|Colorful Vera Neumann linen towel from the 1970s|
I’ve always had a thing for fun kitchen towels. You always use them, so why not have nice ones? I’m partial to pretty floral patterns printed on linen or cotton and from the 1940s through the ‘70s. And in today’s eco-minded world, these vintage towels are a great way to avoid the waste of one-time-use paper towels.
If you believe sources like Wikipedia (big grain of salt here, please), tea towel is the English term and Americans just call it a plain old dish towel. The purpose of this piece of fabric was to dry dishes--linen is absorbent and leaves little lint. Cotton was used as it became more readily available later in the 19th century.
|Seashell linen towel by The Ryans|
|Fun swirly design on linen by Parisian Prints|
|Printed cotton towel, probably from the 1940s|
In the 1930s and '40s you often see towels that were cut from lengths of fabric printed with this use in mind. So there will often be a border on each end and then a hemmed end on each side where the fabric was cut. This leads to non-standard sizes and slight wonkiness, but in a pleasantly homemade way.
Big textile manufacturers made dish towels, too, including Wilendur and others. Wilendur (they later became Wilendure) is better known for their tablecloths, but the same heavyweight cotton fabric was used for towels. (And a PS on Wilendur--am I the only doofus who took a while to figure out that Wilendur is one of those cutesy, retro names? Their products are long lasting, they 'will endure', get it? I thought it was Swiss name like Winterthur or something!)
Linen towels became a collectible souvenir in the 1950s and ‘60s. These were often more decorative than functional and were sometimes used as wall hangings. Tea towels were like souvenir spoons--you picked one up where ever you traveled. When I was in graduate school at UVA, I worked part time in the gift shop at Monticello where ladies of a certain age always asked for the Monticello tea towel for their collections.
|Wilendur printed cotton dish towel, 1950s|
|This color combination is lovely!|
|Calendar towels were especially popular in the 1960s and '70s, this linen one from 1968 by Vera|
|Some of my printed cotton towels from the 1940s and 50s|
|Vera linen towels in two colorways|
|Risque printed cotton towel, probably from the 1930's or '40s|
|Do note the tails and horns...|
Towels designed by Vera Neumann in the ‘60s and 70‘s are commanding high prices these days--I’ve seen a single towel go for more than $80! More often, Vera towels can be found in the $20 to $40 dollar range for her fantastic images of flowers, vegetables or bold graphics, all in bright colors and in good condition. Still, if Vera is your thing, you can definitely find towels for less than $10, you just have to dig a little harder and maybe compromise a bit on condition.
|Two linen towels by Vera Neumann|
|Novelty linen towel, 1960s|
© All text and images are copyright of Jeni Sandberg