They’re versatile. They’re inexpensive. And sometimes they’re locally, beautifully handmade.
The tea towel is more than a dish rag or an eco-friendly substitute for paper towels. It’s a bit of graphic art, available in a plethora of patterns and illustrated amusements. We scoured stores and websites for a range of designs, then asked designers for these ways to use a tea towel.
• Line a bread basket.
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• Cushion the bottom of the fruit bowl.
• Wrap up a handmade design as a hostess gift.
• “They also make cute reusable gift wrapping, using them like we do in Japan as a furoshiki,” or wrapping cloth, designer Niki Livingston said.
• Use towels of stiffer materials such as linen in place of vinyl shelf liner. When the shelves get dusty, just toss the towels into the laundry.
• “Especially during the holidays I love packing up fresh citrus in a tea towel and tying it off with yarn and baker’s twine,” Culver City, Calif., textile artist Heather Taylor said. “This makes for a great hostess gift.”
• 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.
• Use large ones as place mats.
• “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.”
• 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.
• Lay down a damp towel to prevent the cutting board from slipping when carving meat or rolling out cookie dough.
• “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.”
• Put them out as guest hand towels.
• Line your tote bags with them. They’re easier to clean than most totes.
• Stretch and staple them over wood frames as textile artworks to hang on the kitchen wall.
• A suggestion from L.A. interior designer Vanessa De Vargas: Have a tea towel sewn with a drawstring. Instant shoe bag.
• Use the towel as a wine bag. Ted Vadakan, co-founder of the L.A. store Poketo, shows how to wrap a bottle at poketo.com/blog/2012/10/18.
• Turn your favorite designs into simple aprons with twill tape.
• L.A. interior decorator and art lover Jackie Terrell drapes them on the backs of white-slipcovered dining chairs – yet another way for her to enjoy artists’ original work.
• L.A. designer Kishani Perera suggests sewing them into simple toss pillows.
• Or you can sew them into seat cushions.
• Lay one over your computer keyboard as a dust (and cat hair) cover.
• 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 – and as we’ve proved here, it’s so easy to find cool new designs for the kitchen again.