly, Rachel, until I saw yours, I'd no idea that such gorgeous things existed, let alone that they're for blowing your nose into', Julie shared

Beginning to sniff again, Rachel managed, 'That's what I like about them, and making them immaculate again afterwards. Sorry, Julie, but would you mind if I use one of your lovely new ones now, to blow my nose?'

'Of course not,' Julie reassured her friend, 'after all, I've dirtied one of yours; which one would you like?'

In the pause before the blow, Julie looked on at her own pretty, fully unfolded, handkerchief that Rachel had chosen, and which now covered her nose: a gigantic embroidered 'A' surrounded by divine appliqued, fawn coloured, flowers and fronds, fully taking up a quarter of the wonderfully fine fabric. As Rachel's familiar pattern of blows took their effect, the translucent fabric enabled Julie to see barrages of snot beginning to cover the other side of the material. Unexpectedly, Rachel's nose cleared before she'd made even half of Julie’s handkerchief messy, so then she proceeded with her customary pattern of wiping. That complete, she moved to toss the handkerchief into the nearby laundry basket

Overcoming a sense of shyness, Julie intervened. 'Rachel, if you don't mind, I'd like to use that handkerchief now as well, please' 

Rachel, aware that the two of them, effectively, had already been sharing handkerchiefs, quietly and knowingly handed over the part-sodden, part-pristine handkerchief, with its still clean, gorgeous embroidery very much on show. Julie chose a dry part of the fabric and blew softly but slightly wetly; then she moved to an area already smeared with Rachel's thickly glistening snot: this she deliberately pushed up into her own nostrils, and massaged. Fascinated, Rachel looked on as the 'A', the pretty flowers, and the surviving nearby folds twitched and juddered to the rhythm of Julie's fingers moving inside her nose. Next, using each index finger in turn, Julie pushed, and then caressed, unused sections of material into one nostril, then the other. As was becoming her style, after carefully scrunching up the part covered in the friends’ still-shimmering snot, most of it originally Rachel’s, she ended by tucking the handkerchief into her sleeve, ensuring that some of the still clean, wonderfully embroidered and laundered, section remained visible.

'I think you'll be going down with the sniffles,' Rachel pointed out, using a mock telling-off tone

'I'm sure you realise that's the idea,' replied Julie, again smiling, 'and I've been wanting to share a handkerchief in that way with you for quite some time, now'

'So have I', confessed Rachel, 'and I'm looking forward to deciding what we'll do next together with our handkerchiefs. What will we tell our boyfriends about all this: anything?!’

[Dear viewer: in a sparklingly clean state, three of the handkerchiefs ‘used’ by Rachel and Julie and described here, in Part 3, can be seen in, Artwork: 'Handkerchief art - who knew ?!' Rachel and Julie are mostly fictitious; the handkerchiefs are very active and much-loved in the real world. Part 4 of this story is a few days away; after that, the storyline will be paused for reflection: it certainly wouldn’t be right for viewers to get bored by a lack of new material!]

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Such a funny twist to the plot there - normally the best prepared of the girls having a bit of a "nose accident" when she let her sniffles get the better of her!

Looking forward to those handkerchiefs getting a further workout in part 4...

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Lovely story. Female handkerchiefs tucked into sleeve, it trigger me on a lot. I'm used to tucking hankies into my sleeve, preferably my wife's hankies, and always ensuring that some section remains visible.

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Part 4: one week later, at Julie’s flat

Neither Julie nor Rachel became seriously ill, merely very snuffly for a few days. Rachel is now almost better albeit prone to the occasional messy sneeze; Julie is beginning to turn the corner. On the balcony of the flat, which overlooks a park, a laundry rack is festooned with newly hand-washed and mostly fabulously ornate handkerchiefs, fluttering in the breeze. Rachel, whose beachside house lies a short distance away in the same small coastal town, has just arrived with a pile of her trademark immaculately-laundered linen

'Wow, that looks impressive,' remarked Rachel as the handkerchiefs' movements immediately caught her eye, 'I've also had my hands full laundry-wise', she shared, depositing her pile on one of Julie's worktops, 'and I've brought fresh supplies'

'Thank you,' replied Julie, sniffing, with the corner of a plain white handkerchief, embroidered with a simple 'J', peeking from her sleeve. 'I've had to resort to using my men's handkerchiefs but, to be fair, now I've learnt how to get them properly sparkling, I might stop calling them 'boring'; I'll concede they've got some sort of basic attractiveness.'

