Tea towels perplex me. Troving through Etsy and Ebay reveals hundreds of printed and embroidered linen towels, often too pretty to consider using. And judging by my childhood experience, they don't even dry dishes that well. How did they come to be?
Wikipedia tells me that back in the day, tea towels were used specifically by the lady of the house to clean her most precious china. She wouldn't dare trust servants with the job, but would dry them herself, traditionally using linen as it was less likely to scratch the delicate dishes. The fabric was also a good backdrop for embroidery and other embellishments.
Somewhere along the way, tea towels became mass-produced, and then hardier cloths took their functional place. Now they're used mainly for decoration or souvenir purposes.
Whatever the reason they became so decorated and printed-upon, I'm glad. They always seem to catch my eye, especially the expertly-collected mid-century modern tea towels found in the Etsy shop NeatoKeen!
The following towels have already sold at NeatoKeen, but are still pretty to look at.
And finally, just a few vintage tea towels from other Etsy sellers.
Which ones are your favorites? It would be so hard for me to choose, as these all suit my aesthetic just fine. But I think the cheese plate one makes me giggle the most.
Anyhoo, be sure to check out NeatoKeen because they have so many other vintage treasures besides towels (handkerchiefs, tableclothes, illustrations) with colorful mid-century designs.