The History of the Tea Towel

History of the tea towel

Where did it all start

How did the tea towel go from keeping your tea pot warm to becoming a fundrasing tool for primary schools the world over. As lifelong fans and producers of the tea towel we at Maison Alhoria want to share with you our version of the Tea Towels humble journey from a stictch of cloth to the household name of today. Did you know that Van Gogh painted some of his work onto Tea Towels? No, well read on to find out more.

Why is a Tea Towel called a Tea Towel

What’s in a name, you ask? As shakespeare once said

a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet

Well the same goes for Tea Towels. As we say in the tea towel industry:

A tea towel by any other name would still dry things.

It is thought that the name “Tea Towel” orgiginates from the 18th century when tea time had just become the new religion. In upper class houses throughout the UK, ladies sat down to drink tea using fine bone China and silverware. The tea was served in delicate tea pots which needed careful handling, hence the use of a towel to hold it. This served a dual purpose, 1 to protect the tea pot from scratches and 2. to protect the pourer from the scalding heat of the freshly boiled tea. 

The tea towels of this era were also used to dry these precious china heirlooms. This task was not always trusted to house staff, so the lady of the manor would do the drying up herself and avoid damage caused by those who lived below stairs.


Safari Multi Stripe Tea Towel

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution struck England between 1760 and 1840 and it was towards the end of this period that tea towels became a bit more of a household implement available to all. With mass manufacture possible and the popularity of afternoon tea on the rise, the need for tea towels increased massively. As soon as mechanised machines turned manufacturing into an automatic operation, then the growth of the tea towel industry was assured. If you look at the photo above you can see that we haven’t actually come all that far in terms of technology from what we at Maison Elhoria use in the southern region of France. 

Tea Towels Become Art

Did you know that Van Gogh used tea towels in his art? When the great painter was short of a few bob and not cutting his ear off in a delerium of absinthe, he was laways on the look out for new bits of cloth on which to paint. According to this article in the Guardian Newspaper, the Large Plane Trees and the Wheatfields are both painted onto tea towels. We are not saying this is all he used but surely if he started the fashion of making art on tea towels he deserves some credit.   

Flour sack patterns
The Great Depression

During the 1920s the Great Depression in the US paved the way for more changes to the by now more popular tea towel. The Great depression was the worst economic downturn in the industrialised world lasting from 1929-1939. During this period many households couldn’t afford even the basics like food and clothing. As a result housewives across the US would re-use material from packaging to make clothes and of course drying cloths. 

When the companies making these sacks, like flour bags found out they begin to make the cloth out of patterened material. This was then torn up and used as cloths and clothing for use around the house. Once the depression had ended, housewives swapped patterned bits of cloth between themselves. As this fashion grew they began to us the bits of cloth as canvas for embriodery and knitting. Following on from Van Gogh’s use of tea towels as a canvas this trend built and continues to build today.

The Charity Tea Towel

We all have one in our kitchen don’t we? The charity tea towel. Tea Towels have done their bit for raising funds for diverse projects, like primary school funding, macmillan cancer charity and many more. If you are unaware of this process then you probably don;t have small children. These are some of our favourite tea towel designs, some of which feature our own children’s faces. The charity tea towel will continue to go on for years and we are proud to be associated with them. 

Have a look at our tea towel selection below.


Dress up your kitchen with this smart yet robust large striped cotton tea towel.


This Tea Towel will most definitely brighten up your kitchen!


Dress up your kitchen with this smart yet robust large striped cotton tea towel

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