With that, she pulled from her sleeve the handkerchief which, two hours ago, had been freshly laundered but which, she now decided, on only the briefest inspection, had done its job and needed washing. She tossed it into the nearby laundry basket. Spotting two immaculate triangles on top of Rachel's pile, she asked, 'Oh, are those my 'pre-loved' embroidered blue flowers handkerchief, and your pretty one with embroidered lilac flowers next to it?' Picking up the latter, separating its layers of fabric at one corner, and giving it an adept flick - she’d had plenty of practice recently - Julie quickly clasped Rachel’s now fully open handkerchief to her nose. Feeling her nose running, and in a slightly muffled voice, Julie double-checked that Rachel was okay with her using it: of course, Rachel assented with a nod and a smile. That smile broadened as she realised Julie was mimicking her own nose-blowing style: one large blow, followed by three softer ones. Crisp squares and triangles of fabric quickly gave up the unequal struggle against the snotty gurgles; although, for now, unscathed, the demure flowers shuddered in alarm at their probable impending fate. After single-fingered pushes and and turns of the handkerchief in her nostrils, Julie contemplated its state

‘Goodness, Rachel, I’m sorry that’s now a real mess; at most, I think it’ll cope with one more blow,’ then, apart from the still-pristine attractively embroidered section which she deliberately kept out on display, Julie scrunched up the handkerchief and slid it inside her sleeve

Her eye returning to Rachel’s impressively organised laundry, Julie noticed the apron; or was it aprons? 'I've only got the potatoes to prepare, Rachel, so I'm not sure you'll be needing that', she teased. 

'Well, I've actually brought both of them along just in case I could interest you! Are those the potatoes?' she queried: they look a bit rustic'

'As a matter of fact, Fred gave them to me; they're from his allotment, which is why they're still covered in soil and, by the way, there's something else I want to share with you about Fred.'

'Oh', replied Rachel, suddenly intrigued, 'do tell!'

'Well, not only is he good at growing stuff, it turns out he's also into handkerchiefs, has his own collection, including ladies' ones, a couple of which he's lent me and which are now with the others on the laundry rack, after I used and washed them. I told you he was really interested when I used your handkerchief in front of him before: now I know why!'

'Well, there you go, make sure you hang onto him, Julie, he sounds like a good all-round guy to me; am I meeting him anytime soon?' Rachel queried. 'That handkerchief you mentioned is somewhere in the pile I brought, so perhaps he'll be interested in seeing it used again; by one or other of you!', she added, grinning conspiratorially 

'Probably, although we might need to make decisions about who's using whose handkerchiefs pretty quickly; don't tell me that James will be coming into the equation as well', Julie responded, now thinking out loud

'That's a little more doubtful just yet', reflected Rachel, ‘although, life continues to be surprising; oh, here I go!’ Tensing in anticipation of a sneeze, she quickly assessed that her best option for containing it was to grab at and pull out her own lilac flowers peeking from Julie's sleeve; the rest of the crumpled handkerchief followed.

'Excuse me!'

The plan succeeded: her huge wet sneeze impacted directly into the embroidery held against her nose; the force shook the entire handkerchief, causing the crumpled section below to unfold slightly which, in turn, revealed remnants of starched folds and copious amounts of Julie's thick snot.

With an expert aim, Rachel's throw resulted in her lilac flowers landing next to the embroidered 'J' of Julie's plain handkerchief already lying in the basket. Her nose still full, she then delved into her pocket and extracted a substantial white square which, with a skilful flourish, opened up sixteen-fold to reveal an enormous and unbelievably beautiful lace handkerchief. Looking on, Julie noticed a magnificent wide border of tiny embroidered flowers around the entire perimeter of the solid material part of the handkerchief, as well as a ‘G’ denoting the handkerchief’s original owner, a bride of ninety years ago; glorious ruffles of heritage lace surrounded this. Julie so much wanted to have a closer look, but sensed her friend's urgent need to blow her nose.

Rachel's usual pattern of blowing was still discernible despite the considerable volumes of snot entering the centre of her handkerchief. From the onlooking Julie's perspective, the handkerchief's enormousness disguised the havoc being wreaked in its centre by several cycles of blowing; indeed the shaking periphery of embroidery and lace remained as immaculate and untouched as they had throughout the original wedding day of three generations ago. Only as Rachel moved into her final flourishes of wiping was the devastation to the central part, wreaked by strong spurts of sullying thick and coloured mucus, revealed. In a totally matter-of-fact manner, Rachel consigned the beauty and the mess to her pocket.

'If you trust me with it, you're welcome to leave that handkerchief here with me to launder,' suggested Julie, 'I'm sure Fred would then love to see it also.''

'Of course I trust you and, yes, the more people who see and use these beautiful pieces of history the better, as far as I'm concerned', she replied, retrieving the handkerchief and placing it with the others in Julie's basket. 'For me, it's a kind of therapy: taking something lovely, messing it up and then returning it to a state of loveliness. If only it were as easy to fix everything else in the world as it is with my handkerchiefs and aprons: I know it can't be that way but, for me, these little things help keep me sane; I’m sure it’s therapeutic. Maybe I should start a Facebook group called ‘Retro handkerchief and apron therapy’ or something. I realise I'm so lucky living right on the beach with my sea-breezy washing line in the garden; I’m almost convinced that my linens love it as much as I do, when I see them fluttering and sparkling in that refreshing clean air and the sunshine. Anyway, those potatoes.’

