Rob’s Tea Towel Story


I have talked a lot about how much I like Twitter; I try and avoid politics, and the controversial stuff, and find I ‘meet’ people with quirky interests.  Rob is one of those.  A couple of days ago I was looking through my ‘DM’ folder and found a few messages with Rob, who said he was going to write a Guest Tea Towel.  This was over two years ago.  I decided that I would try once more and remind him of his promise.  Less than 24 hours later this arrived and I love it.  This is what tea towels are all about!

“My tea towel journey started in earnest in 2016, on a birthday trip to Eastbourne, upon buying one as a practical souvenir.  Since then I’ve always kept an eye out for ones of the same style, featuring blotchy renditions of the local attractions in suspiciously fair weather.

I found ‘Great Little Trains of Wales’ on a trip to Ceredigion, in Wales, as it stoked my eternal love of steam engines.  The tea towel features fourteen special railways that are each, undoubtedly, worth a visit, along with a map of Wales.  At the time, I thought I’d been on, or at least seen, half of them but on closer inspection that isn’t the case and I’ll have to get packing to ride them all.”

Thank you Rob for the story of this tea towel.  I have to say, I bet this is one of the most popular tea towels around, and that it has definitely been around a long time.  I own one (no surprise there), I have seen three in various charity shops on sale, two owned by fellow caravanners on sites I have stayed on and two owned by friends.  This never happens to me.  But when you travel ‘The Great Little Trains of Wales’, look carefully, Rob.  At each station there will be a different tea towel for you to buy.

PS: Love the fingers at the top of the picture!

In Conversation With…Nicola Miles


This photograph is of Nicola Miles outside the Fashion and Textile Museum, her favourite museum in Bermondsey.

The publicity around Instagram, recently, hasn’t always been good; Instagram is referred to as being used to influence young people in terms of self harm and suicide.  I find this hard to ‘get my head around’.  When I opened my Instagram Account, two years ago, I vowed that I would only post pictures of tea towels and I can pose a tea towel in a huge variety of settings.  This limited use of Instagram means that it is a very particular group of people that follow me, mainly tea towel designers, sellers, artists and the National Trust.  Instagram, for me, is not a scary place and I have met some amazingly talented artists.  One of those is Nicola Miles.

Nicola was exhibiting her work, during the summer, at the University of Brighton from an MA project.  Not only was it brilliant but it included tea towels, among other things.  “The set of designs that were included (in the exhibition) were five tea towels, an apron, plates and a tapestry, developed as part of an MA project at the University of Brighton.  The intention of the Project was to voice the unspoken issues, affecting women, by using domestic textiles and homewares in an attempt to move these issues from an area that is considered to be taboo to one that is ordinary, everyday and acceptable.  The Graduate Show was held at the University then moved on to Hove Museum of Art, for a month.

The process of making the tea towels involved research into women’s experiences, rather than using my own, initial sketches and a combination of digital and screen printing”

This was someone who certainly should be part of

I am always interested in the way tea towel designers see themselves:

“I prefer to see myself as an illustrator and textile designer as my work begins with a drawing.  I love the creative spark when you are on a roll with that.  There is nothing quite like it”

I wondered how Nicola organises her work and where her inspiration comes from:


“I work freelance and have most experience in designing children’s wear.  I prefer to work on a commissioned or licensing basis.   I have strong memories from childhood of my Mum and Grandmother knitting and my Mum using Laura Ashley and Liberty fabrics and cloth kits and our shopping expeditions to buy fabrics.  As a child of the ’60s I rebelled against domestic crafts so have come to it later in life but with this rich heritage.”

I will always want to know if someone has a favourite tea towel!


“My favourite tea towel is probably ‘As a Stepmother I often feel like an Imposter’ because there are so many references to it, one main one being the Suffragette poster, designed by Duncan Grant (‘Handicapped’, see the Radical Tea Towel Company).  However, there are also references to Ophelia and the Lady of Shallot and fairy tales.  The quote from the journalist Leslie Jamieson is also very moving and has proved to be something a lot of people can relate to”


It is a joy to look at.  Thanks to Nicola for spending some time answering my questions.  I am so grateful that Instagram was able to introduce me to Nicola’s work.  A tea towel is a blank canvas to get a message across, especially political messages; it is a talent to be able to design a tea towel that really stops you and makes you think.

If you want to see more of Nicola’s work, go to Instagram nicolamilesdesigns where you will find 721 posts, the more recent ones celebrating #folk lore.

In Conversation With….. Rachael from Watson’s Vintage Finds


My previous interviews, in In Conversation With…, have focussed on tea towel designers, whether they are artists, textile or graphic designers; some may sell their tea towels themselves, do it on commission, or both.  Virtually all own their businesses.  I haven’t, as yet, found people who just sell tea towels and that would agree to be interviewed, until now.

I love a vintage tea towel (actually I love most things vintage).  You can often find them at Car Boot Sales or in Charity Shops.  There are some on eBay, at horrendous prices.  Then I found, through Twitter, @WatsonsVintage whose strap line says “I am a lover of all things ‘Vintage’ and ‘Retro’.  I sell these via my Etsy shop.  I also sell pre-loved and new clothing and an eclectic mix on eBay”  Sounds like my sort of place.  I really like the fact that Rachael sells vintage wrapping paper, greetings cards and sewing patterns.  They are worth a look at.  Back to the tea towels.  I have to say that I have never seen one like the ‘Siamese Cats’, possibly a bit creepy, unless, of course, you like Siamese cats.

