In Conversation With…. MollyMac

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I have a lot of tea towels (probably the understatement of the year); when people ask me what my favourite tea towel is, I can honestly say that I don’t have an ‘individual favourite’ but I do know what I like.  I like tea towels with a ‘style’, a USP, that you can recognise as belonging to a ‘maker’, that are unusual, unique and feel like fun.

My adventure on Instagram has introduced me to some great tea towels; MollyMac is one.  About 18 months ago, I thought “Must try and get them on In Conversation With…” so with finger on iPad, I invited them and they accepted.  I was excited but, immediately after that invitation, unexpected, and sad events took place in my life.   Sending the questions to them went out of my mind.  At the end of November 2019, my cousin Amanda, gave me the ‘Merry Christmas’ tea towel (at the top of the page) and thought “I must get in contact with MollyMac and explain.  Maybe they will forgive me and agree to be interviewed”.  Their response was positive, and forgiving.  I sent the questions, and waited.  Nothing happened.  But this was the Christmas build-up and that has to be the busiest time for tea towel sellers.  I contacted them after the Christmas holiday and the answers came.  As I was about to write the article, my iPad seized up.  I was beginning to think that this article was destined not to be printed.  I am not one to give up; switch it off and leave it for a day.  This is the story of MollyMac:

I wanted to know How MollyMac started.  “MollyMac is run by Joanne Preston and Lisa MacDonald.  Jo and I met at a Craft Fair – she bought a bag off me.  I was making and selling bags at the time.  We kept bumping into each other.  I taught at Jersey’s Art School, at that time, and she came and did some design workshops for students.  I was also running community arts projects and she came along with her son, a cute two year old, if I remember rightly!  We then both started working at a print shop, running projects and we really just clicked.  MollyMac grew out of that really.  There were a few stops and starts but about 10 years ago MollyMac was born”.

What about your backgrounds?  “Jo is a graphic designer; she went into that job after school and worked for many years as a commercial designer, for Ad Agencies and the like.  My route was more roundabout.  I have a fine art degree which I studied for, part-time, when I was an adult with kids.  I taught art at Youth Clubs, via Community Projects at schools and the Art School.  I loved teaching.  However, I continuously told my students to get out there, be an artist or run a creative business.  Finally, I decided to do it myself.  Jo joined me once I started.

Our roles are pretty fluid.  Jo is the designer and I do the drawing….. usually; sometimes, Jo does some drawing.  Jo works out pricing, does the ordering and looks after some local accounts.  Jo looks after Amazon and our website and I look after Etsy and Folksy.  I tend to do the marketing, write the newsletter and handle the wholesale accounts.  We halve the week, taking turns in sending out our online orders, which we do every week day”.

How do you sell your goods?  “We sell online via Etsy, Amazon, Amazon Handmade, our website and Folksy; we do have some wholesale accounts but these days we are mainly an online business.  We have done Craft Fairs and Trade Shows, but we don’t now.  We just concentrate on being online”.

I am always interested in the popularity of tea towels!  “Without doubt, our most popular item is our tea towels; we have several designs that sell well.  We have designed over 100 tea towels, and counting, but I don’t know which is my favourite.  Jo says she likes the ‘Bird on the Wire’ design but I think we both keep changing our minds.  I like the ‘Wildflower’ design and the ‘Elephants Parade’; but I also like the ‘Venery Nouns’ for animals.”

What about the future?  “I think we both hope that we will survive the next five years, and keep on keeping on.  We are both worried about the Brexit effect.  Jo is more optimistic about this generally than I am; we just keep on going, heads down,  hopeful we will weather any storm, dealing with problems as they occur.  We are both in our fifties so we are just going to see what happens”.

I am fascinated by how their distinctive style came about.  “Our style came out of pure luck.  When we started the business I was stitching everything onto cotton, using different fabrics.  We decided to print some elements of the design, to improve our turnover.  We created a print to see how the fabrics looked and realised, by mixing and matching patterns, we gave our designs a really unique feel.  We then started creating our own patterns and just ran with the idea”.    