With that, she pulled out one of her new aprons, the one not inflicted by the earlier spillage of tea, from the bottom of the pile and unfolded it. ‘Come on, let’s see if I can convert you to aprons as well!’ Rachel challenged in a light-hearted manner, ‘stand up and turn around.’

Without protest, Julie felt Rachel arranging the apron’s extravagantly long, wide ties into an enormous bow behind her. In front, below her waist, now hung an expanse of crisply-laundered white fabric, surrounded by the sumptuous undulations of a huge broderie anglaise flounce. Julie thrust her hands into the two pockets, feeling and almost hearing the layers of starched material separate like two semi-rigid gloves. Unknown to either of them, the last person to have had the same experience with this apron was a German woman beginning her Oktoberfest work-shift thirty years earlier; at the end of that long shift the apron had been streaked with, and smelt of, beer spilt from enormous steins as she’d rushed around serving, and had been made grubby near the waistband by an incessant wiping of greasy hands. With Fred’s earth-covered potatoes now in her sink, Julie turned on the tap and began to scrub vigorously. In harmony with the scrubbing, the apron’s sculpted bow executed a slight dance; the exotic frilly ruffle more energetically so; numerous globules of newly-reformed mud jumped over the rim of the sink and splattered onto the previously pristine apron, immediately dirtying it, but Julie’s skirt was saved.

‘You see,’ exclaimed Rachel, feeling vindicated, ‘pretty aprons are just as useful as pretty handkerchiefs; have I convinced you?’

‘Yes, I think you have, on both counts,’ admitted Julie, ‘I suspect I’ve now another collection to start: I wonder what Fred will think?!’ 

This storyline is now paused - thank you for viewing and co-inspiring. Meanwhile, and hopefully the file opens okay, here are a couple of the 'stars' of the story



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Oops - small background factual error that the eagle-eyed may have spotted. The real 'ninety-year-old' bridal handkerchief that Rachel 'used': see link to photos at the end of the last posting, is initialled 'EG' rather than 'G' (as it says in the story). It's still listed on French eBay: do a quick search under 'mouchoir de mariée' and you'll find it (until sold) along with some other beauties; current asking price is 84 Euros! It is massive, though: 56cm by 56cm

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is one of the best stories I've read in ages. My wife is a big user of coloured silk handkerchiefs and often puts them up her sleeve to show. So I've no doubt she and Julie would get along well! If there is any scope for Julie or Rachel to get into coloured silks - alongside the vintage handkerchiefs - that would be fun.

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Part 5: catching up on the train

Rachel and Julie, separately, have been away from home for two days for work, but have arranged to travel back together on the train. From the previous week, Julie's news will include handkerchief-related episodes from work. As they sit down together on the train, a triangle of smooth pink silk with large black polka dots, is visible at Julie’s wrist; in Rachel’s jacket pocket lies a beautiful, huge, lace handkerchief: it’s scarcely-used, is only slightly crumpled, and retains most of its meticulous folds as crafted by Rachel with her iron. The central feature of Part 1 of this story-line, Rachel's handkerchief embroidered with lilac flowers, is also about to make its reappearance

'Goodness me, what's this?' queried Rachel, having immediately spotted the vibrant colour at the end of Julie's sleeve, 'it looks like silk.' Touching the soft material, Rachel was able to answer her own question, 'Wow, I adore those polka-dots; this is unusual for you, Julie, what's the story?'

'Well, it's kind of a long one,' Julie began in reply, simultaneously reaching into her bag, 'and it's all linked to this.' As she spoke, Julie produced a perfect isosceles triangle of white and placed it on the table: it was, she knew, despite being less spectacular than most of Rachel's handkerchiefs, her friend's favourite one. Face up were the much-loved prettily embroidered lilac flowers.

'My long-lost ally,' exclaimed Rachel, exaggerating only slightly, 'I knew it was in good hands with you, Julie, but it's certainly lovely to see it again in such a spotless state.'

'Hmm, well, it hasn't always been and, for a moment, there was a real threat that you wouldn't see it again; it's come through an adventure or two in the past couple of weeks. First of all, Fred decided to use it - he playfully pulled it out of my sleeve one day and blew his nose on it - so I told him off a bit because it wasn't one of mine even though, to be fair, I don't think he realised that. But the real issue was at work.'

Rachel was all ears, and had smiled at the mention of Fred accidentally using her handkerchief

'I think I've told you about the lunchtime sustainable fashion sessions a few of us have organised,' continued Julie, 'and for my presentation ten days ago, I thought I'd do something on handkerchiefs. I'd planned ahead and bought, on-line, a supply of simply embroidered ladies' and plain white men's handkerchiefs. I'd even laundered them all because, as you know, they're often not all that soft when brand new.'