I was interested in how Rachael organises her business.  “I run my business full-time.  I was working part-time but for health reasons I found it easier to run the business full-time.  The Etsy shop has been opened since 2017.  I have learnt a lot through the last two years since I started.   I am really happy with keeping my business as a small manageable concern so I don’t have any major plans for the future.  I don’t have an eBay shop but I do sell some of my modern tea towels through eBay, when I have them” 

Rachael sells a lot of tea towels; I wondered why she has chosen to sell tea towels alongside her other items: “I decided to sell tea towels initially as they fitted in with the Vintage side of Etsy.  I realised that my overseas customers have a true passion for tea towels and often use them as wall hangings.  Over the last two years, I have really grown to love tea towels, as each and everyone of them holds a memory.  I have bought some from Car Boot Sales, sometimes that have come from someone’s late Mum’s collection, and have had lots of lovely conversations about this.  They have always been so carefully treasured, and looked after too.”

Rachael displays her tea towels with the help of a bull-dog and I wondered why: “The dog that holds the tea towels is an English Bulldog, like my Watson (is that Rachael’s own dog?).   I always use him to hold the tea towels, as it fits with my shop”

I wondered if the retro/vintage theme stretched to her home: “My home isn’t decorated in Vintage Style but I do have a very eclectic mix of different styles throughout.  My home office has some vintage pictures in it though, to give me inspiration.”

And now to her favourite tea towels: “I don’t have a favourite tea towel that I have sold, as I love them all!!  Perhaps, ‘Cries of London’ is a favourite.  It was one of my earliest buys and I do have a soft spot for it.  I absolutely hearing back from my customers, via feedback, that my tea towels have been received with love in their ‘forever homes'”.   My soft spot would be for ‘The Land of Beatrix Potter’, a Pat Albeck design, which is no longer for sale, because a friend of mine bought it for me and is part of my own collection!

Thank you, Rachael, for speaking with me.  I have really enjoyed looking at, and hearing about, your tea towels.  I will keep an eye on @WatsonsVintage because I am sure to find some really good tea towels to add to my collection.

Gwyneth’s Tea Towel Story


I’ve known Gwyneth since 1975; sometimes it seems longer and at other times it feels ridiculous that it is so long ago.  I met her on a course at Stockport College of Technology.  We both loved the course and we both found some of our fellow ‘travellers’ a bit weird.  Gwyneth was the youngest member; I wasn’t much far behind.  Those were the days!  We have kept in touch, and met up, ever since, sharing experiences of her motherhood, both our divorces, many bereavements, family difficulties, ill-health of various kind, moving houses, animals both alive and dead, jobs of many kinds, some weird and wonderful interests and much more…….

Gwyneth has shown an interest in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum but always has an excuse as to why she couldn’t be a Guest Tea Towel; there is a choice of good reasons.  She said her tea towels were in a box in the lobby (How, on earth, did she do the wiping up?) or they needed ironing (everyone says that)!  So I gave Gwyneth a challenge; I asked about her thoughts on this tea towel and, yes, she told me, at length.  I thought it made a good Tea Towel Story.   This was a tea towel that Gwyneth reacted to, in ways very different to the many other people that I asked!  That’s Gwyneth for you; always original, always creative, always thoughtful, always wacky!  Here is her Tea Towel Story:

”Well, my dear friend, you’ve done it again.  Only you can provoke gentle thought in the way you do – and from such a beautiful tea towel.  My immediate thoughts were – Wisdom, Retrospect, Knowing, Believing and …. it shouldn’t take so flippin’ long, should it?  If only I’d known all along that I was just the same as everyone else, I wouldn’t have felt such an ‘outsider’ all my life.  And why didn’t I have the longing to be a Princess?

Age 3: I was living in a field; I had dirty knees, loved the trees, birds, squirrels, foxes, bluebells and didn’t really know what a Princess was.

Aged 8:  The year before (aged 7) I was chosen to be the Angel Gabriel in the village nativity play – a very important role apparently.  Aged 8, I was chosen to be Mary. Dressed in the treasured school garb, I took my steps forward with Ian Crisp, as Joseph; we had a local donkey with us as we trod the isle in the village church.  My goodness, I felt awkward….. if only I knew I’d been chosen because I was simply a nice little girl (and probably fitted the outfit!).

Aged 15:  It has to be said “I was a rebel”.  Though aware of my developing sexuality (and believed I was the next Suzi Quatro), I was more aware of my political interest, led by my Dad and becoming more aware that my Dad and I had little time left; he was dying.  I enjoyed being different (I wasn’t afraid to wear hats), I wanted to learn, I wanted to shout; I was angry.  My Dad died; I was left with lots of anger, uncertainty, seeking safety, confused; didn’t know which hat to wear.

Aged 20:  I was out of a difficult time.  Doing different things, yet restrained by acting in a way that everyone around me seemed to expect.  A more confusing time; however, I met my good friend Barbara.  (She got her dates wrong here!).  She knew which hat I should wear!  How I looked didn’t really seem to matter; what did matter was my own achievement  and how I was working with others.