What about work-life balance?  “At the end of 2018, we realised we were working too hard.  I was really questioning  how hard you can work, and for how long.  I think we were both doing about 70 hours a week.  So at the beginning of 2019, we made some changes.  Now we only work 3 days a week each, crossing over for one day.  We stopped doing Craft Fairs and Trade Shows and took a good look at the business: we now work smarter, not longer.

Jo now takes on other design projects from time to time; she is a skilled interior designer so has been doing a little of that for herself and friends and I am painting.  I paint three days a week and am hoping to have an exhibition later in the year and will no doubt be selling my work via social media.

We feel pretty good about the balance we have managed to create; it makes running MollyMac much more fun and, weirdly, I think we are being more level headed about the business aspect.  We had to learn about business and it was a sharp learning curve!

Big advice to other aspiring creatives: Get the numbers right!”        

Thank you to Jo and Lisa.  That was a great interview.  Perhaps the only thing I missed out asking was how the name MollyMac came about; maybe I’ll just leave that to the Readers imagination.

PS: My favourite tea towel is the ‘Merry Christmas’ that I was given, a present from my cousin.

Paula’s Tea Towel Story

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I do not know Paula; I haven’t met her but she is a friend of a close friend of mine.  That’s good enough for me.  This is their story:

“This tea towel was a lovely Christmas present from Paula.  My friend Paula is holding the tea towel.  She lives in Wellington, New Zealand.  I met Paula several years ago, in a workshop about ‘stumbling blocks’: that is, what is stopping us from moving forward.  Paula created a fantastic collage of her dream, living close to the sea, close to her grandchildren and having the opportunity to be settled with her family.

Her ‘stumbling block’ was her lovely Mum, Betty, who was approaching her ninetieth year and, although frail, encouraged Paula to follow her dream.  Torn though she was, Paula set off to New Zealand where she has developed an Air B&B business.  And this is where I stepped in, as ‘the other Paula’.

Paula has been in New Zealand for the past three years, her business is going well and she spends many happy times with her grandchildren, her son and his wife.  She lives close to the beach and still keeps the collage she made all those years ago, she is part of the family she longed for, and, as her mum told her to do, – she followed her dream.

Each year Paula returns to England for a while to spend time with Betty; it’s great to see them swapping tales and enjoying being together.  Part of my family live in New Zealand, which strengthens the  links between Paula and I.  I understood her collage and ‘her stumbling block’ – but what a fine example of how a dream can become true.  I am honoured that Paula sought my help, and trusted me enough, to support her Mum, which I thoroughly enjoy.  They are both fine women.

The tea towel represents friendship and how, by trusting friends, we can overcome some of the stumbling blocks in life.  Hey!  Next year I will visit my own family and will stay in Paula’s B&B.

In my experience, New Zealand is a country that loves, and values, tea towels.  For someone who hasn’t been to New Zealand, I seem to have a lot of New Zealand tea towels, tea towels with maps or kiwis or wildlife so Paula’s tea towel is a wonderful traditional tea towel.  Thank you for a lovely Tea Towel Story.

Helen’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Helen.  Helen is Rob’s husband; Rob is one of ten people I shared a house with, many many years ago.  Helen didn’t live there but I got to know her through Rob, who lived ‘next door’ to me.  Rob liked music; he was very considerate, he listened to his music through headphones.  However, Rob liked to sing along to his music.  Let me assure you, there is nothing worse than hearing someone singing along, tone deaf, to music when you don’t know the track he is singing to.  Helen’s visits were always welcome because it meant he didn’t listen to his music.  I am quite sure that I had some extremely annoying habits and I couldn’t complain if that was his only fault.

Rob and Helen moved to the north-west and became the recipients of the inevitable Christmas Newsletter.  They have followed the story of the Museum and two years ago contributed a tea towel from their Australian holiday (See Tea Towel Blog of 8 March 2018 entitled ‘Tea Time Sheep’).  It is probably more than 25 years since we had met until, out of the blue, they got in contact to say that they were staying nearby; I remember the day very clearly – Harry and Megan’s wedding day.