Rachel continued to listen attentively

'We had a very interesting discussion about the pros and cons of how sustainable handkerchiefs are; I had to concede that, when it came down to energy use, then ironing couldn't seriously be justified. But I think most people agreed that handkerchiefs can often be machine washed on a general cycle, and much of the advertising campaign against them years ago was merely part of people being hoodwinked by the escalation of the throwaway culture. Of course, I’m still going to continue ironing mine; like you, I just love starting with them perfectly laundered too much to stop. Anyway, before inviting everyone to take a couple of the new handkerchiefs, I'd passed around the clean one I had up my sleeve for them to have a look at; I'm sure you won't be amazed to hear that some people claimed never to have seen one before! I've got to apologise again, Rachel, as it was this one of yours that I passed around,' confessed Julie, indicating by means of her finger and the triangle of silk alongside, the embroidered handkerchief which still lay on the table. 

'Everyone there took one or two of the new handkerchiefs, including the only guy involved who, interestingly, picked up a plain one and one with flowers. One woman began to use hers straightaway; I don't think I've ever seen a handkerchief that's about to be used being unfolded so carefully: after looking closely at the embroidered pink flowers, she then gently blew her nose once, quickly checked the consequences, then partly folded up the handkerchief again and put it away in her bag: she was definitely a convert!'

'Despite being passed between ten people, the light starching I'd given your handkerchief meant it was easy to fold up again tidily, which I did, and pushed it part-way into my sleeve. I then headed off for an afternoon meeting with senior management, where I was substituting for my boss. Sat next to me was one of the Directors; I expect it was as I was passing meeting papers to her that she noticed the poking-out handkerchief. Shortly afterwards, it became obvious that she had a problem with her nose: she began to sniff ever more wetly, although she was trying to do so quietly, and was resorting more and more to wiping her nose with the back of her hand. It was then that she discreetly passed me a note reading, 'Do you have a spare handkerchief?' Rather than rummage around in my bag, I simply pulled out the one she'd seen in my sleeve. It was only as I pushed it sideways across the desk, assuring her in a whisper that it was clean, that I remembered that it was yours; I'm so sorry, Rachel!'

‘Stop giving yourself a hard time over it, Julie,’ Rachel assured her, ‘so what happened next?’

‘Well, although it sounded as though her nose was completely full,’ continued Julie, ‘it seemed as though she didn’t want to blow it in front of everyone. She’d kept the handkerchief fully folded and, once she’d used it to wipe the back of her hand, was constantly pinching her nose with its plain white part, the flowers plainly visible between her fingers for all to see, every time she did this. It seemed to work to a degree, as she was able to stop sniffing, although she carried on using your handkerchief in that way, even as she addressed everyone throughout her PowerPoint Q&A; doubtlessly some of the fabric was quite wet by the end of it. Then we had a fifteen minute break, and I happened to follow her into the ladies loo’

‘As I entered, she’d already completely unfolded the handkerchief, and was holding it over her nose, obviously preparing to blow. I have to be honest, Rachel, even I wasn’t quite ready for what happened next: I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed anyone blow their nose as forcefully as she did. Strangely, at first, her powerful blasts didn’t have that much effect: the remaining starched folds, the now obvious damp patch, and the pretty bouquet of flowers, all merely fluttered in an agitated manner, not yet on the receiving end of the mess waiting in her nostrils, ready to strike. Then, concentrating on firstly one side of her nose then the other, and somehow escalating her blowing power even further, the blockages of thick-sounding snot lost their grip, vibrated loose, and shot out into the pure white cotton, immediately sullying it.’

‘Goodness’, interjected Rachel, ‘have you ever thought about becoming a storyteller, I’m seriously impressed by the detail here? And, okay, I’ll admit I’m enjoying hearing it; please keep going!'

‘She finished off with a few human-sized blows then, using a single finger to push the handkerchief up into them, checked each nostril was clear. At that point, the havoc inflicted on your poor handkerchief was all too obvious, with thick clumps of yellowy-green mucus now clinging to it, including one horrid smear across the garland of flowers. Appearing to notice me for the first time, and clearly disgusted by the mess she’d created, the Director asked me what she should do next: should she flush it down the toilet or throw it in the bin?! I was aghast but, thinking quickly, invented a story that the handkerchief was a cherished one that used to belong to my granny, and delved into my bag to produce three clean ones: two plain white men’s ones and a large vintage lace handkerchief of mine. I unfolded one of the men’s handkerchiefs and suggested your grossly dirtied one could be wrapped up inside; overcoming some slight reluctance she complied, scrunched it up into a tight ball, and dropped it into the awaiting freshly-laundered folds. I then dispatched the pair of them into my bag. With a slight smile and a murmured thank you, she accepted my offer of the second men’s handkerchief which, after a quick wipe of her nose, she pushed into a pocket of her suit, still folded; in my usual manner of leaving part of it showing, I tucked the immaculate lace handkerchief into my sleeve. Although she didn’t say anything further, I couldn’t help noticing that its ruffles of tatted lace, and huge blue appliqued flowers and butterflies, had caught her eye. I don’t mind saying that, at this point, I was a bit underwhelmed by the low level of gratitude she was showing, but resigned myself to the thought that management can be like that, much of the time.’

