Sunday, February 15, 2009
A tea towel (British English) or dish towel (American English) is a cloth which is used to dry dishes, cutlery, etc., after they have been washed. In 18th century England, a tea towel was a special linen drying cloth used by the mistress of the house to dry her precious and expensive china tea things. Servants were considered too ham-fisted to be trusted with such a delicate job, although housemaids were charged with hand-hemming the woven linen when their main duties were completed. Tea towels began being mass-produced during the Industrial Revolution.
This history of tea towels has always been interesting to me. I wish that as a child I'd been told that it was considered too careful a task for the maid. It might have made sis and me a little more appreciative of dish drying! Much time was spent washing and drying dishes. I don't recall that we were very fast at the task. Living in a house with no dishwasher meant that dish duty was always ours. We always used "tea towels", not "dish towels". This must have been because of our mother's Canadian and English roots. The tea towels were always hand embroidered by mom, frequently with the days of the week. I always worked hard at making sure I had the proper tea towel for the day. Sis would wash and I would dry, or vice versa. Dish washing time became an ongoing story-time adventure. We would weave tall tales aloud, each taking a turn at our story. Sometimes these stories would last for days (from one dish washing to the next). Oh, the things children miss out on in this day of dishwashers and modern appliances!
Do you have dish washing memories? Do you use tea towels or dish towels? What is the difference for you?
Photo: Elm Street Antiques