It was Helen who took up the challenge of being a Guest Tea Towel 2020.  I have asked if Rob was going to add his own entry but no response so far.  Here is Helen’s Tea Towel Story:

“Thank you for your Christmas letter.  I have taken up your challenge and taken a photo of our ‘oldest’ tea towel.  We bought this tea towel 42 years ago in the Algarve, Portugal.  We were staying with Rob’s family, in a villa Rob’s father owned with some friends.  It was our only visit to the villa before it was sold.  Originally, we didn’t use it as a tea towel but hung it up in the kitchen in the first house we owned in Runcorn”

However disparaging people might be about tea towels (and tea towel collectors), there is no question that they can conjure up memories and can be part of a family’s history.  Thank you, Helen, for taking up the challenge and for a picture of a very traditional Portuguese tea towel (which will appear in the Museum).

 

 

Alan and Sheila’s Tea Towel Story

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I’ve had a great response from the invitation I sent out with my Christmas cards, inviting people to become a Guest Tea Towel 2020.  When I say ‘great response’, I wasn’t even sure anyone would respond.  Many people think that my obsession with Tea Towels maybe ‘a bit odd’.

So I was very excited by the email from Alan: “We do not have a tea towel that has much meaning to either, or both of us.  However, I wanted to make a real donation to your real museum, assuming that this is still within the rules!  It will arrive separately by post”.  And it did!

So who are Alan and Sheila?  I met Alan in September 1973, when I moved to Long Eaton to start an MA at Nottingham University (I didn’t last long there and had to get a job).  I found a place to live, sharing with 10 other people that I didn’t know, in fact, had never met.  We were a mixed bunch, some at work, some doing PhDs (in a variety of subjects), some doing a teaching qualification, and me.  Clearly, it was a big house (if 11 of us were living there), with two communal kitchens; I belonged to the Downstairs Kitchen, as did Alan.  There was a rota for cooking for five people, doing the washing up, shopping and cleaning; some better at some tasks than others.  Alan, as I recall, was good at cooking, unlike me but I liked washing up.  For a calendar year, we shared 17 Breedon Street; for the second year, five of us moved to Castle Donington.  Those two years were very happy times and I have many photographs to prove it.  After two years, we all went our separate ways; we frequently met up and from 1976 Alan was one of the people who received my Christmas Newsletter every year.  Not long after, Alan met Sheila, got married and the rest is history.  I have some photos of their wedding which I am tempted to post!

Alan originated from Hayle in Cornwall; he was doing a PhD in Ergonomics.  I never did understand what that was or what job he ended up doing.  This is Alan and Sheila’s Tea Towel Story:

“As you are a dedicated theatre goer, I wanted to send you a picture of Minack Theatre, because this is where I discovered the joy of live professional theatre, back in 1960s.  It’s where I saw ‘The Crucible’, ‘Under Milk Wood’, ‘Oh What a Lovely War’, ‘The Tempest’ and many, many others.  It’s also where I started to appreciate that Shakespeare was writing for an audience, not school exams!  Over many performances we, and the cast, only really got wet once.  They were staging ‘An Old Time Music Hall’ (akin to the TV programme of the era).  It was slinging it down, but the Chairman said, if we sit there, they will continue, and so we, and they, did!  The sad thing is that I have not been back for nigh on 50 years, in which time it seems to have gone from strength to strength.  Just maybe I will this year?

The Minack has other earlier memories for me because in the mid to late 1950s, my Dad and I occasionally went fishing from the Minack Rock at Porthcurnow which is directly below where the theatre was being created.

The black and white picture on the towel is from the 1950s and comes from the Francis Firth Collection (www.francisfirth.com), as does the tea towel.  The coloured picture (at the bottom) is from the Gallery at http://www.minack.com and shows how magical the setting can be.

Here’s hoping we haven’t strayed too far from the rules”

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That is a great story (and a wonderful tea towel).  Minack Theatre is one of those places I have always wanted to go but never got round to it and now I don’t think I’d be fit enough!!  But it does always remind me of Derek Tangye’s ‘Minack Chronicles’ so thanks to Alan and Sheila.