‘However, the next day things changed for the better when I discovered an envelope on my desk. Opening it, I found a thank you card inside with a very warm and sincere-sounding message signed by ‘Kate’; she explained that she’d found the whole episode embarrassing, and was really grateful for my help. She also thanked me for the men’s handkerchief - would I like it back, she was wondering, and could we meet up for a coffee, as she was now intrigued by the thought of properly seeing my lovely lace handkerchief? Also in the envelope was this,’ continued Julie, touching the silk triangle at her wrist. ‘I’m not sure it’s designed to be used as a handkerchief; it’s enormous, so would presumably be used by many people as a scarf. But I have to say, it’s so comfortable to use and, now that I’ve washed it, I think it’s even softer: by the way, Rachel, it’s perfectly clean at the moment, in case you were wondering!’

‘Well, there you go, it just goes to show that a handkerchief or two can often bring out the best in people,’ commented Rachel

The train, at this point, was pulling out from one of the intermediate stations; a new passenger sat down at Rachel and Julie’s table. Within moments, it was clear that she had an issue: a frantic search through her bag and pockets, and a check of both her sleeves ensued; actions accompanied by sniffing, with the woman several times squeezing her nose with a finger and thumb. With those digits now glistening wetly, Rachel noticed that the woman’s somewhat desperate gaze had fallen on the neat handkerchief in front of them. Without further hesitation, her kind-hearted nature kicked in and she pushed her handkerchief, its embroidery still facing upwards, towards the discomforted woman.

‘Would you like to use this, it’s clean, and you seem to be struggling? You’re really very welcome to’

Hesitating for only a moment, the woman gratefully grasped Rachel’s attractive handkerchief, ‘Oh thank you; are you sure? That’s really so kind, I’ve no idea why I’ve come out without anything. Your handkerchief’s so lovely, so I’ll try not to make it too messy.’

In clutching the handkerchief with her moist finger and thumb, the woman had already unwittingly begun to besmirch it. True to her word, though, she chose to unfold only a section of fabric and press it gently up into her nose. After moving the handkerchief slightly several times and pressing on each occasion, leaving a trail of small, damp circles, she then blew softly, but wetly, into the same area; the outward facing neat folds and posy of flowers scarcely twitched throughout.

After a final delicate dab, the woman offered the still partially-folded handkerchief back to Rachel. ‘I’m so appreciative, and feel terrible that I’ve made such a mess, but is it alright to give it back to you in this state; I’d obviously be happy to take it home and wash it, but I’m getting off at the next stop, and doubt I’ll see you again. Have you got another clean one for yourself?’

‘Honestly, it’s the least I could do,’ Rachel assured the woman, at the same time reaching into her pocket and flourishing the near-pristine, spectacular, huge lace handkerchief that had been nestling there since her earlier single use of it. ‘I’ll be able to manage with this until I get home.’

‘I’m almost lost for words,’ exclaimed the woman, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen a handkerchief as gorgeous as that; I thought the one I’ve just used was almost too demure to blow my nose into: your lace one is just incredible! Oh, look, my stop’s coming up; I’ll have to go and, once again, thank you so much!’ With that, she stood up and made her way to the exit; Rachel considered her options momentarily, and then pushed each of the handkerchiefs deep into different pockets of her jacket

‘Well, that handkerchief of yours is certainly having a few adventures of late,’ said Julie, reflecting, ‘for me, the main thing is that I saved it from being flushed down a toilet: that would have been a heart-breaking ending, and I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself if it had happened. Anyway, now you know how I’ve acquired this silk one.’

With not much more of their journey remaining, for the first time one of them, Julie, felt a sneeze coming on. In a relatively leisurely manner, she pulled out her silk handkerchief, shook out its precisely-laundered folds, so increasing its size sixteen-fold and revealing its enormousness, and raised it to her nose. A large, wet, sneeze was forthcoming: the luxurious soft fabric shimmied as it received the spray of Julie’s snot; she blew her nose vigorously and could see, over the handkerchief, Rachel looking on at the swaying expanses of silk. It seemed as though the design of large black polka-dots on pink, surrounding another area of smaller black polka-dots on white, had captured her attention. Julie finished in her customary fashion by massaging the insides of her nostrils, and prepared to thrust the handkerchief back into her sleeve.