Aged 30:  Yup, I was ‘post baby’ fat, working hard, feeling useless/confused as a woman, a daughter, a wife.  But, as a mother, and part of a family, I felt good.  I loved that time, developing as an individual and working professionally, enabling other’s futures.  Using all of my senses, my creativity, exploration….. so exciting.  I was in love with everyone around me, I trusted in everything.  I probably wore hats, and certainly went out and ‘did it anyway’.  Music was a driving force in many ways, and continues to be so.

Aged 40:  Still ‘fat’.  I’ll never be model-worthy but not too bothered by that.  Still mucky, still working on the land, looking after a herd of sheep and the allotment, bringing up the children, bringing in an income, playing guitar, singing……. I had a million things to do and loved them all.  Probably wore hats to cover up the ‘bad hair’ days!  Though loving all my work and loving my daughters, there was a gap in my life.  I felt lonely as a woman.  Which hat does one wear for that?

Aged 50:  Been busy, been mucky, been criticised, been thoughtful, been hurt.  It’s ‘G’ time: Growing into another time of my life.  Grieving for people lost to me.  Giving to others in a different way.  Getting to know myself differently.  Becoming a Grandparent; a new Generation.  Growth and wearing a different hat.  Grounding, a time of loss and Getting to know the real me?

Aged 60:  Phew.  A quieter time.  I’m truly thankful and value the good friends around me, along with the time I have to rediscover the person who was always there.  I’m quieter now and so are my hats.  Having no specific professional role means I have time to continue to love the birds, squirrels, bluebells and still have dirty knees (though I don’t reach them as easily now).  I have no illusions of a Princess (whatever that is).  I am just who I have been forever.  Now that I am sixty, I don’t have to make apologies!  My daughters are amazing women and mothers; I know (even without me!) that they will survive to make the world a better place with their knowledge, and love for those around them.  I feel more complete and welcome wearing whichever hat I choose, on any particular day!!

Aged 70:  I am looking forward to being 70.  My grandsons laugh at our antics now; who knows what we will get up to in the future.  There’s more to see, more to discover….I do worry that I won’t be there with them; but they will live on without me.  I feel strong in the memories and strength we have created so far.

Aged 80:  A friend told me that he wouldn’t want to venture further than 70 because he says “it’s grim”.  I believe the people I now know, and have known during their 80s and beyond, are wonderful folk, they teach me much.  I hope to be as vibrant as they are, and look forward to sharing hats with the people I know and love…… there’s always something to learn and a new hat to wear.

Thank you, Gwyneth, for an interesting ‘take’ on this unusual tea towel.

Hilary’s Tea Towel Story

“We grow flowers in our garden!  Our neighbours seem to be growing Tea Towels” said Lynn in a text message to me.  I love to see a tea towel on a washing line.  I sent an urgent message back to Lynn asking her to find out the story behind the tea towels (Obviously, not why they were on a washing line but where they came from) because that could be a great Guest Tea Towel!  Lynn has always been good at researching tea towels for me.

Lynn has been a friend of mine for many years, too long to remember.  She has lived next door to Hilary for more than 25 years; over the years they have shared ‘cat-sitting’, plant-sharing and soup-making.  When I was involved in researching tea for a magazine, Lynn, Helen and Hilary used to be part of a ‘Tea Tasting Group’, gathering at my house for a proper Afternoon Tea and tasting maybe four or five different Darjeelings or Earl Greys….. and many more.  That finished five years ago, so I was delighted to hear from Lynn about Hilary’s tea towels.

”I was in the Girl Guides when I was a girl.  We were encouraged to get a penfriend from a Commonwealth country, as part of the Commonwealth Badge.  My pen friend, Val, was in the Girls Brigade in New Zealand and was doing something similar.  I have no idea how we got paired up.  I have been writing to her since I was 11 years old.  At the turn of the Century, while England was still in 1999, I phoned Val to wish her a Happy New Year and to ask if the ‘Millenium Bug’ had hit them!   All was well and Val had just watched an amazing sunset.   I have met up with her twice and shared a pot of tea.  The last time we met up was in a Tea Shop in Strathaven and we both bought the same tea towel.”

”My daughter lives in Australia.  I can’t help singing Waltzing Matilda when I am drying up with this tea towel.  It always reminds me of her”

”This last tea towel came from a stall that you were running at Belgrave Hall.  It was  linked with our tea tasting sessions.  Those were good times”


Thank you, Hilary, for sharing those memories and, I have to say, you do seem to have a fine collection of tea towels!!

Arthur’s Tea Towel Story


I don’t know Arthur, I’ve never met him but I have heard Margaret talk about him.  Margaret is a member of the Creative Writing Group I belong to.  She has written some very funny pieces and was one of the early members to write a Guest Tea Towel.  For a long time she has said that Arthur would write a poem as a Guest Tea Towel.  When you get an offer like that, you sense it will never happen.  Margaret proved me wrong, I am pleased to say.

I was invited to Afternoon Tea with Ishbel, as a ‘thank you’ for designing her Puppet Festival Tea Towel; it was a kind of ‘reunion’ for the Creative Writing Puppeteers.  Margaret was there AND she brought Arthur’s poem, rather poems, AND a beautiful Emma Bridgewater tea towel, for me.  Clearly the tea towel fits with the theme of the poem but at the bottom of the page I attach an Owl Tea Towel that Ishbel gave to Liz (and, no, she hasn’t given it to me) and a British Owls Tea Towel, very popular for many years which I was given, along with 18 others, by Susan’s mother.

