|Sorry - some of these were fished out of the ironing basket...|
Then the other day, in her account of a meeting in Vienna with APJ blogger Portia, Olfactoria happened to mention a gift of tea towels from the ebullient drag queen from Down Under to Sandra and her. For anyone interested in chapter and verse, Birgit's had a map of Cairns on it, for example.
|Example of a Cairns tea towel ~ Source: ebay.au|
So then, in a remarkable turn of events, this innocent logging of a moderately utilitarian present sparked a lively debate in the comments to that post about the aptness or otherwise of such a gift - and before you could say 'Irish linen', a whole slew of tea towel aficionados was winkled out of the woodwork. Okay, so by 'slew' I may mostly mean Anne-Marie (also from Australia, rather fittingly), who spoke of her ingenious habit of scenting tea towels with lemongrass - a nugget of housewife lore learnt at her mother's knee.
"But my idea is to choose something strident enough to cut through the scungy smell that tea towels tend to get no matter often they get washed and line dried. I know that smell well. My mother was both fastidious and frugal. She cleaned everything that didn’t move but she would wear the tea towels down to threads before replacing them. Urk."
|*Not* a tea towel - a 'damp cloth' wholly dedicated to ironing duties|
'Scungy' - I have not heard that word before, but it sounds like a malodorous fusion of 'scuzzy', 'scummy', 'gungy' and 'pongy'. And another interesting thing...my mother was from Australia, and - possibly due to my father's extremely tight rein on the housekeeping (perversely, she didn't get a washing machine till we children had long since left home) - also kept tea towels till they were threadbare and beyond. I have a number which I inherited from her which are even more rag-like now, but of sentimental value, obviously. I don't scent them with anything, but they do get washed. There seems to be an indelible mark on the one pictured. In my defence, everybody needs a tatty tea towel to use to damp iron delicate clothes - that way if you accidentally burn it, it is no great loss.
Since reading this post, my mind hasn't stopped whirring and making connections between perfumistas and deeds involving the stockpiling - or giving - of tea towels. (Yay! I managed to avoid saying 'gifting'!) Some readers may know these rectangular textiles by a slightly different name, but they are the towels you dry your dishes with, not your hands or other body parts. And you wouldn't wipe kitchen surfaces with them either - that way lie dish cloths, J-cloths, sponge scrubbers, and - in my own case - lashings and lashings of kitchen roll.
At the top of the post is a shot of my tea towel collection when I first moved into the new house - the ones on the left were ALL moving in presents from a neighbour - how wet does she think my crockery is? ;) The ones on the right are the legacy from my mother, barring the really frayed one, which deserved a shot on its own.
|Supersized Danish tea towels!|
I have since acquired two very large and stylish tea towels - also as a housewarming present - from a reader in Denmark. They are so generously sized that they have overshot tray cloths and are well on their way to being small tablecloths or picnic rugs.
And at New Year, Tara gave me a much longed for spaghetti server - no, really, it was! - and two festive tea towels, which of course I shan't broach till next Christmas:
|Pretty Christmas tea towel duo|
Hmm, now that I think of it, when I last met up with Katie Puckrik in November, and we spent an afternoon poking round the vintage shops of Notting Hill, the subject of tea towels came up quite spontaneously - which on the face of it might seem strange. We were browsing in a general store, where Katie was after a sturdy, foldaway carrier bag. There were some tea towels on display and she volunteered the fact that she liked to buy them as souvenirs from her travels. I quizzed her on her aesthetic standards in this regard, and she explained that she was comfortable with 'touristy', and even slightly kitsch, as long as the design didn't tip over into completely tacky. I am not sure I am sufficiently familiar with the complete gamut of household linen to envision a truly gross specimen, but if you know of any, please describe it in the comments in as lurid detail as necessary.
Oh, since I published this post, Katie has come back to me with her definitive preferences in the tea towel department, which are along the lines I remembered:
"Tea towels are my favorite souvenirs of travel and adventure - better than post cards and snow globes and t-shirts. I love them because they remind me of road trips and capers, while being a constant ally in the kitchen, where I use them daily for scores of different things.
My preferred tea towel graphic is a hokey 'sights of the city' panorama. I've got a bunch from London, and some from California and Brussels. An odd one was my 'Gentlemen's Clubs of London', which I found in an LA flea market. And a great one was my 'British Men' tea towel: a 60's-era survey of working men, including a bobby, a fishmonger, a cabby, a vicar, and a bowler-hatted city gent. I used both of those into rags.
I still have my Charles and Di tea towel celebrating their 1981 wedding. It's now retired from service, much faded but intact."
So there you have it - I think the perfumista/tea towel correlation is looking quite strong...;) And please do let us know where you stand in terms of your own propensity to collect or give away tea towels of any description.
Oh, I nearly forgot the one I bought myself for Christmas!