Tea Towel Tales

I allow myself some little materialistic fetishes and my collection of tea towels is one (others being bathroom towels, cushions and mugs). I won't lie, I feel quite attached to these rectangular pieces of cotton. Some were rash purchases, some gifts (I love a practical gift) and the more ragged ones are now almost family artefacts. 

Let me guide you through my stash.

My oldest surviving tea towel was a wedding present from Nanny Ivy which means it's clocked up almost 23 years of service. I think it came with a wooden tray which we still use. Nanny Ivy's stitching of our names is still as intact as our marriage, albeit a little frayed around the edges. Sadly, Nanny Ivy is no longer with us - she lived to almost 90 years.

Other tea towels in the stash were bought as mementos and also to help with fundraising when our children were at nursery. Memories of tiny squidgy messy hands and precocious self-portraits (gifted and talented, surely) still melt my heart. 

Some tea towels reveal my all too frequent weakness for purchasing 'something' at a gift shop. Our first visit to the Eden Project in Cornwall is an example. It was our first family holiday of many to Far West Cornwall and we stayed in the lovely village of Mousehole. All the memories of that summer holiday are woven into this tea towel - fauna, fun, fatigue.

More recent tea towel purchases have been made at another favourite haunt, Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Last time we were there the only thing we purchased was a wonderful meal of chips and gravy from the cafe but previous visits resulted in buying a Miro cotton tea towel and this whimsical one from artist Rob Ryan.

My tea towels are a mismatched array with no particular colour theme or style. A few classic stripes, some utilitarian grey and a nod to shabby chic thrown in for good measure. My single Cath Kidston and solitary Emma Bridgewater are fading beautifully with time. They somehow look better aged than all pristine and they wear their stains and scuffs with pride.

It's been several years now since I last bought some new tea towels so when I was contacted by All Tea Towels to review 2 of their products I was excited to see what they had to offer. I must say I was tempted by their William Morris and retro designs but after deliberation I chose a simple 't' design and this 'If You Can't Stand The Heat' design from their extensive range. I'm delighted with the design and quality of these organic unbleached cotton tea towels. They were dispatched quickly along with a friendly note reassuring me of their free returns policy. Thank you.

I think my attachment to tea towels is partly tied up with the simple pleasure of washing up and drying by hand. I say pleasure not chore because, in my opinion, there is sensory pleasure to be found in bubbles and soft cotton towels and also satisfaction in getting a job done. Dishwashers are great but they do break down and if left to my desultory teenagers to stack and empty more work can result. With washing and drying by hand you live in the moment, get stuck into the work meanwhile indulging in the flow of the task, deep thought or, if you are lucky enough to have a washing up partner, then a little conversation over the suds. 

Of course I've had a little declutter recycling a few very stained tea towels to make room for my 2 new ones. Currently I store them hidden away in a drawer ironed into thirds and then folded in half ready to hang over the oven door. They get quite a lot of attention my tea towels. Tell me, do you have any tea towel tales? I'd love to hear.



  1. I have some that my Grandma stitched for me and I love them. Some are torn and quite ratty, but I still use them. And when I do I'm reminded of my Grandma (who is 99 years old and lives thousands of miles away).

  2. Ooh Jill, lovely - mine is nearly 99 and 1000 miles away, too!

    Claire - I smiled: I treated myself to a William Morris teatowel amd a couple of Bridgewater ones I like using a few years ago... Another was woven by my daughter when she was 12 and is good solid fabric (she's 31 now and a mum of 3!), that was a school project in our old village. Then there's Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy - a free gift in a magazine but going strong! An old cartoon teatowel was my mum's and still makes me smile, and a very ragged 60s bulldog/ union flag one had us in stitches when our youngest daughter played peekaboo with it when she was a toddler and gave herself a bulldog face...(she's 19 now!).
    As a young child we had a teatowel fixed to the back of the loo door which featured a record stunt from the 19th century of sheep-to-coat with all the processes done in so many hours (shearing, spinning, weaving, cutting sewing etc.) which I think was from Warwickshire somewhere and I can still picture it even though I've forgotten the details!

  3. PS Google knows all - it was the Newbury Coat in Berkshire, for Sir John Throckmorton (what a great name - I remember that!)

  4. My usual souvenir from holidays, they're easy to pack, colourful, useful and each one reminds me of where it came from. There's really too many of them, a drawer full and some never been used.

  5. Oh, this is my usual souvenir from holidays too! They help me to remember the beautiful places I visited.

  6. This post put a smile on my face too.....how does the humble teatowel do that?! Me too, a drawer full of old faithfuls; war weary, faded and loved.

  7. Hey Claire,
    Nothing gives me greater pleasure than a stack of ironed tea towels. I often give them as gifts. Along with a mug or two. Loved this post.
    Leanne xx

  8. I love tea towels as well. Have been buying them as travel souvenirs lately, too, and I love every one. I especially like how they get better with age!

  9. I also love tea towels. Every time we visit a different National Trust shop I have to buy one!! I picked up an Emma Bridgwater one in TK Max last year...for about £2.50!! Never used it yet as just like to look at it! We also have some from the children's infant school as like your boys they also did hand print/self portrait ones too. Never used these either as they're with some keepsakes in a box. To be honest I have some pretty tea towels which stay at the bottom of the pile and the ones I always use from the tope of the pile are very scruffy and tattered and really ought to be chucked as I hide them on the washing line when hanging out as they are sooo bad!!! (Mrs L H)

  10. I love linen tea towels and the way they get softer as they get older. My favourite at the moment is from the Lost Gardens of Heligan where they have an artist in residence who designed the tea towel. It's beautiful, as are the Gardens!

  11. Hi there.Yes,have always loved Tea Towels,nothing in particular as a collection but love animals,birds,Anything Cornish etc.Have some brought back from Australia and New Zealand by friends so that's nice.Like your blog.x


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