Paul’s Tea Towel Story

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If you are following Guest Tea Towels 2020, the last story you will have read was that from Shirley.  Paul is Shirley’s husband; they chose to ‘do’ a tea towel each.  This is Paul’s story:

“Representation of the Chapel at Kings College Cambridge.  This is a souvenir of a road trip from Bristol to Cambridge on a baking hot summer’s day in 1975, in a 1959 VW Beatle with a heater that was stuck on full heat for the whole journey”

That’s the sort of story you can really imagine.  I remember the Summer of ’75 because I had a bad episode of hay fever which led to bronchitis and hospitalisation.  Thank you Paul for reminding me of it.  The ironing of the one Paul is holding is interesting and has certainly improved with the ‘full frontal’ picture!

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Shirley’s Tea Towel Story

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My idea of sending an invitation to all the people on my Christmas card list, to become a Guest Tea Towel 2020, proved to be not as stupid as friends suggested it might be.  I have had a number of responses, and all so different.  I am adding them in the order they arrived.  It has proved, however, a challenge to my memory.  So how do I know Shirley?  For someone with a good grasp of dates, I actually cannot remember year we actually met; but it was through work.  We are talking about a long time ago; it was in Leicester and she then moved away.

The history of our meeting is nothing compared to this Tea Towel Story!  First response “The tea towel idea is great and our contribution will arrive from our son Stephen who is a tad more technologically minded!  I have recorded mine!”.  I can honestly say that I have never received a sound Guest Tea Towel.  When I then heard the recording, with everyone laughing, I had tears running down my face.  I don’t know if it was just the story of the tea towel or that the laughter was infectious.

The good thing about Shirley’s Tea Towel Story is that she read the instructions first, so I have both a photograph of the tea towel (although there is no correct way to hold it) and also one of her holding the tea towel, also confused as to which way it should be held!  Clearly, an experienced holder of a tea towel for a photograph.

“Well, my tea towel belonged to my mother and I think it must be 50 years old.  I love it because it is completely nonsensical and maybe a Visitor to your Museum could actually translate it for us because Google Translate cannot make head nor tail of it”.  They then read the words, line by line, coming to an abrupt end when they all fell about laughing.  And this is why Shirley would like someone’s help with the translation:

“She writes so fancy like 

We can’t make her out

The barn door he locks

When the horse iss all

Don’t stand so dumb around

You act ferhecht like

Don’t horn so loud

You’ll blow the baby awake”

Having listened to this, reread it, used many forms of Google, done hours of research, I still have no idea what it is.  There is one for sale on eBay where it is described as ‘Vintage Farm – Pennsylvania Dutch – Amish Tea Towel – Ferhecht – Different Sayings’.  Does that help any Readers?  Many thanks to Shirley for the amazing tea towel, the recorded story and for making me laugh till I cried.  But I do want to know what it means!

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Helen and Irene’s Tea Towel Story

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Helen and Irene’s story is the second response that I received from the invitation that I sent out with my Christmas newsletter, to be a Guest Tea Towel 2020.  I was really excited when my Christmas card arrived with this story and the photograph.  I then tried to work out whether Helen was my cousin, second cousin or first cousin once removed (or something else).  I can never remember how to work this out.  It’s one of those things, when you ‘crack it’ it’s obvious but two minutes later your understanding has disappeared.  Maybe it doesn’t matter; we are from the same blood line, just not sure whereabouts on the Family Tree.  Helen and I have met up on a number of occasions, usually at funerals but we send each other Christmas cards every year, without fail.  We’re also good at updating our address books, since we have both moved around over the years.  Helen and Irene (individually or together) seemed like good people to invite to take up the challenge.  Here is their response:

“We have enclosed a photograph of one of our tea towels.  It is our favourite because it shows how to use left-over food, rather than putting in it in the waste bin!  We hate waste.”

I love a tea towel that provides information; they are always in use so you can be regularly  reminded of what to do.  Good for Oxfordshire County Council producing such a tea towel, following the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) who launched the LoveFoodHateWaste programme.  Thanks to Helen and Irene for their story and a very interesting tea towel.

Update: Tea towels open up history that is long forgotten.  I can now confirm that Helen is my first cousin once removed (always good to know) and in that process have found out family history, not to be shared in Guest Tea Towels!