‘If you don’t mind, and I can feel that my nose does need a blow, would it be okay to try it out please, Julie?’

‘Of course you can, silly,’ affirmed Julie, handing across her handkerchief

With it now in place at her nose, and a huge expanse of predominantly still meticulously-laundered silk hanging down, Rachel blew. Somewhat surprised at the amount of snot in her nose she, of course, followed her preferred pattern of blowing: a loud ‘almost honk’, followed by three quieter blows, repeated several times over. Her performance, as ever, was concluded with flamboyant sweeping wipes of the whole handkerchief across the bottom of her nose. Unluckily, during this stage, she ran into a section already wet with Julie’s snot, but there were still extensive dry areas that neither of them had used, so she was able to finish cleaning her nose to her complete satisfaction

‘One of us needs to put this in the wash when we get home,’ stated Rachel, looking at the now reasonably crumpled and messy state of Julie’s silk handkerchief, ‘would you like me to do that?’

‘No, I will,’ replied Julie, taking back her handkerchief and tucking it once more into her sleeve leaving, of course, a small part of it showing at her wrist. ‘Anyway, in case it has to, I think it can still cope with one more blow from me; yes, I know I’m slightly less fastidious than you are about what constitutes a clean handkerchief,’ she sighed. ‘While I remember though, and before we arrive back, I need to talk to you about aprons: I’ve ordered some ruffled 1950s-style ones of my own, and I still have that extravagantly frilly white one of yours that I’ve been wearing and laundering constantly; I’m not sure if I should tell you how interested Fred is in it!’

‘I think you know you should,’ came back Rachel, with a huge grin on her face

Thank you, viewers, for your help in continuing to develop this story
Acknowledgement: the silk handkerchief described in here in Part 5 is based on the one used by Verity Simone in her video

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That's a great addition - I too was impressed by Julie's storytelling! Loved the descripton of Kate ramping down her efforts to just a "human-sized blow" when she was done - sounds a bit like me!

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Part 6: Rachel offers advice ahead of Julie's meeting with Kate

A couple of weeks after receiving Kate’s ‘Thank you’ card, with the enclosed silk handkerchief, an email from her appeared in Julie’s inbox: ‘Follow up to your sustainable fashion presentation’. Despite the email's formal title, the content was written in a friendly tone, and asked whether Julie would be able to drop in at Kate's office for coffee at 11 o'clock, either Tuesday or Wednesday, the following week. Kate's email also made it clear that it would be a very informal chat, and that she'd also appreciate some personal advice from Julie, 'Please bring your lace handkerchief, if available', was also included. Julie assumed that Kate would mean the one she'd seen Julie tuck into her own sleeve towards the end of their recent episode. Kate couldn't know, Julie thought, that she had quite a collection of them; she accepted the invitation for Tuesday, as that better suited the rest of her appointments that day

Over the weekend, Julie and Rachel were able to catch up for an hour's stroll along the prom; planning further ahead, they agreed to return to the vintage market the following weekend when they had more time. It was a pleasant, sunny day, albeit with a moderate breeze blowing. Naturally, Rachel had left her washing line full of fluttering white laundry; approximately half the line taken up by masses of animated handkerchiefs and two floaty frilly aprons. As they walked, Julie described the success of her lunchtime sustainable fashion session, then raised the prospect of her meeting with Kate

'Be careful about letting her get too pally', warned Rachel, 'remember that she’s in a very senior position in your organisation, and whenever so-called friendships formed on that kind of basis go wrong, it’s the junior person who always comes off worst. But, by all means, if she simply wants guidance on handkerchiefs, then go for it. By the sound of things, she probably needs some personal handkerchief-related advice on sneezing and nose-blowing.'

Now seated on a bench facing each other, the breeze at Rachel’s back, she sensed an oncoming sneeze, dug into her coat pocket, pulled out a handkerchief and raised it. Assessing that the crumpled, used, area of Rachel’s handkerchief equalled that still retaining a semblance of its former precise and geometric folds, Julie surmised it would be the handkerchief’s final flourish before finding itself in Rachel’s laundry basket. With the breeze catching hold of the fabric, causing it to billow out towards her, Julie’s eye was taken both by the exquisite appliqued pink flowers that filled a whole corner and, unusually for a handkerchief of Rachel’s, a sizeable patch of coloured, thick snot congealed over some of the flowers 

‘Excuse me!’, exclaimed Rachel as she sneezed; any disturbance to the handkerchief’s fabric, caused by her muffled spray, lost in the larger flutters resulting from the breeze. Holding on tightly, she then proceeded to blow in her tried and tested style, so further diminishing the portion of the handkerchief she’d normally class as clean. Then quickly glancing at the fabric, having finished wiping her nose, Rachel expressed self-irritation

‘That’s got into a revolting state, I’m ashamed of myself; sorry, Julie, you’ll be thinking I’m becoming some kind of degenerate who goes around with horribly dirtied handkerchiefs all the time!’

