A Few of My Favorite (Kitchen) Things: Vintage Tea Towels!

Looky here. Gentle Reader, this is quite an accomplishment for me. With this post, I’ve participated in my own self-appointed Friday series two Fridays in a row! That’s pretty consistent for me. I’m even a little puffed up with the glory of it all. It feels good. I feel grand. Structured. Accomplished. Maybe–just maybe–I’ll do a third entry next Friday . . . I’m just a bit dizzy . . .

And remember. . . once my vomitingchicken.com Facebook page gets to 1,000 “likes,” I’m going to do a giveaway with a nice package of some of My Favorite (Kitchen) Things. My dad already made me a special French rolling pin (Amalia has been eying it, for her hope chest, but I say to her that Grandpa will make her one) to include in the package, so encourage your friends to like my page, and we’ll get to that number all the sooner! Please, by the way, don’t notice that that French rolling pin post, which began this series, was nearly four months ago. Yikes. How embarrassing.

Oh well. Onward and upward: here’s my favorite kitchen thing for today: vintage tea towels! Do you love them as much as I do? They are so cute and so handy. I buy them whenever I see them at my favorite thrift stores, for very little: from 25ยข each to $1.00. It seems that not many people treasure them, which suits my budget. I especially like the ones with the Aunt Martha designs hand embroidered on them. At our farmer’s market one week a couple summers ago, an older lady showed up and set up table after table covered with hand-embroidered tea towels and lots of other handwork. Crocheted afghans, potholders, and so forth. I bought a couple sets of those tea towels, which were beautifully done. She only came for a week or two, and then we never saw her again. I wish I would have been able to buy her out. Who does that anymore?

I always regretted not buying more of those sets of tea towels from her. Not many people embroider any longer, and I think that’s a shame. They still make the Aunt Martha transfers. Maybe I’ll just start a movement. A movement away from the screen (this is delicious irony, as I type away on my Apple ‘pooter) and back to front porch pursuits, like embroidery. Banjo playing. Homemade lemonade. Playing cards. Doesn’t that sound sweet?

Isn’t this a cute one? And it’s so cheap, too.

I found a few embroidered tea towels at the Etcetera shop in Seward just this week. I love them ardently. The embroidered designs are so cheesy. Here’s one of them:

"Pair." Sweet. And, duh. Oh well.

“Pair.” Sweet. And, duh. Oh well.

I picked these up for a song (a cheap song) because they are stained, as you can see. But. I have a supersecret stain removing method that works every time. I’m sharing it with you, my Gentle Reader, just in case you occasionally encounter very stubborn stains that give you fits.

Here’s what I do: I run the hottest water that I can possibly get, into a big bucket. Then I stir 1/4 cup of dishwashing crystals, and 1/4 cup of a bleach substitute like Oxyclean or Clorox II. Then I push the stained articles into the hot water, and let them soak, overnight or even longer if they need it. Then I run them through the washer with my homemade laundry soap (more about that later) and I hang out the now-sparkly clean and unstained articles in the sun, for a couple days if need be, for further whitening. It works so well!

You can buy vintage-like towels from lots of places. Here’s some that I like:

Can you guess which of these tea towels flapping on my laundry line are really vintage, and which one I bought brand new? (Answer* at the end!)

It's worth buying a few of these just to see how pretty they look flapping on the line, don't you agree?

It’s worth buying a few of these just to see how pretty they look flapping on the line, don’t you agree?

I use my vintage towels to line baskets when I serve bread, and to pretty-up my farmer’s market bread boxes, and for lots of other uses, too. I keep them in a special place, so they don’t get used to wipe up chicken vomit on the kitchen floor, or to clean the bottom of somebody’s muddy shoes. ๐Ÿ™ Not that anybody in my house would do that.)

Basicallly they just add a lot of “pretty” to my kitchen. And that’s why they are one of my favorite kitchen things.

Here are my bread boxes, packed and ready for farmer's market. See the embroidery on the towel on the left? Cute, huh?

Here are my bread boxes, packed and ready for farmer’s market. See the embroidery on the towel on the left? Cute, huh?

So that’s it for today, Gentle Reader. Thank you again for stopping by. I’d love to hear about your favorite kitchen things in the comments. What do you just love to use in your kitchen every day, and why?

**Guess what I forgot?! I forgot to give you the answer to the quiz. A few astute readers called me on it, and I’m thankful that they did! Here it is: the second towel from the left, with the stripes along the long edges, is the new towel that I bought (from amazon.com). All the others were purchases from thrift stores, and are much older.


Something else I nearly forgot: The Prairie Homestead’s Barn Hop! Join me over there, won’t you?