I am making the assumption that Arthur is a bird-watcher but he is also a very funny and clever poet!

                                                    Teet Owl (Dryers family)

In Britain:    Common

Identification:     White with dark stains on breast, even after washing

Voice:     Whistles, like a pig

Habitat:    Kitchen drawers, clothes baskets, washing lines, rhubarb trees

Food:     Mops up jam, treacle, milk and other liquids

Breeding:      Year round in dark cupboards, rhubarb trees

With thanks to Collins ‘Birds of Britain’

Using his knowledge of the Teet Owl, Arthur has written a masterpiece of a poem:

Teet Owl

Is a pretty bird

It whistles like a pig

It builds it’s nest in a rhubarb tree

And leaps from twig to twig.

It plays it’s song on a rolling pin

And sings a happy rhumba

It likes to dine at 49

On grapeshot and cucumber.

It has a mate called a Poppin Jay

Who really knows his onions.

He goes to school ‘cos he’s no fool

He’s an expert on Bird Bunions.

Thank you Arthur for making me laugh!

Lyra’s Tea Towel Story: 2019

b5e4deac-8b04-4212-a6b6-c6791016e11bI have known Lyra since the day she was born, eight years ago.  I remember her as a tiny baby looking cute in her babygro; I remember her sitting in her high chair, covered in chocolate, having just eaten an enormous chocolate cake; I remember going on holiday with her to Italy and her joy at the outdoor swimming pool; I remember when she took all our DVDs off the shelves and piled them up around the lounge.  I remember taking her to the theatre to see “Awful Auntie’, the “Gangsta Grannie” and finally we went to see “Peter Pan” a couple of weeks ago.  Lyra loves the theatre, sits mesmerised as the story unfolds.  I know that she loves stationery but I never realised how talented she is as a writer; as someone who loves writing, it is a joy to read some of her work.

I was in one of our local shops a couple of days ago, and spotted a multi-pack of tea towels with a label ‘Huggable’; for me it was a bit of a bizarre name.  Huggable is not a word I would have associated with a tea towel.  I couldn’t resist buying them (they were a bargain).  Bizarrely, on the same day, when I got home, Jai had sent, by WhatsApp, a copy of one of Lyra’s pieces of prose about her Teddy Bear.  You can see my train of thought: how would you describe a Teddy Bear?  Huggable?  A piece of writing and a tea towel, what does that mean?  Guest Tea Towel!  So I asked Lyra if she would like to become a Guest Tea Towel, and therefore a published author, and she agreed.   Here is her piece:

”My Teddy Bear is my best friend.  His fat tummy is made for hugging when I am happy or sad.  His big ears listen to my secrets.  Soft paws, fluffy fur, bright eyes.  I think he knows everything about me!”

One of the very clever parts of this writing is that it is written inside the Teddy Bear’s tummy; writing and graphics.  What more could you want?


And, finally, where is the tea towel?  You can’t have a Tea Towel Story without a tea towel.  So here they are!  They are great.  Thank you Lyra for the fantastic story.  Keep writing and I’d be happy to publish other pieces of work if I can find a tea towel to match.


Guest Tea Towels 2019

Rob’s Tea Towel Story


To read Rob’s Tea Towel Story……..Rob’s Tea Towel Story

Gwyneth’s Tea Towel Story


To read Gwyneth’s Tea Towel Story….. Gwyneth’s Tea Towel Story

Hilary’s Tea Towel Story


To read Hilary’s Tea Towel Story……. Hilary’s Tea Towel Story

Arthur’s Tea Towel Story


To read Arthur’s Tea Towel Story…… Click here Arthur’s Tea Towel Story

Lyra’s Tea Towel Story


To read Lyra’s Tea Towel Story…… Click here Lyra’s Tea Towel Story: 2019

Sue’s Tea Towel Story

I haven’t known Sue long.  She is a new member of the Creative Writing Group that I attend.  Creative Writing is not just about writing prolifically; it is also about reading your work out loud and being receptive to constructive criticism, the suggestions and ideas of others.  This can be scary process when you undertake it initially.  Sometimes we do this as a whole group, up to 16 people, but every other week we break into small groups, of three or four members and share our work.  Sue is a member of the small group I belong to.

Last week, our homework, to be shared in our small group, was to write a poem about a musical instrument.  When Sue sent her poem to the small group she said “Mine is not about an instrument.  I spent ages trying to come up with a poem about a Bodrhan (an Irish frame drum covered in goat skin) but gave up”.   Instead, she chose to use the phrase “No one spoke of it” that our Tutor had given us, as her inspiration.   As she explains, her poem about Sheringham was inspired by two photographs she came across.

When I read Sue’s poem, my tea towel of Sheringham came to mind.  Never one to miss an opportunity, I suggested that she could become part of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum.  If she wanted to link her poem about Sheringham with my tea towel, it would make a wonderful Tea Towel Story.  She agreed but added “Have you got a tea towel of Cromer because I have another poem?”  Even better.  So let Sue tell her story:

These two places are linked together. The first holiday we had together and the last.

In 1971, Mick and I, both 19, went on a weekend away, by train to Sheringham.  Staying in a small bed and breakfast, we fell in love with each other and began our life’s journey together.  Our last holiday in 2015, between chemo treatments, was in Cromer.  We stayed in a small cottage, not far from the Rocket Café.