‘Hardly’, countered Julie, ‘you do have exceptionally high standards that you impose on yourself, you know.’ She thought about adding, ‘normally’, but, diplomatically, restrained herself. Rachel proceeded to swap handkerchiefs, relegating the dirty one to a corner of her bag, and promoting a clean and sumptuously lacy one from there to her coat pocket: she now felt marginally better about herself. Continuing to cheer up, she related to Julie news of what she felt was a pivotal moment in boyfriend James' nascent career in handkerchief usage

'The other day', she went on to tell, 'I sent him off to work equipped with a clean handkerchief of mine, my favourite: the one with lilac flowers, that everyone seems to be using at the moment. When I met him again after work, and asked to see it, it was clearly heavily used, so I'm feeling quite proud of him. He admitted, when blowing his nose in front of colleagues, to hiding the pretty embroidery, but it still feels like a huge step forwards

'He'll soon be in Fred's league', replied Julie, thinking out loud, 'by the way, how many people do you think have used that handkerchief of yours, it must have coped with gallons of snot over the years, but that lovely bouquet of flowers continues to battle on bravely.'

Grimacing slightly at the thought of 'gallons of snot', Rachel conceded that, including work colleagues who'd needed helping out, it might have been more than a dozen people. 'And I don't recall too many of them being delicate dabbers, either', she concluded

Tuesday came: Julie, a clean handkerchief, one with its beautifully appliqued beige-coloured roses peeking from her sleeve, was shown into Kate's office by her PA, who asked them their preferences coffee-wise. Immediately, Julie noticed the embellishment of Kate's business suit breast pocket: carefully-arranged pink and white silk, decorated with differently-sized black polka-dots. 'Oops', she reflected, 'perhaps I wasn't supposed to use the identical silk square Kate gave me, to blow my nose on', but ensured that her expression gave nothing away

'Thank you so much for dropping by,' beamed Kate, 'and thank you once more for all your kindness in helping me out recently; I'd really got myself into a bit of a fix there. I also have to apologise for probably appearing so thoughtless about that heirloom handkerchief of your grandmother's: whatever must you have thought about the way I treated it?'

Julie, taking the plunge, having decided that honesty might be the best course of action, explained both why she'd invented the fiction about her 'granny's' handkerchief and, thanking her for it, how she'd been using the silk gift that Kate had given her. To Julie's relief, Kate took both of these in good heart, and commented that each instance showed initiative on Julie's behalf. The conversation then moved on to Julie's presentation at the recent sustainable fashion session that, apparently, colleagues of Kate's had told her about

'I must admit', shared Kate, 'hearing about the ideas that came out of that session, in addition to you helping me out that same afternoon, got me thinking.' 

Julie, realising that Kate had noticed the modestly, but prettily, embellished handkerchief showing at her wrist, went on to assure her that she had also brought some more spectacular lace ones with her, as Kate had requested. She delved into her bag to retrieve them

As Julie delved, she sensed Kate suddenly tensing, then scrabbling in a side pocket of her suit, whilst taking on every appearance of an impending sneeze. Almost as quickly, as the threatened sneeze subsided, Kate's body relaxed but, to Julie's utter amazement there, trembling in Kate's right hand, had appeared a pale ivory triangle of frothy fabric

'All in all', continued Kate, her body now quite untensed, 'it made me remember that I'd inherited a box full of antique handkerchiefs from my grandmother: a real one. Sorry, I shouldn't have said that, but it seemed funny, under the circumstances. I'd done nothing with them although one of my aunts, who knows a little more than I do about such things, recently gave them something of a refresh. What I really need, though, is someone like you to give me more advice on how to care for them.'

'Gosh', responded Julie, I'm not sure I'm that person, I've only picked up a bit of experience from my friend Rachel, who's a real expert on vintage linens'

Kate, listening attentively, and for whom the likelihood of a sneeze now felt remote, nevertheless began to show irritation with her nose, scratching it with the index finger of her hand that held her frothy lace handkerchief. Then, using both hands, but struggling at first due to her aunt's starch sticking together layers of sumptuous lace, Kate finally unfolded the delicate fabric completely. A double border of beautiful lace, plus a huge embroidered 'K' initial, displayed as the handkerchief's main features; additionally, though, were a number of small, neat, historical repairs to its fine lawn material.

'By chance', explained Kate, 'my grandmother was also called Katherine, so all her monogrammed handkerchiefs suit me perfectly.'

