The Minho region, in the north of Portugal, is known for the quality of its embroidery, so it is not surprising that it was the place where the tradition of the Valentine’s Handkerchief began.
It is said that in the past, Minho girls of marriageable age used to embroider their trousseau, but between one piece and the other, they secretly embroidered a small square, usually with love verses and some drawings.
This Handkerchief was kept with her until she had the opportunity to get him to the boy she loved. This usually happened at Sunday Masses, when she “absentmindedly” dropped him next to the boy. After embroidery, the scarf was given to the boyfriend and the fact that he used it publicly or not, that the courtship was decided. If he accepted, he would put the scarf over his Sunday coat, put it around his neck with the knot facing forward, wear it on the brim of his hat.
Otherwise, the scarf would return to the girl’s hands. If by chance, he accepted, but later changed his partner, he brought the scarf, and other objects that belonged to him, such as photographs, letters, to his former intended.
The scarves represent the girl’s feeling towards the boy, in which she writes small verses of love, or symbols.
The peak of this practice was between 1850 and 1950, especially in the cities of Viana do Castelo, Guimarães, Vila Verde, Telões and Aboim da Nóbrega. The writing was marked by spelling errors, since, for the most part, the girls who embroidered them were from humble families and with few studies.
Today the valentine’s scarf has become a funny souvenir and some older ones, when not family heirlooms, are on display in museums.
Basically the Valentine’s Handkerchief is a handkerchief made from a fine linen cloth or cotton scarf, embroidered with various motifs.
We often notice spelling errors in these handkerchiefs, which denounce the lack of education at the time.
Being embroidered with a cross stitch, these handkerchiefs were very laborious and time consuming, forcing the “embroiderer” to be very patient and careful in making them. Over time, other types of stitches that were easier and faster to embroider have been adopted. With this change the initial decoration of the scarves changes, the original colours of black and red, will give rise to a series of other colours and other decorative motifs. However, the main objective is never lost.
It is believed that it was from these handkerchiefs that the much larger Wedding Handkerchiefs appeared later on, that the bride wore on her head, or that wrapped the bouquet, as well as the pouches worn at the waist embroidered with beads and velvet ribbons.
Fortunately, this heritage has not been forgotten and, today, it remains one of the symbols of Portuguese culture and tradition.