29 thoughts on “A Few of My Favorite (Kitchen) Things: Vintage Tea Towels!

  1. Jillian

    I love vintage tea towels too. My favorites are a couple that my great aunt embroidered when she was young. They are about 70 years old now. I never use them for fear that they will be ruined but I think I will use your basket lining trick. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the idea!!

    1. Angela Dawn

      You should use them, Jillian, otherwise they just sit and become too fragile to use. And chances are, you are the one who will really appreciate them.

      I married three years ago and decided to make use of all the special vintage family linen that I was given through my teens and twenties. I have embroidered pillowcases (great grandmother) as the shams on our bed, tea towels and guest towels and crocheted doilies (various aunts, grandma, great grandmother) all in use in my home. I realized that I’m going to enjoy those items as part of my everyday life more than any future generation is going to appreciate inheriting them as fragile closet stuffers! ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. dramamamafive Post author

        What a great thing to do, Angela, and you can just enjoy all that beauty every day, instead of catching sight of all the pretty stuff in your linen cabinet now and then . . .

    2. dramamamafive Post author

      I use the prettiest towels, Jillian (and more delicate ones, too) as decorate cloths on the table, too. I put an embroidered cloth, say, on top of the tablecloth and then put a vase of flowers or something on top. Very pretty!

  2. Patti

    My favorite and most used items are wooden cooking utensils purchased from Kitchen Carvings on etsy, beautiful and he often includes info on where the wood came from; often a dying tree, linen dish towels also purchased on etsy, my grandmother’s wooden rolling pin, my Boos cutting board and a large, handmade, wooden bread bowl my husband purchased for me at the Simon Pearce store when we were visiting Vermont. We also visited King Arthur Flour on that trip. I would highly recommend visiting both if you ever have the opportunity. I love knowing that all these items were made by human hands, not in a large factory in some far off country.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I’ve never been to Vermont, but I’d love to visit there. If we ever make it all the way out there, we’ll be sure to look those places up!

  3. Diane Achatz

    Oh I love my cotton tea towels! I acquired mine when I lived in California, and got them all different places, although I never got any embroidered ones. I have a set of heavy earthenware bowls I picked up at Restoration Hardware one day on their sale table. We loved going into that store, and I got some really great deals through the years. Love my bowls ‘ cause they remind me of the ones my Grandma Boyko had..which is why I had to have them. I always feel so authentic when I use them ๐Ÿ™‚ Truly prized possessions.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      It’s so special to have those lovely things to work with every day, isn’t it, Diane? I’d love to see those bowls!

  4. Cynthia Rose

    My Mother still embroiders towels from Martha’s transfers. All of us (4 sisters) have several sets she made for us. When they get old and worn, we cut out the embroidered part and send them back to her (saving the rest for cleaning cloths). She sews them onto new towels. She taught us all how to embroider when we were so young I don’t remember not knowing how. Although I am sad to see some of the items (like my pillowcases) wearing out, I would rather love them to death than think of them languishing in some thrift store or antique mall when I am gone. When I open my etsy shop (soon I hope), she is going to send me towel sets to list for her.
    BTW – I couldn’t find the answer to your tea towels on the clothes line question.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Check back, Cynthia Rose, I DID forget it (you were the first to notice!) but I’m going to put it in there TODAY. And my–you are blessed to have several sets of towels like those! My mom made me one set when I first got married (a million years ago!) but they are used up and tattered. What a great idea to cut the embroidered part out like that . . . do you find that the rest of the towel is gray and darkened with age, or are you able to keep them white? My old towels really look their age. ๐Ÿ™ I love your attitude and I try to do the same . . . I am alternately ecstatic when I find old handmade treasures at the thrift shop, and saddened that a family member didn’t treasure them . . I really am surprised by the priceless old handmade doilies, linens, and so forth that I find at our local thrift shop.

  5. Alana(@RamblinGarden)

    Oh gosh! I should be collecting vintage tea towels and lovely handmade rolling pins and whatnot, but I just don’t. I wonder if you can enlist the power of social media to find your mystery handiwork seller. Is there a farmers market coordinator who will remember her? Someone at your church? Maybe do a blog post on her? Ask on Facebook if anyone knows her? (Here’s hoping nothing bad happened to her. Or maybe she was selling a late relative’s goods and she ran out? My imagination is running wild here.) I couldn’t find the answer to your quiz, either. Maybe you could make that quiz a giveaway, too. Just sayin’. (I’m still working on getting my Facebook fan page to 100.)