The two poems, were both written after Mick’s death in 2016.  The Sheringham poem was inspired by two photographs which were taken on our last visit in 2012.  The Cromer poem was inspired by sounds of the seaside at a Maggie’s Creative Writing Group”.


                                                      Two Photographs

Both taken by the other

on Sheringham beach one October.

I’m sat on the sea-wall

overlooking a grey-blue scape.

You’re atop a boulder

surrounded by the shingleshore.


I’m wearing my pumpkin coloured jeans.

You’re wearing black. No change there then.

Behind me, wooden groynes gradually

disappear into the sea.

Behind you, a glimpse of infinity.

We share the sound of the waves.


Six years have elapsed.

The photos surfaced today.

Time together was limited.

Our faces hide the pain and fear

that was to come.

And we didn’t speak of it


                                                            On Cromer Pier

Huddled together in the white-wood sea-shelter,

Eating fish and chips on the wind-battered pier.

Greedy-greasy fingers tearing apart succulent fish,

Drowned in salt and vinegar.


Listening to the sound of waves crashing below,

Breaking over the shingle-shore.

A squabble of seagulls interrupted,

Deftly, diving for the remains of our meal.


Eyes squint-dazzled by the shimmering sea,

Glimpsing seaside buildings, clifftop-clinging.

The February wind scorched our faces,

With scratchy starfish-fingers.


Two years ago, on Cromer pier,

We observed other faces,

Submerged in their crab-shell lives,

As our life, together, was dying.

Thank you Sue for two great poems, so personal, that match my tea towels so perfectly. They make a great Tea Towel Story.  And I do love a Groyne, such a beautiful construction.

Cathy’s Tea Towel Story

In September 2017, I signed up for a Creative Writing Course in Nottingham.  Very wary because amongst some writers I am aware that ‘Blogging’ is not really regarded as ‘proper writing’, a bit like some people denigrate Paralympics as ‘not proper sport’.  The Course Tutor was Cathy Grindrod, a well-known local writer.  This is probably the best class I have ever signed up to (besides the Floristry Course I did about thirty years ago).  It has stretched me, challenged me, focused me and been totally enjoyable.  I may not be a skilled writer, but as my friend Liz says, “You are almost certainly the most prolific writer in the group!”  At the beginning I did offer all the members of the group, including Cathy, the chance to be a Guest Tea Towel.  Cathy readily volunteered.  As with skilled, professional, sound writers things take a long time; original drafts being amended, rewritten, tweaked.  In Cathy’s case, more than a year but it was worth waiting for.  Such a great tea towel, stunning colour with a lovely story.  Thank you Cathy!  And I love the philosophy of Helen Mort, a woman who knows about tea towels.


                                                  More than Just a Tea Towel

“What do you DO? was the most frequently asked question when I was appointed by Derbyshire County Council as Derbyshire’s first Poet Laureate (2005-2007).  By the end of the two years, I was wondering if there was anything I DIDN’T do.

The aim of the Laureateship was to connect people across Derbyshire through poetry – with events, talks, community group visits, through performances, poetry reading and writing workshops, and to write commissioned poems on a range of subjects relevant to people’s lives.  I remember those two years now (after initial terror and telling myself I would just have to take it a step at a time) as a wonderful whirl of activities meeting people from 12 months to 103 years.  The best moments always came when sharing my poems with others led to them creating their own or telling their own stories in response.

At the end of the Laureateship, all the poems I created were collected in the book, Laureate Lines, in which I wrote … “I have read everywhere from b & bs, and marquees to schools and castles; inspired poets on a barge, at carnivals, on a wagon train; become an expert in old nails, the lifecycle of robins, limestone formations, plague cures, 12th century football; overcome completely a fear of history lingering from schooldays, heard tales about parental pastimes that would make your hair curl; and been not just a poet, but a bird-watcher, screen writer, local historian, cow girl, botanist, cave dweller ….”

What other job would have introduced me to all that? Or have given me the confidence to make a freelance career in which writing is at the centre of everything?

After the Laureateship, I went on to many other writing adventures with all kinds of people, while the second Laureate, River Wolton, was appointed, and supported by the expert management of Ali Betteridge, Literature Development Officer.  River and I worked together on some projects and occasionally still do, most recently working with Derby Carers, and I always enjoy both her company and her poetry.

In 2009, Ann Atkinson became Laureate and made the role uniquely her own (as we all did – set free to find our own strengths and writing about the things we were most passionate about).  In 2009 a male Laureate was appointed – Matt Black.  Matt has remained a good friend and co-critic and we continue to support each others’ projects.

During Matt’s tenure, Ann sadly and unexpectedly died, far too early, and we all felt her loss greatly.  She was a much loved and popular educator and friend.

The final Derbyshire Poet Laureate was Helen Mort (2013-2015), who has gone on since to great things in the Poetry world, including being shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize for Poetry.

It was a wonderful, creative decade for Derbyshire – with poetry read, written and enjoyed all over the County, and many commissioned poems written by the combined (‘Lorra?’) Laureates.  We attended each other’s launches and farewells and appeared all together at times, to read at joint events, latterly also remembering Ann and sharing the reading of her wonderful poetry between us.

