While trying to tidy up my tea cupboard and find more space for all the new teas I’ve added over the holidays, I came across several tea theme towels. Since I have what now seems to be a “collection” of tea theme kitchen towels, I decided to learn more about tea towels (dish towels as many of us in the US call them).
In the early 19th century Victorian ladies used fine linen towels to dry their precious china, glassware and other tableware. This linen fabric didn’t scratch or leave lint on the pieces. These ladies also personalized their towels with fine embroidery and used them at tea time to cover trays of food or as a cozy to insulate the teapot.
These days most of our tea towels are made of cotton or cotton blends and are easy care. That suits me, since I don’t have the time to hand wash and air dry fragile, hand embellished linens.
One fascinating fact I learned was that the impoverished Vincent Van Gogh actually painted on tea towels out of necessity when he had no canvas available. One (still life with flowers) sold for over 2 million pounds at auction in 2000 and a couple of others are in private collections.
In the 1900s in America, housewives used rough animal feed sacks for dish towels. These were also hand embroidered, but whether or not they made it to the tea table I don’t know.
So, I guess I’ll continue to check out the tea towels at places like Marshalls, Ross and TJ Maxx just in case there might be a new tea theme towel to add to my collection.