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      That’s a good idea, Alana–actually a passel of good ideas. Our market coordinator may remember her. She set up very quietly, lugging her own tables and setting up all those pretty things, and then I think she was there only two weeks. And I asked her–she did make all those things. Sorry about missing the answer to the quiz: but what’s your guess? I’m going to edit that. I’m out of town and my blog hasn’t let me in to edit until now. ๐Ÿ™ Naughty WordPress.

  6. Kebba Buckley Button

    Amy, I’m visiting from the UBC. My domestic goddess side loves your personal formulas for dish detergent and stain remover! Also, I love the whole idea of tea towels. My first tea towel was a souvenir, printed with a map of the London Underground. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. Ginger

    What a sweet blog! I LOVE, as in I must have vintage kitchen towels. I love them! Anything vintage, I just love. I tried to like your FB page, but the link did not work for me.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Hmm. I’ll check on that, Ginger. I’m the same way. I have so many, but I can’t resist vintage tea towels! Especially when they cost so little!

  8. Chef William Chaney

    Amy, my wife still does hand-embroidered tea towels, hand embroidered pillow cases and other things, and her sisters also still do that, They also all still crochet doilies and all that kind of stuff. When in Mexico on rainy days I can usually find two or three of them just setting talking and working on one of their projects. We buy the embroidery thread here in the states before retuning to Mexico because the thread down there always seems to bleed when washed the first time and that is a heart breaker for the person that did the work.( I have a couple of nice computer covers as a result of the color bleed) Still, with all that, my wife will still buy other peoples work at a rummage sale if she finds something she likes. Note: She has learned to wash the thread before using it if she must but it in Mexico, but it does loose a lot of it;s color when she does.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      There’s always lots of embroidery threads for sale at our little thrift store. I buy it myself because I can’t resist, though I don’t use it as much as I’d like. I love it that your wife and her sisters all still embroider. I’m afraid it’s becoming a lost art, and that’s a real shame. ๐Ÿ™ I’d love to see the work that she does.

  9. Gene

    Amy – nice post! You think of these weird things to write about and then we all discover they aren’t so weird. I – 70 year old male farmer, as you know – have been collecting hand embroidered kitchen things for about 60 years and have a couple hundred of them – napkins, place mats, tea towels, hot pads, and a few samplers. How does a boy pick up a “girlie” hobby like that? Well, I had to spend most of my fourth grade year at home because I had TB (yeh, I’m that old!). My Danish grandmother took care of me for part of that time and taught me how to embroider, and I’ve been hooked on the craft ever since, although I can’t see well enough to thread a needle now. I have haunted auctions and thrift stores around four different American cities and in three countries in Europe. My absolutely most exquisite examples are ones I bought at farm auctions in Sweden, Finland and Slovakia for next to nothing – like a box containing 40-50 pieces of hundred year old embroidered homespun linen for five bucks. And I’m not talking napkins with a simple motif in one corner, some of my stuff is incredibly detailed and ornate, like a table runner 6 feet by one foot, with every square inch covered in traditional regional patterns. My oldest embroidered piece is signed “Mary Mumford” and dated 1732. (I paid a buck for it in a junky store in Omaha’s Old Market 25 years ago.)
    None of my kids, grandkids or their wives or female partners have the slightest interest in this stuff and I’m gonna give it all to the Nebr. Historical Society before I die. I went to a workshop at the Society 15 years ago and learned how to preserve it between sheets of special paper I got from the Society. We’ve used a few sturdy pieces over the years, but I’m preserving most of it as a testament to the skill and creativity (and patience) of all of our grandmothers, great grandmothers, et. al.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Wowwww. If you ever pull it all out for a show-and-tell, let me know. I’ll be there! ๐Ÿ™‚ I just love that old stuff, too, Gene, and it always pulls at my heartstrings a bit to see it in thrift stores, when it seems so priceless to (admittedly sentimental) me. I collect old quilts, too, too, for the same reason: I just think somebody ought to treasure them, and I do. I was attending a garage sale, in an old leaky garage, and I caught sight of an exquisite handmade quilt, in the corner, tossed over a motorcycle. I mean it was just beautiful. I asked the girl who was running the sale, if she’d sell it to me. She shrugged, mentioned that her great grandma made it, and said “Would you give me $10 for it? I could throw something else over that ‘cycle.” Gene, the tiny pieces and the colors used in that quilt show that the quiltmaker was a real artist. A real unappreciated artist. I gave the girl ten bucks and took it home and it has been a treasured thing to me every since, even thought the edges are tattered. I still feel a little bad that I have that girl’s great-grandma’s beautiful quilt, even IF she didn’t want it.

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