Sunday 7 June 2009

Teatowel Interlude

Tea towels! There are usually a couple hanging off the oven door in our kitchen. When I was young the idea of tea towels for a present seemed so awfully boring. How I have changed! These days the only thing that stops me suggesting tea towels as a present is a cupboard full of them.

I started revising my views on tea towels when I shared house with an English guy whose parents would send him wonderful tourist tea towels from home. As I travelled I bought a few tea towels but my appreciation for a good tea towel was well and truly nurtured by my mother-in-law. She collects tea towels and has many but she uses them all (unlike my dad whom I once gave some tea towels - he hung them in his study on the wall).

She even once had a Beatles tea towel but used it until it fell apart. Imagine what it might be worth today but also what pleasure it gave my mother-in-law to use it. Luckily for me my tea towels are better preserved because I like to air dry dishes rather than using a tea towel (because I think it is more hygienic as well as less work).

Soon after I met E I went travelling in Spain and she asked me to buy her a tea towel there. Unlike some countries where tea towels pile high in the souvenir shops, there were no touristy tea towels to be found in Spain. Maybe they are into air drying in Spain too. Unlike the UK where every town seems to sell tea towels.

I now love my tea towels. While I don’t copy my mum in using tea towels to dry dishes, I have learnt from her to use them to line a wire cooling rack when I turn a cake out of the tin and to wrap scones in. Readers of my blog will have seen my tea towels appear in this way to cheer up photos quite often.

Last year I mentioned a dog collar museum tea towel I own but I couldn’t find it to post a photo. I came across it recently when sorting some old clothes. It seemed like a bit of fun to share a few of my favourite tea towels and the stories behind them.

Dog collar museum: This is from a quirky museum I came across at Leeds Castle in the UK. Hurrah for ephemera collections!

Winchelsea: I had a day trip to this little south east coast town with my sister Fran when I stayed with her in London many years ago. We wondered into the unattended church and played some of our childhood tunes on the grand piano there.

Belle and Sebastian: I went to lots of gigs with E when we lived in Edinburgh and this was one of my favourites. We saw Belle and Sebastian at Usher Hall and this was an unusual band souvenir which fitted their a kitchen sink songs. Incidentally, we have recently been watching the DVD of the 1960s French Belle and Sebastian series that the band was named after.

Tower of London: This was on my sightseeing list on my first visit to London as a naïve tourist. One of the ‘beefeaters’ surprised me by addressing me by name – until he pointed out I had written my name on my backpack!

New Zealand Maori tea towel: I visited a friend Julie in Christchurch a few years back when I needed pepping up. She was working and it was pleasurable to spend time wandering around shops, museums and gardens by myself. I found this tea towel with the Maori symbol, which appealed to me with its hopeful greenness.

Elgin: I visited a friend who had a student placement in this North East Scottish town. We went for a memorable drive along the coast in snow that was so thick at times we could hardly see.

Cake stall: I was pleased to find this tea towel because this was a poster in the house of my best friend at primary school and I always loved its sentiments.

Hadrian’s wall: We bought this on our most recent trip to the UK in 2006 when we visited Chris and Yavanna who were living in Durham and drove us out to see the Roman ruins at Homesteads Fort on Hadrian’s Wall. It was so misty we couldn’t see anything on the other side of the wall but it was very atmospheric.

Salamanca Place: When we were in Hobart last year, we bought this gorgeous tea towel at one of the art galleries. I have a soft spot for architectural drawing and green so this particularly appealed.

Celtic blessing: This is one of the many tea towels we have been sent by my mother-in-law from Scotland. I love this blessing and am sending it back to her in this post with love from Sylvia and all her toys. She hasn’t been well lately and is far from her son and little granddaughter.

So you see, these tea towels have stories and using them reminds me of places and people. Amazing how these prosaic household items can take on so much meaning.

See Teatowels of Scotland for more teatowels.


  1. Great post Johanna!

    One of my favourite Elizabeth Honey poems:
    So much fuss about drying dishes.
    Why does anybody care?
    All these things will dry themselves,
    Standing in the air.

    I'm glad you got a laugh about 'gourmet'.. it wasn't meant as a stab at your name! Sorry about that!! Funny words, aren't they?