My tea towel is a reminder of those times – printed during Helen’s Laureateship and signed for me.  I know she also loved the tea towel.  She says in her own Laureate book, “of all the varied commissions I’ve done as Derbyshire Poet Laureate, my … tea towel is my firm favourite.  Some poets dream of seeing their name in lights or carved in stone. I’ve always wanted my poetry to be useful.”

I love her poem and all the memories of those years, and the fact that, though I was born in London and brought up in Lancashire, twenty years ago Derbyshire became and remains, my one true home.

Black and White photograph: Matt Black

Photograph at the bottom of the page: Cathy Grindrod

Other photographs, top to bottom: River Wolton, Ann Atkinson, Helen Mort 


Eunice’s Tea Towel Story

If you have read Isaac’s Tea Towel Story, then you need to understand that Eunice is Isaac’s great grandmother.  I like a family story!

I have known Eunice for many years but more recently have shared meals with her, and my friend Gwyneth, just before Christmas.  They were really enjoyable events.  When I asked Gwyneth to be a Guest Tea Towel, avoiding the request herself, she cleverly talked to her mother about some of her favourite tea towels.  This is the tale that Eunice told her daughter:


”Eunice is seen with one of her favourite tea towels, representing memories of some 50 years in Guiding.  Eunice began her work in Brownies and Guides in 1960s and continues as a member of the Trefoil Guild.  (The Trefoil Guild celebrates it’s 75th birthday this year but doesn’t have a celebratory tea towel to commemorate the event!) This tea towel reminds her of many years supporting the Children’s Inn, Rowarth, Derbyshire.  This little house has been the base for the pack holidays, outdoor cooking, hiking, observing and children taking part in the rhythms of nature around them.

Alongside that, there were many chores to do in working together.  Evenings were brought to a close with camp fire songs, stories and lots of washing up, drying the pots and being prepared for the adventures of the next day.  Fond memories for Eunice as an International Guider”.


”Eunice second tea towel was brought back from a holiday of a lifetime, Moscow 1972.  Yes, it is used, it’s washed, ironed and comes out again to dry the pots (after all, that’s what they are for).  It reminds Eunice of her time in Moscow as part of a Fire Brigade trip to that far place of which she had only dreamed.  She visited Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral, the mysteries of the Underground Railway and her dream of dreams, the Bolshoi Ballet.  Sadly, Eunice’s husband Trevor passed away two years later.  This little tea towel reminds her of a much treasured time”


Thank you Eunice for sharing your memories.  I always like hearing the stories that tea towels remind people of.  They should be recorded and become part of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum, a social history.

Isaac’s Tea Towel Story


Isaac is my friend Gwyneth’s grandson.  I have known Gwyneth since 1976, since before she even had children, let alone grandchildren.  We went to Stockport College of Technology, training to be Instructors in Adult Training Centres.  Gywneth is the sort of friend that I can rely on if things are tough; she’s someone who I may not see for many months yet can immediately pick up on things as soon as we meet up.  Gwyneth is a true friend so she was an obvious choice to be a Guest Tea Towel in July 2017.  There were lots of excuses: her tea towels were in a suitcase in the hall which she couldn’t get at (unlikely); they needed ironing (everyone uses that excuse).  I gave up hoping she would prepare one then a couple of weeks ago she sent me Isaac’s Tea Towel Story.  Thank you Gwyneth; it was worth waiting for.

”Isaac, aged 6, is very proud of his school tea towel.  The children of Loatlands School in Desborough designed a tea towel to raise funds to add books to their new Library Corner.  Isaac said “All of the children drew a picture of themselves even if they were not used to drawing pictures.  Then all of the pictures were put on big paper and we went into the hall to look at them.  Then the pictures went to the printer people who made the tea towel.  My picture of myself  is in the middle.  I wasn’t very good at drawing then because I was only 4.  When the tea towel came back the mummies and daddies could buy them and that gave our school money for new books.

My mummy bought some tea towels and we made presents for people.  That makes other people happy …….. and the money made a better Book Corner in our school, that’s a good thing and it doesn’t matter if you can’t draw very well…… I think we are all quite proud of our tea towel”

After I received Isaac’s Story, I got an email from Gwyneth saying ”Isaac was really interested in our journey around the Tea Towel Museum, writing about his tea towel, posing for photos etc and would like to pass the info onto his school.  If you think his entry is fitting let me know, he would love to share it”

Of course Isaac’s Tea Towel Story is ‘fitting’, thank you Isaac and perhaps some of your friends would like to write about their favourite tea towel.  It would make a good school project.  Let me know!!

Steve’s Tea Towel Story


I have known Steve 17 years (I remember this fact, even if Steve doesn’t), initially through my work.  There are three phases to our friendship.  We first met when he was the Treasurer of an organisation in Nottingham that had asked for my advice.  I used to enjoy my regular trips to Nottingham, meeting up with him, seeing how another organisation worked.  You can always learn something new.  Our relationship moved on when, after a few years, I wondered if Steve wanted to do some work in the organisation that I worked in and he agreed; he now acts as Treasurer (it is very difficult to get anyone to take on the role of Treasurer in a charity, so we were very lucky).  Finally, when I retired, we kept in contact; I used to pop over and see him in Nottingham.  I enjoy a good declutter so when he was moving house I helped with the process of down-sizing.  Now I have moved to Nottingham, I am but a short bus ride from where he lives.  What do I know about Steve?  Not a lot really except that he has, and always has had, a passionate interest in cars: big cars, small cars, model cars, books on cars and, surprisingly, car showroom guides to cars especially from 1960s and 1970s.  These are his prize possession and no way, no matter how much downsizing he wanted to do, would they find their way to the recycling facility.  As a house-warming present, I bought him a tea towel with cars from the 1950s and 60s.