Rosie’s Tea Towel Story

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Rosie was the ‘inspiration’ for the ChariTea Towel Collection in the Museum.  For the 25 years that I had worked in, and with, charities I had wanted at least one of them to adopt a tea towel as a means of fundraising.  None of them had taken up this idea.  Rosie was a student in mosaic, and then a full time employee; she handcrafted the two tea towels at the top of ‘ChariTea Towels’ and I loved them, both.  They are still going strong and have never faded.  So when I decided to open http://www.virtualteatowelmuseum.com, there was always going to be a ChariTea Towel Collection.

Rosie left mosaic around about the time I retired.  Rosie is a collector of silver teaspoons (we all have our quirks); we kept in touch via email and gradually that connection faded away.  More recently, via Twitter, we have reconnected and I invited her to become a Guest Tea Towel 2020.  People rarely respond enthusiastically to such an invitation but within a couple of days I received Rosie’s article, and I now understand why keeping in touch with people might not have been her Number One Priority.  Rosie’s introductory remarks were “Feel free to edit my writing like you used to do…. it’s probably still as haphazard as when I was a student”

I haven’t altered a word; there was no need to:  “I’m not a big tea towel person, despite regarding them as essential kitchen equipment.  Most of mine are bought by me (I doubt that I’ve ever received one as a gift) and probably to match my kitchen decor at the time.  They are then used till thin and tired looking, when they then might end up used as cloths for cleaning bathrooms.  Most of my older, plain ones were sent into school this year for them to use as part of their nativity costumes.  This one has more meaning.

Not long after Christmas, last year, we found out that I was pregnant with our second child, due October 2019.   Later that week my husband also successfully interviewed for a new job in Rotherham which would require our second large move in three years and we would have to reapply for our daughter’s reception school place in the new area.  So the year was already set up to be a stressful one.

The first house we chose fell through and the sellers of our second were dragging their heels.  Our buyers had kindly stuck with us throughout this but nearing June we started to sense some impatience so decided we’d complete on our house and I’d go and stay with my Mum in Hereford for a few weeks till our purchase went through; Owen was already working in Rotherham, staying in airbnbs.  I was 24 weeks.

That Monday, I suddenly started bleeding and getting intense waves of pain and my Mum had had to call an ambulance which took me to Hereford Hospital and then to Worcester Royal.  After that I spent four agonisingly boring weeks living on the antenatal ward, bouncing to delivery every time I de-stabilised, until baby Jack was eventually born in July at 29 weeks.  He was ‘blue-lighted’ to Birmingham Women’s Hospital as he was not accepting ventilation.  There they were able to stabilise him and a flat on site was made available to me.  The flat was adequately, though sparsely, furnished.  But it was missing a few essentials such as a washing up bowl and, of course, tea towels.  My husband dutifully popped to the shops up the road and got everything I could think of that I’d need for the next few days at least; including a pack of tea towels, the best of which I whisked away to be used for cleaning and drying my expressing equipment.

Jack spent one week in Birmingham, five weeks in Worcester and nearly four weeks in Hereford before being well enough to come home.  The tea towel has followed him to each hospital; I now use it at home to dry his bottles when I am cleaning and sterilising.

One day, I will give Jack a Memory Box with all his hospital things in, first tiny dummy, first little vest, first Sats Monitor wire etc.  And it will be lined with this tea towel.”

Thank you Rosie, that is some Tea Towel Story.  Very moving and I am pleased that Jack is back at home. 

 

Cards for Good Causes

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From 2001 to 2015, I worked alongside Jane.  We saw many changes to the charity that we worked for, lost funding, gained new contracts, moved building (twice), gained many more new staff and a lot of new customers; sadly, we also saw a number of staff and customers die over the years.  When I retired, Jane and I kept in contact through email, ‘snail mail’ and Twitter.  Jane has always shown a weird fascination with the Tea Towel Blog, Collection and, of course, the Museum.

