The Guest Tea Towel Collection of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum has given me the opportunity to ‘meet’ other people who love a good tea towel, people I may not have met on my journey. The Virtual Tea Towel Museum is visited by a lot of Americans who are fascinated by the English obsession with tourist tea towels. Several of my Visitors have suggested I look at the work of Susan Branch, and I have!
Susan is an American author, watercolorist and designer. She has website (www.susanbranch.com), a Blog, @dearsusanbranch on Twitter and a newsletter called Willard, that you can sign up to. Susan is the author of the ‘Heart of the Home’ series of recipe books (which she has illustrated), ‘A Fine Romance, Falling in Love with the English Countryside’ and two parts of a memoir ‘The Fairy Tale Girl’ and ‘Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams’. Twitter is full of pictures of people who have bought Susan Branch mugs and other items.
I was very excited when she posted a picture of one of her tea towels on Twitter and, obviously, I couldn’t resist asking her to be a Guest Tea Towel. Susan quickly agreed to become a Guest Tea Towel and I am delighted she has. Susan takes me back to the origins of tea towels, of heirlooms and it gives me both a warm feeling and a sense of envy, envy of the skill to produce tea towels like that. But let Susan tell her story:
”This flour sack tea towel was embroidered by my great grandmother. When I was growing up, she sent a box of them from her home in Iowa to ours in California, every year, for my Mom, usually at Christmas. As a child I always loved them. I managed to hold on to this one. I guess it would be about 70 years old”.
”I started making dish towels (tea towels in England) when I was around 10 years old. My Mom taught me how to embroider and this is one of the first ones I made; it is also made from a flour sack, just like my great grandma”
“I still love to make them and I’ve always collected them, going to Antique Stores, Yard Sales. I love old linen, especially the crazy ones like this”
”I have the same stove as my Mom did when I was little (this apple has not fallen far from the tree), a 1956 O’Keefe and Merritt. It has oven door handles – the perfect place for a tea towel display!”
Thank you, Susan, for some lovely tea towels. After all, tea towels were ‘invented’ in England over two hundred years ago when fine bone china and cut glass was introduced. Because of the expense of bone china and cut glass the ‘Lady of the House’, not the housekeeping staff, was responsible for the drying of these items. To do this, without scratching the surface, pure linen cloths were embroidered for the task and passed as heirlooms along with the china and glassware. I love the idea that some people are still making tea towels in the traditional way.
PS: Susan refers to ‘flour sacks’ for tea towels. This is sheets of fabric made from very thin cotton threads. The weave is lighter than cheese cloth but loose enough that you can see through the cloth!!
PPS: Since I posted Susan’s Tea Towel Story, there has been a lot of activity on Twitter about Flour Sacks and I feel it is only right to include a few of those comments:
Susan Branch said: “Did you know that flour sack dishcloths were really made from actual flour sacks (the flour packaging of the day). They made dresses from them too! Make do or do without! I’m sure they made everything from them, curtains, quilts, clothes. Since they were making bread at home, it was like free fabric”.
@MyCottageDays says: “I have a fabulous book on the history of feed sacks, packed full of information and illustrations on how companies vied for trade with their patterned sacks. The companies were not slow to pick up on the recycling aspect and that’s how we find so many lovely vintage designs and patterns. Free fabric and a little creativity goes a long way”.
@mari1017 finishes the exchange with: “Oh my. Just googled ‘flour sack patterns’…… so much to explore and read!!”.
I love it when tea towels can generate so much information sharing and discussion. I suspect there is a difference between England and America in the history and useage of floor sacks. Who knows?