When I invited Steve to become a Guest Tea Towel, about a year ago, I naturally assumed that his Tea Towel Story would be something about cars.  It was a long time in coming and how wrong could I be?  Enough of me, let Steve tell his story:

”I have known Barbara for quite a few years now, probably more than it seems (how right you are Steve!) through our work to provide services for people with disabilities.  It was only in more recent years that I have learnt that Barbara collected tea towels.  I have to admit that when I first heard of this, I think when someone presented her with a tea towel at one of our regular meetings, I thought this was an odd thing to have collected.  This was because my own experience of tea towels is far more duller than that of Barbara’s.

To me, a tea towel was simply a small cotton towel that was usually predominantly white with a bright coloured checked pattern in red, blue, yellow or green that you used in the kitchen to dry up after washing the dishes etc.  I thought why on earth would anyone want to collect hundreds of these boring tea towels.  It is just bizarre.

Obviously, through Barbara’s Tea Towel Blog I have now seen the light and, as a collector of ornaments and pictures that evoke memories from different places and times, I totally get it.  Sorry Barbara for doubting your sanity!

One question that has been bugging me is why we call them ‘tea towels’ and not kitchen towels or dish towels or drying towels/cloths?  Surely these names would more accurately describe the purpose of the towel and where does tea come into this?  Here is the answer: A tea towel or drying-up cloth (British English) or dish towel (American) is a cloth which is used to dry dishes, cutlery etc after they have been washed.  In 18th century England, a tea towel was a special linen, drying cloth, used by the mistress of the house to dry her precious and expensive china tea things.  Servants were considered too ham-fisted to be trusted with such a delicate job (Towel on Wikipedia).

When Barbara suggested that I write a Guest Tea Towel Blog, my initial thought was how do I find a tea towel that inspires me to write something vaguely interesting about it.  I spent quite some time on eBay, scrolling through loads of tea towels, feeling very uninspired (I like to know Steve spent a lot of effort on this task but no wonder it took so long to arrive!).  Then I spotted ‘A Mother’s Letter’ tea towel that instantly put a smile on my face and I knew that was the one to write about.

I remember someone giving me a copy of the full version of this letter when I was a child.  I just found it hilariously funny as it is just a really silly perspective on everyday life.  Apologies to anyone of Irish descent.  I am sure that you are as intelligent as anyone else and the tea towel is made by Irish Linen so it cannot be taken too seriously by Irish people.

Well, that is my Guest Tea Towel Blog that brought back a fond memory from childhood.  I hope you have found it as amusing as I have and it is not just my strange sense of humour.

Thank you Steve for a great Tea Towel Story.  What is more amazing is that I came home the other night and there through my letter box was this tea towel, a present from Steve. It has now become part of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum.  Steve has, however, found the complete version of this letter which I now add.  He says “There seems to be various versions of the letter around and the author is unknown.  However, here is the most complete version that I can find”.

A Mother’s Letter

Dear Son

Just a few lines to let you know I’m still alive.  I’m writing this letter slowly because I know you can’t read fast.  We are all doing very well.

You won’t recognise the house when you get home, we have moved.  Your father read in the newspaper that most accidents happen within 20 miles of your home so we moved.  I won’t be able to send you the address because the last Irish family that lived there took the house numbers when they moved so that they wouldn’t have to change their address.

This place is really modern.  It even has a washing machine.  I’m not sure it works so well though.  Last week I put a load in and pulled the chain and haven’t seen them since.  

Our neighbours started to raise pigs and we got wind of it this morning.

Your father’s got a really good job now.  He’s got 500 men under him.  He’s cutting the grass at the cemetery.

Your sister Mary had a baby this morning but I haven’t found out if it’s a boy or a girl so I don’t know whether you are an auntie or an uncle.

Your brother Tom is still in the army.  He’s only been there a short while and they’ve already made him a Court Martial.

Your Uncle Patrick drowned last week in a vat of whiskey in Dublin Brewery.  Some of his work mates tried to save him but he fought them off bravely.  They cremated him and it took 3 days to put the fire out. 

Your father didn’t drink too much at Christmas.  I put a bottle of castor oil in his beer and it kept him going till New Year.

I’m sorry to say that your cousin Seamus was arrested while riding his bike last week.  They are charging him with dope peddling.

I went to the doctor on Thursday and your father was with me.  The doctor put a small tube in my mouth and told me not to talk for 10 minutes.  Your father offered to buy it from him.

The weather isn’t bad here.  It only rained twice this week, first for three days then for four days.  Monday was so windy one of the chickens laid the same egg four times.

We had a letter from the undertaker.  He said if the last payment on your grandmother’s plot wasn’t paid in seven days, up she comes.

About that coat you wanted me to send to you.  Your Uncle Stanley said it would be too heavy to send in the mail with the buttons on so we cut them off and put them in the pockets.

John locked his keys in the car yesterday.  We were really worried because it took him two hours to get me and your father out.

