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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Tea Towel

When tea was first introduced to Britain it was served in bowls, following the custom of the Chinese. Later, elaborate tea services were being used and, as the servants were heavy-handed, the mistress herself would take charge of supervising the washing of the china after entertaining. In some cases she would do it herself. A bowl of water would be brought to her in the parlor or the morning room, along with a small drying cloth. To begin with, it was a special piece of linen which was often woven by a local spinster, but hand-hemmed by the housemaids as they sat around in their quarters after their main duties were over. The beautiful Wedgwood and Coalport china warranted this special treatment; it was a prized possession in those early days.

Mass-made tea towels were introduced during the Industrial Revolution and their popularity spread by marketing them through the new department stores, which became all the rage. To begin with these "kitchen and glass cloths" had the familiar blue and red band across the centre. Much later these typical drying cloths gave way to the illustrated versions. Irish linen was considered the best as it was most absorbent and very strong. (From The Etiquette of an English Tea by Beryl Peters)

Here are just a few of my linen tea towels. I tend to use them as decoration on a tea tray or tea table. I don't think I could bear to use them as a dish towel!


belinda said...

Tea towels have become the souvenir of choose among my group of friends. Easy to pack, colorful ,representative of area visited. I have a friend who after a Literary tour of Britain realized he had bought 25 towels!! His sister made them into a tablecloth.
I display mine on hooks made from bent silverware-I change them out periodically.

Teresa of Southern Touch Catering said...

Those are indeed beautiful. I was a very grateful receiver of a beautiful Irish Tea Towel from a friend(Lynn Smith)after her trip to Ireland a few years back. She and I both love gardening and my towel has an assortment of garden herbs and it says it was "Designed for the National Trust" it came with a very nice canvas tote bag with the same pattern. Although I have other tea towels this one is my personal treasure.
I love your site and found it while on "Tea with Friends"

Angela McRae said...

Ooh, I'm lusting over that lovely Harrods tea towel! Gorgeous!

Denise of Uniquely Tea said...

Belinda, what a GREAT idea to turn tea towels into a tablecloth!

Teresa, I can see why the Irish Tea Towel is so special to you.

Angela, guess what? That "lovely Harrods tea towel" is part of a collection. I have the matching tote bag.

Thank you all for sharing!

parTea lady said...

They are lovely. I especially like the Harrods towel with the cups and saucers.

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