A look of mild irritation again crossed Kate's face; she twitched her nose and sniffed thickly, indicating to Julie a presence of coagulating snot, and lifted her handkerchief to touch one nostril. After pausing momentarily, she pushed the translucent material inside, then began cautiously, but repetitively, to pick one side of her nose, causing oscillations of the swathes of lace and the gorgeous 'K'. Pulling her handkerchief away, Kate examined it: as even Julie could see from a distance, Kate had had some success, with a piece of hardening snot laying centrally within a larger area of wet fabric

'I do apologise', said Kate, 'I know that's quite a disgusting way to clean my nose, but I'm worried that if I blow it, and you know how forcefully I do that, this antique fabric won't stand the strain'

Sensing that the moment for her to offer advice had arrived, Julie reached for the more delicate of her own two lace handkerchiefs, placed on Kate's desk a moment before. 'I believe it's quite possible to use heirloom handkerchiefs in a practical and more elegant manner', she confided, 'but I'll concede there are techniques worth bearing in mind; would you like me to show you?'

'I would really appreciate that', replied Kate, 'but, please, don't spoil that lovely handkerchief of yours on my account, if you feel comfortable doing so, let's continue with this one.' She gesticulated, waving her lacy accessory for added effect

Julie readily assented, and asked if she might use Kate's handkerchief in order to demonstrate blowing her own nose; with a smile, Kate handed it over. Knowing that her own nose, although nowhere near dripping, was suitably moist, Julie ran the fine fabric through her hands, looking for an area to use. Wanting to avoid both the lavish 'K' and the smear of Kate's crystallising snot, she still had plenty of choice. Raising Kate's handkerchief to her nose, she blew moderately, firmly and wetly, then finished off by gently massaging inside both nostrils. Examining the results, she was satisfied that a substantial amount of additional glistening snot now lay in the dissolving folds of Kate's handkerchief.

'I realise it might be distasteful, but would you like to see how effective even such a relatively gentle blow can be?' she asked Kate

'Yes, please, that's really what I've no experience of; anyway, you've already put up with the sight of plenty of my snot.'

Once Kate had seen, in her own handkerchief, the evidence of Julie’s snot, Julie suggested she try a blow of equal magnitude. This Kate did, with an apparently successful outcome: her blows caused a steady flow of snot to enter the fabric and, without any increase in force, she was delighted to feel more of the thick blockage in her right nostril become dislodged and land in the handkerchief. Copying Julie, she then massaged to finish.

'Goodness, that's really helped', exclaimed Kate, delighted, 'but I do feel there's still more mess to get out, and I might need to blow a little harder, what should I do?'

Julie, in anticipation of this question, had pulled out the clean handkerchief from her sleeve, and deftly shaken it open, fully revealing its lovely appliqued beige petals

'Well, this one's a little more robust, and definitely able to cope with harder blows, would you like to try it?’

Kate readily concurred, took the proffered handkerchief, raised it to her nose, and blew. By her standards, not too firmly, but probably still more forcefully than anything Julie, or anyone else, had ever subjected the handkerchief to. Kate immediately felt, and Julie clearly heard, the remaining plug of semi-solid snot fly out into the hitherto immaculate fabric

‘That’s done the trick’, Kate exclaimed, almost joyfully, again massaging her nostrils to finish; Julie began to feel that lessons were being learned, as Kate laid both used handkerchiefs on her desk: one thoroughly messy, the other, with many of Julie’s original folds still visible, considerably less so. ‘Oh dear’, mourned Kate, ‘that’s really dirtied two more lovely handkerchiefs; the next thing I’m going to have to learn about is how to wash them, especially the really delicate ones.’

‘I’ll send you a video link on how to wash vintage handkerchiefs’, suggested Julie, ‘I’m sure that will show you the basics; meanwhile, I’m happy to deal with these two if that’s okay. Of course, I’ll make sure to return your grandmother’s one.’ Kate accepted, so Julie placed Kate’s seriously soiled handkerchief into her own bag, and pushed the one only moderately dirtied by Kate back into her sleeve; its flowers again showing.

‘Well, that’s been quite a personal learning experience’, Kate readily shared, ‘thank you so much. Of course, more directly related to work, I’ll make sure that your sustainable fashion presentation gets widely circulated to the whole staff group, if you can provide my PA with notes. But only if you’d like that to happen, of course; I’ll explain to your line manager that I’ve asked you to do that in work time.’

Now herself firmly following Rachel’s style of promoting greater handkerchief use, Julie readily agreed. On a totally professional basis, Rachel’s cautionary advice still very much in Julie’s mind, Rachel assented to Kate’s offer of a further work meeting. But only if any outstanding issues could not be resolved via email

Later that day, Julie sent Kate links describing how to: 

wash vintage handkerchiefs and

how to iron them [both with thanks to Hankie Pankie]


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A lovely addition to the story - loved hearing about Kate being taught how to temper her blowing to suit the handkerchief. I know how she feels, I think I'd have to very conciously hold back with a handkerchief like those, it would seem very incongruous to blast a huge foghorn of a blow into a tiny, pretty piece of fabric!

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