  2. I absolutely love this post Johanna! I have some tea towels, but not a "collection" like yourself. How fun! I try to buy a plate as a souvenir when I travel, just picked up one from Fauchon in Paris. But doesn't a tea towel make more sense from a packing standpoint? Great idea.

    I'm lovin' the dog collar towel!
    Please stop by Taste With The Eyes later tonight for the MLLA 11th Edition Round-up, and thank you so much for participating!
    Lori Lynn

  3. My favourite 1 is the cake stall towel. Hope your Mother in law is better soon, but I think you should Sylvia keep at least 1 toy!

  4. I love them, too - though mine are Very Plain compared with your beauties!!

    Yes the airforce cake stall is my fave, but I have soft spots for the dog collar museum and Tower of London, too.

    I ADORE the new banner. It says so much about GGG. Hope Sylvia is sleeping well and delighting you both. XX

  5. Such a wonderful post!! I adore tea towels, and collect them too - thank you so much for sharing the stories of your beautiful collection with us!

    Your new banner is absolutely gorgeous!! Bravo and three cheers! :-)

  6. So true! I thought tea towels were such boring gifts until a few years ago. Now I can't get enough of them (or aprons too, LOVE aprons). Your tea towel collection is very impressive!

  7. thanks Cathy - great poem - and I enjoyed a laugh with you about gourmet (although I cringe a bit when I look at my stats and see people being directed to my pages when searching for gourmet food)

    Thanks Lori Lynn - tea towels are great to squeeze in a corner of the suitcase - I have had ceramics broken in transit so am less brave about buying plates but love the few I have from my travels

    Thanks Flower - Sylvia loves the toys - and your good wishes for my mother in law will be appreciated

    Thanks Lucy - sylvia has decided this afternoon she will only sleep when held but she is still enjoying her sleep-ins

    Thanks Astra - would love to see your collection!

    Thanks Lorraine - I don't have many aprons because I forget to wear them a lot of the time - but the way I cook, I should remember

  8. Wow - I've missed so many great posts! I'll be gleefully catching up over the next few days! I love the tea towels though (especially the sentiment on the cake sale one!). The best one I've seen is a big cartoon of a cricket match with all the fielding positions marked. I wish we had one ourselves every time I go to a match as my knowledge of the rules is woeful :)

  9. I love your tea towels!! I think you may have just ignited a tea towel lover in me. =) I've always admired nice tea towels but they can be expensive (or well more than I want to spend).

  10. I have a t-shirt of the cake stall tea towel, and I love the sentiment too! Nice new banner too, I love the Turkish/Moroccan tea glasses.

  11. I love tea towels! I have a bit of a tea towel addiction. Mine aren't memories of places so much as covered in kitties and cows :D I don't use them to dry dishes either but we always have at least 3 on the bench. They get used for drying hands and wiping up little messes. I'm kind of obsessive about washing them so they're lucky if they last out the day before heading for the wash basket.

    I love your collection! So many great tea towels!

  12. Johanna ... such beauty of heart this collection is. I wish your mother-in-law many blessings and feel better soon.
    Thank you so much for sharing these.
    Love the new look too.

  13. Thanks Lysy - I love that fun education on some tea towels - we have ones with scottish sayings and recipes on them

    Thanks Ashley - they are great to use in photos when blogging as well as having sentimental value - hope you buy just a few more (or ask for them for presents)

    Thanks Arwen - you are lucky to have a t-shirt with the cake stall message - a great one to wear on your chest :-) and I love those glasses too - a present that I treasure

    Thanks Vegetation - funny you mention the kittens tea towels - we have a couple of these and one is on the post I just put up on apricot and cranberry cake - I don't think we use ours quite as much as you but they do get used

    Thanks Tanna - my mother-in-law will appreciate your kind thoughts - glad you enjoyed the tea towels and the new look

  14. Hello Johanna.

    What an amazing post! I especially love the dog collar one - it's brilliant! I own a designer tea towel website that you might be interested in - - they're not old school towels like the ones you collect, but there are lots of fun ones to choose from!

    Keep up the wonderful work xxx Sally xxx

  15. Thanks Sally - your tea towels are great - might be tempted to purchase a few (despite no room for more)

  16. Aw, these are beautiful! I love the one with the houses. And I heart traditions like that (collecting tea towels), I think they're very important. :)


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