What are Tea Towels?

toast with plum jam served with milk sitting on a wooden bench with a tea towel

 

What Makes It a Tea Towel? 

Traditionally, tea towels are made of flat-woven cotton or linen and are about the size of a hand towel. The broad spectrum of uses makes them a much-appreciated accessory in the kitchen.  While towels made of terry cloth are the most absorbent and therefore great for drying hands, they often leave behind lint and shouldn’t be used around food or to dry dishes.  Materials like cotton and linen, however, are absorbent without leaving behind lint.

A Brief History

Tea towels date back to 18th century England where they were used for delicate tasks such as drying fine china or crystal. They also came in handy at tea time and could be found wrapped around a tea pot to keep tea warm, used as a tray liner, or neatly draped over a basket of scones before serving.  Tea towels were not only functional but also became a way for ladies to show off their artistic skills.  Servants and housewives would often embroider intricate designs on the towels that they would hand down as family heirlooms. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, tea towels were being mass produced and were more readily available to the average consumer. Around this same time, the flour sack towel was born.  Suppliers were saving space by shipping goods, like flour and sugar, in large cotton sacks instead of wooden barrels. It didn’t take long for homemakers to start repurposing these by cutting them up to make dish towels.  During the Great Depression cloth sacks were repurposed into clothing and curtains. Manufacturers caught on and started printing designs and patterns on their bags. 

A barrel of flour next to a cotton sack of flour

Vintage flour sack with decorative pattern to repurpose as clothing, curtains, and towels

Its Many Uses

As mentioned above, tea towels have a zillion uses. From the obvious tasks, such as drying hands and dishes, to the more creative tricks like stabilizing mixing bowls on a slick counter top or straining yogurts and cheeses. Don’t limit the possibilities by leaving your tea towel to hang on the handle of your oven door. Maybe you have a favorite towel that you’re afraid to put on the front lines, that’s ok, it just means it’s time to find yourself a few more for the down and dirty kitchen jobs.  

 

Eco-Friendly

​Perhaps the strongest argument for the almighty tea towel is its eco-friendly attitude. Drying your hands or dishes with a single use paper towel can be wasteful and expensive. Sure, maybe you’ve spilled something so gross that it warrants a paper towel, maybe there’s a spill that is sure to stain or eat through cotton. Now’s the time to bring out those old tea towels that have “seen some things”.
 
Don’t get me wrong, there are almost always paper towels in our kitchen for the extra greasy or gross stuff, but for most kitchen jobs, we use tea towels.  I’ve found that a roll of paper towels now lasts a really long time by having cloth towels at hand. I wonder how many rolls of paper towels it takes to equal the lifespan of one tea towel? Throwing your towels in the wash is so easy and won’t contribute to the landfills or deforestation.  
 
Our Lucky Bat tea towels have been put to the test and always come out of the laundry looking great and ready for more. Buy them for yourself or for anyone needing a thoughtful and functional gift.

white tea towel with a tomato pattern on a picnic table


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