Three of your friends went off a bridge in a pick-up truck.  Ralph was driving.  He rolled down the window and swam to safety.  Your other two friends were in the back.  They drowned because they couldn’t get the tailgate down.

There isn’t much more news at this time.  Nothing much has happened.

I must close now as the plumber is here to fix the washing machine as it smells awful.

Your loving Mum

PS: I was going to send you some money but I’d already sealed the envelope

You certainly couldn’t fit the whole of the original letter on a tea towel!!  Thanks once again Steve!!




In Conversation With… Erica Sturla


I have several Erica Sturla tea towels.  I bought my first in Edinburgh; it had to be William Wallace with the strap line “Be brave….it’s just a wee pile of dishes”.  The second was Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat long as they wash up afterwards” and lastly, Julius Caesar “I came, I saw, I conquered the washing up”, bought from a small stall, outside the theatre, at Stratford Upon Avon.  I love the designs and the clever play on words.  There is a way in which she can make those models come alive; there is a sense in which the words on the tea towels really do belong to the models.  When I wrote the Tea Towel Blog on Julius Caesar ( dated 12 July 2018) I thought Erica Sturla would be a good tea towel designer to have a conversation with.  Clever tea towels make wiping up so much more interesting!

Let Erica tell her own story:  “I’m an artist and illustrator, based in Sussex.  About 20 years ago I discovered polymer clay and made some very basic figures which I mounted on hand-made cards.  It was a very small-scale production and the figures were rather tiny and crudely modelled!  I was working as a graphic designer and had two very young children at the time so it was really a side-line.  About ten years ago, I began creating larger, more detailed figures and assembled them in groups on hand-painted backgrounds – paintings with a three dimensional quality.  Some small art galleries started to show them and I was thrilled when they began to sell.

In 2011, I began working with Holy Mackerel Ltd who publish cards.  Soon I had many designs, across several ranges of cards, so we decided to launch the tea towels.  My ‘Funny Olde World’ range of tea towels makes a humorous twist on historical figures and there are now 15 designs.  


It is a range that continues to grow and has been taken up by small independent shops, museums and heritage gift shops.  It’s a very proud moment when you see one of you tea towels in the Tower of London!


I trained in Fashion Illustration and Journalism, worked as a designer in the sign industry and now I’m a full-time professional artist, dividing my time between creating paintings for galleries, modelling figures for cards, tea towels and gifts and undertaking private commissions for portraits in clay.  As a child, I always wanted to be a clothes designer.  Well, in a way, I suppose I am – I make figures and design and make very tiny clothes for them in clay!  

It’s always fun to begin with a lump of clay and from it create figures that have a personality and interact with each other in a joyful scene.  I’ll be exhibiting for the first time at the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate in April 2019.  I’m very excited to see how people react to my paintings and new designs on tea towels and hope this will bring new ideas for more products in the future”

Thank you Erica for telling Visitors to the Museum about your work.  I am interested how so many Tea Towel Designers (a) have started off in mainstream industry and end up with their own small businesses, often sacrificing big money for pure enjoyment and (b) how many refer to the importance of small independent shops.  Erica is no exception.

I cannot end this article without two of my absolute favourite tea towels;  I have not come across these in my never-ending search for tea towels.  These are tea towels of a different theme; who could resist the Full English?

Foundling Museum


Finding charities which have a fundraising tea towel, and want to be included in ChariTea Towel, has proved more difficult than I imagined.  Mainly because they don’t sell tea towels, or not tea towels that have any relation to the charity.  For the first anniversary of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum, I did think I ought to try and find one to include.

I spotted the Foundling Museum on Instagram and thought I spotted a tea towel as well.  Was my luck in?  Annabel, at the Foundling Museum, didn’t think they qualified because it wasn’t used as a fundraiser for a particular project, just for the upkeep of the museum.  I think that fits the bill.

”The Foundling Museum explores the history of the Foundling Hospital, the UK’s first children’s charity (now called CORAM) and the first public art gallery.  Our Collection is a story about the children who lived at the hospital, how they came to be there, how they were looked after and how the hospital was established and run.   It is also the story of how, from the very beginning, the hospital was supported by London’s vibrant artistic community, from the 18th to 21st Century.  The Collection covers everyday objects used in the Foundling Hospital, books, documents and records, musical scores and librettos, photographs, oral history recordings, works of art, clocks, furniture and probably the most moving, tokens left by mothers who could no longer care for their children.

Artists like William Hogarth donated works of art; musicians like George Handel bequeathed musical scores and librettos.  The Foundling Museum holds the George Coke Handel Collection, an important library and archive.

The Foundling Hospital was established in 1740 under the patronage of William Hogarth and George Friedric Handel which has brought about the strapline of ‘where artists and children have inspired each other since 1740’.  The Museum has many programmes of learning, sponsorship and concerts for, and by, children.

The Museum not only has permanent exhibitions but also time-limited ones.  For the whole of 2018 there is an exhibition called First Amongst Equals where remarkable women who have shaped contemporary British society choose an object that ‘speaks to them’ from the Collection.  For example, Moira Cameron, the first female Yeoman Warder of the Guards chose a suitcase belonging to George Merrett”

Every time I go to London for a hospital appointment, I have walked past the Foundling Museum and have never called in.  I am determined that in September this will be a port of call.  It sounds fascinating and I really would like to see the First Amongst Equals exhibition.

The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AZ