Marsha Greenberg celebrating her birthday
Marsha Greenberg celebrating her August birthday social-distancing style

The creator of Hankie Couture revamps vintage items such as handkerchiefs, tea towels, tablecloths, napkins and doilies into one-of-a-kind doll clothing.

It might look like an old hanky to some, but to Marsha Greenberg of Oak Park, it’s a doll outfit waiting to happen.

Greenberg, 66, is the creator of Hankie Couture, which revamps vintage items such as handkerchiefs, tea towels, tablecloths, napkins and doilies into one-of-a-kind doll clothing.

At age 10, Greenberg was already creating amateur designs out of newspapers for her dolls. By 11, she’d mastered knitting, crocheting, embroidering, cross stitching and needlepoint, to name just a few.

She married her husband, Brian, in 1972 and together they started Marsha Inc., a company that designed and manufactured women’s clothing. After selling the business in 1986, Greenberg began designing custom-made dresses for private clients, even some for the Academy Awards. (“No one famous, though,” she said.)

Life would have continued along that projected path if not for their fateful trip to Pennsylvania in 2002. In a corner of an antique shop, Greenberg noticed a display of vintage handkerchiefs.

“I heard the music of a hundred-piece orchestra in my head,” is how Greenberg later described that moment in the first of her three books on the subject. “Here were my … vintage treasures! Flowers mated expertly with scallop borders! Romantic roses lit up by enchanting vines! Such a happy combination of elegance and elan! And so small!”

Greenberg purchased more than 100 and realized they would make the most amazing doll dresses. Most exciting of all was the fact that no two were alike. “Where can you go anywhere these days and find only one of something?” she said.

With each hankie, Greenberg considers its size, border, colors, design and decides what would best suit: a bodice with long or short sleeves, with possibly even a matching hat or purse.

Equally as important to Greenberg is that kids enjoy them. “I’ve seen the way doll clothes are made today, and it’s appalling — cheap polyester fabrics, Velcro that’s barely stitched on,” Greenberg said. “How can anyone have fun playing with something so poorly made?”

Children are not the only ones who benefit from Greenberg’s creations. Over the years, she’s received many letters from around the world, from people who couldn’t bear to throw out their deceased mother’s or sister’s handkerchiefs.

On the other hand, what exactly were they supposed to do with them? Greenberg to the rescue! She revamps the handkerchief into a unique doll outfit, which the family can display proudly on a doll.

“I think it’s because my dresses strike a chord in people’s hearts. They evoke a fond memory. People feel and see the love that I have put into my dresses,” Greenberg said.

To date, Greenberg has created more than 6,500 doll outfits, which she sells on eBay (price ranges from $15-$300, depending on custom detail) and has the rest on display in her basement. Still, she knows there are plenty more vintage items out there just waiting to be discovered, and she’s prepared: she never goes anywhere without her tape measure.

For more information or to purchase doll clothes or Hankie Couture books (which include patterns), email marsha@hankiecouture.com.

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