Whether drying your hands or removing a hot dish from the oven, tea towels are an indispensable tool for any cook. Also known as dish towels or kitchen towels, these fabric rectangles rose to prominence during the 18th century in Great Britain, when plain linen towels were used to dry delicate pieces of china and flatware.

In the 19th century, such towels became increasingly embellished so the lady of the house could use them to prevent drips or to cover a fresh tray of baked goods when serving tea, hence the name “tea towel.” Perhaps the most famous tea towels are those repurposed as canvases by Vincent van Gogh when he ran out of art supplies while at a psychiatric hospital in 1889.

During the Great Depression, cotton flour sacks were often reused as tea towels since buying them new was not an option for many families. In turn, flour companies adopted more decorative sacks explicitly so they would be saved for kitchen duty.

In the mid-20th century, dish-towel designs were updated for the modern household, thanks to improvements in screenprinting techniques and colorfast dyes. Mostly made of cotton or linen, tea towels of the 1940s and '50s often featured patterns with bright floral shapes, cartoon animals, popular foods, and travel themes.

While many tea towels were mass produced by companies like Vera or Kay Dee, others were decorated by hand with elaborate embroideries. Some of the most distinctive dish towels were produced by textile designer Margaret Thomas Keefe, known by her professional signature Tammis Keefe.

Working with manufacturers like Goodall Industries and Lord & Taylor, Keefe created bright, eye-catching prints used for clothing, furniture, handkerchiefs, scarves, and tea towels, of course. Keefe’s textiles eventually made it into the Museum of Modern Art’s “Good Design” exhibition of 1950, and her dish towels became a coveted addition to any Mid-Century Modern kitchen.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Feeding America

Feeding America

This archive of 76 influential American cookbooks from the late 1700s to early 1900s, assembled by the Michigan St… [read review or visit site]

LACMA Luxury Textiles

LACMA Luxury Textiles

Textile collectors shouldn't miss this microsite from the LA County Museum of Art, a great reference on European an… [read review or visit site]

Tupper Diva

Tupper Diva

Kristian McManus’ fresh, airtight collection of Tupperware catalogs and related ephemera from the 1950s and 6… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Kitchen Tea Towel Wilendur Tag~ripe Red Strawberries~retro Chic Charming2 Vintage Wilendure Tea Kitchen Towel Red & Yellow Morning GloriesVtg Porthault Linen Guest Towel Scalloped Edge Green Trefles Shamrock CloverVera Neumann Linen Kitchen Towel Retro Avocado Motif Yellow BackgroundPrints Irish Linen Tea Dishtowels Patrotic Seashells Southwest California Lot-7Vintage Walt Disney World Tea Towel Teatowel Castle Monorail Linen UnusedVintage Borden's Elsie The Cow Dish TowelVintage Vikings Best Aalborg Souvenir/novelty Towel Beer Lobster Viking Ship Vintage French Onion Soup Tea Towel Linen Pink Recipe Novelty Fabric KitschLot 4 Vintage Linen Cross Stitch Dish Towels Nice Selection7 Vintage Days Of The Week Cotton Tea Towel Kitchen Martha Stewart NewVtg Beautiful Roses Linen Print Tea TowelVintage 1965 Kitchen Calendar Towel LinenVintage Mid Century Print Kitchen Tea Towel Quirky Corned Beef And Cabbage VgVintage Dish Towels-lot Of Seven Dish TowelsVintage Days Of The Week Kitchen Towels/embroidered PiggiesVtg Mid Century 33" Red White Blue Cherry Apple Basket Dish Towel Retro KitchenVintage 1967 Kitchen Calendar Towel LinenVintage Lot Of 3 Hand Embroidered Herb Theme Dish Towels Watercress Chives Vintage Set Of 4 Hand Embroidered Puppy Dog Kitchen Drying Lrg Towel Tea Towels True Vintage Set Of 7 Hand-embroidered Flour Sack Dish Towels Green Fairies Vintage Madeira Linen Hand Embroidered Tea Towels Pink Blue Gray + Green?? (t3)Vintage Christmas Kitchen Towel Retro 60's Tea Hand Towel W/ Reindeer &ornamentsVintage New 100% Irish Linen "ulster Wavers" Bermuda Tropical Flowers Tea Towel 3 Vintage Retro Pink & Blue Unused Linen Kitchen Towels ... Lqqk!Vintage Linen Purple Violets Print Kitchen Tea Hand Towel FloralVintage 100% Linen Towel Pink/purple/red Mod Kilkenny Design Wokshops IrelandVintage Irish Cabin Linen Red Pink Roses Print Kitchen Tea Towel On Black VgJulia Killingback William Shakespeare Pure Irish Linen Dish Towel* Colorful Vintage Peggy Of California Six Dish Towel Sealed Set With Box,... Vtg. Tea Towel, Glasgow Rangers Football, Unused, 30"x21". Ready, Linen2 Vtg Mid Century Mulicolored Fruit Flowers Cotton Dish Towels Retro KitchenVintage Cotton Linen - Startex - Twinkle Toweling - 5 Yards - Red Stripe Ulster Linen Kitchen Towel, Trooping The Colour At Horse Guards Parade LondonVintage Linen Kitchen Towel, London Landmarks, Ulster, Made In IrelandVintage Tea Towel Hotel De Paris Monte Carlo Crystal Cloth Green White 1970/80'sVintage Mushroom Kitchen Towel Set2 Vtg Mid Century Red White Blue Fruit Pattern Cotton Dish Towels Retro Kitchen2 Vtg Mid Century Delft Blue Dutch Holland Cotton Dish Towel Retro Kitchen LinenVintage Set Of 5 Puppy Dogs Hand Embroidered Kitchen Towels1950's Vintage Bucilla "dream House" Linen Kitchen Towel ~mint W/orig LabelVintage Linen Omar Khayyam Tea TowelNwt Vintage Linen Towel, Dogwood PatternVintage Embroidered Sunbonnet Girl Days Of The Week Flour Sack Tea TowelsVintage Shakespeare Richard Ii Linen TowelVtg Mid Century 50's Startex Pink Grey Utensils Cotton Dish Towel Retro KitchenVintage Printed Kitchen Towel, Cotton, Tomatoes 17"x 32"Vintage Print Kitchen Towel Wheelbarrows Of Pineapples Pears Corn Tw97Lot Of Five Vintage Hand Stitched Dish TowelsVintage Spring Floral Tea Kitchen Towel Pink & Yellow Tulips ColorfulIrish Linen Kitchen Tea Towel, Brieves From The Book Of Kells, Linanne IrelandVintage Parisian Print Pure Linen Early American Tinware Tea Towel 28" W/tagVintage Startex Towel Red Flowers Vintage Linen Dish Tea Kitchen Towel Orange/green Fruit/vegetableVtg Gorgeous Floral Print Linen Dish Tea Towel-looks & Feels UnusedVintage Linen Tea Towel Kitchen Hand Towel With Roses7 Vintage Days Of The Week Kitchen Towels Embroidered BirdsVintage Set Of 3 Embroidered Tea Towels With Appliqué Pair 1970's Vintage 100% Linen Towels Boston Baked Beans, Cape Cod CranberriesPair 1970s Vintage Blue 100% Linen Towels Early American Stoneware Candian Geese