They’re versatile. They’re inexpensive. And they’re often handmade. The tea towel is more than a dish cloth or an eco-friendly substitute for paper products.
A tea towel is a geometric piece of graphic art, available in a plethora of patterns and illustrated amusements. We scoured stores and websites for a range of designs. With the help of designers and others, we’ve also found 23 uses for getting them out of the kitchen drawer.
1. Line a bread basket.
2. Cushion the bottom of a fruit bowl.
3. Wrap up a handmade design as a hostess gift.
4. “They also make cute reusable gift wrapping, using them like we do in Japan as a furoshiki,” or wrapping cloth, said Niki Livingston, a designer for a fiber arts project called Lookout & Wonderland.
5. Use stiffer materials such as linen in place of vinyl shelf liner. When the shelves get dusty, just toss the towels into the laundry.
6. “Especially during the holidays, I love packing up fresh citrus in a tea towel and tying it off with yarn and bakers’ twine,” said Heather Taylor, a textile artist from Culver City, Calif. “This makes for a great hostess gift.”
7. A variation on that theme: Use a tea towel to wrap scented handmade soap and leave it out for house guests, suggested Kara Smith, president of SFA Design in Los Angeles.
8. Use large ones as place mats.
9. “I love using tea towels as napkins or bibs for those get-your-fingers-dirty meals like crabs and ribs,” Studio City, Calif., textile designer Paula Smail said. “They look great on the table, and if they are illustrated, they become conversation starters.”
10. Use softer materials such as flour sack cloth to blot moisture when washing salad greens. Lay out lettuce on the towel, roll it like a cinnamon roll, then shake gently.
11. Lay down a damp towel to prevent the cutting board from slipping when carving meat or rolling out cookie dough.
12. “I always use pretty tea towels draped over a tension rod for my bathroom curtains,” said Annette Goliti Gutierrez, co-owner of the Los Angeles garden gifts store Potted. “They’re super affordable, easy to clean and even a non-sewer like me can feel like she’s made them.”
13. Put them out as guest hand towels.
14. Line your tote bags with them. They’re easier to clean than most totes.
15. Stretch and staple them over wood frames as textile artworks to hang on the kitchen wall.
16. Have a tea towel sewn with a drawstring for an instant shoe bag, said interior designer Vanessa De Vargas of Los Angeles.
17. Use the towel as a wine bag, said Ted Vadakan, co-founder of the Los Angeles store Poketo. He shows how it’s done at poketo.com/blog/2012/10/18.
18. Turn your favorite designs into simple aprons with a few stitches and twill tape, a ribbon made of cotton or other material.
19. Interior decorator and art lover Jackie Terrell drapes them on the backs of white-slipcovered dining chairs – yet another way for her to enjoy original works of art.
20. Designer Kishani Perera suggested sewing them into simple accent pillows.
21. Or you can use them to make seat cushions.
22. Lay one over your computer keyboard as a dust (and cat hair) cover.
23. When the designs fade or the material gets ragged, use them outside the home. Car buffs love the super-soft flour sack material to wipe down the dashboard.
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