This Christmas, Jane sent me a present (Tea Towel, of course) with a story and it is this story I wanted to post in the ChariTea Towel Collection:

“Dear Barbara,

The story of this tea towel.  I guess the influence comes from my Mum.  Mum loved to write letters (usually with a drawing by Mum attached).  Mum also loved taking care in selecting a nice card for people and especially sending Christmas cards.  So it would be Mum that first introduced me to buying Christmas cards from the “Cards for Good Causes” charity shop.

Every year, in Leicester, the shop has been in a variety of locations.  I think my favourite location was when they were in Leicester Cathedral and as I walked into the Cathedral, to the shop, a band was practising some Christmas carols for an evening concert there.  This made the browsing, and purchasing, of the cards very festive.

This year the shop was within the Bishop Street Methodist Church.  After enjoying a hot chocolate, and treating myself to a slice of chocolate cake there, I enjoyed purchasing my Charity Christmas cards, a pack to support the Alzheimer’s Society (in memory of Dad), a pack to support Age UK (who deserve much praise for their care of my Dad) and a pack to support Leicester Animal Aid (Mum loved supporting the animal charities).  Just as I was purchasing my cards at the till, the volunteer ladies in the shop had a problem with the till roll – so my eyes wandered back over the shop whilst they sorted it out.  There in the corner of my eye was the enclosed tea towel and a celebratory Tea Towel at that!  Instant thoughts: ‘Barbara would love that’ and then ‘so would I’, so I purchased one for you and one for me.  About time I had a few nice tea towels.  Enjoy Barbara and Merry Christmas!

Love Jane”

It’s not often I get a tea towel for me, with a great story.  I have found it difficult to get new additions for the ChariTea Towel Collection with a story.  What a great start to 2020.  Thank you Jane and a Happy New Year!

Mick’s Tea Towel Story

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I am one of these ‘sad’ people, often criticised on Twitter, for sending Christmas cards with an attached, typed, Christmas Newsletter.  Very impersonal, I am often told.  However, this is something I have done every year since 1975 (and I have a copy of every one that I have sent, and every one I have received, a veritable Social History!).  It started because, between 1973 and 1975, I had shared a house, for the first year with ten people and in the second year five people.  After that, we all went our separate ways so this was my way of ‘keeping in touch’; I gradually extended the circulation list to other friends, and family.  My initial ones were handwritten; it was only when my handwriting deteriorated that I moved on to word processing, using a computer and finally my beloved iPad.

This year, I tried a new ‘touch’.  I sent an individual invitation, to all recipients of the Christmas Newsletter, inviting them to become a ‘Guest Tea Towel’; instructions were included.  In all honesty, I had no expectation of anyone taking up the challenge.  O ye of little faith.  Within two days I had heard from Mick.  Mick lives in Surrey; I haven’t seen him in at least 25 years; I have never met his partner.  Mick never, ever sends a Christmas Newsletter, just a Christmas card.  And here is what he wrote:

“Dear Barbara,

I cannot believe I am doing this but in the spirit of the season, and as a continuing embrace of British eccentricity (must visit the Lawnmower Museum one day), I am attaching my contribution.

A splendid entry I hope you will agree, admirably displayed by Jan in our living room.  Having thoughtlessly laughed about Skegness over the years, it seems only right to see for myself and accordingly was delighted to find that, in my mind, it has an unfair reputation.  We were cycling up from Cambridge in 2017 and enjoyed a good couple of days there, especially pleased to visit Gibraltar Point, though it got a bit grim as we went further up the coast.”

My response was “That is a splendid Tea Towel, with someone who really knows how to pose with a Tea Towel.  Thank you for pandering to my eccentricity and, having actually visited the Lawnmower Museum (although they didn’t have a Tea Towel), I highly recommend it as a bonkers place to visit.”

“Blimey, that really means I must go” said Mick.

Thank you Mick, First Guest Tea Towel of 2020.  Let me know if the Lawnmower Museum now has a Tea Towel.

 

Guest Tea Towels 2020

Paula’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Paula’s Tea Towel Story…… Paula’s Tea Towel Story

Helen’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Helen’s Tea Towel Story…… Helen’s Tea Towel Story

Alan and Sheila’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Alan and Sheila’s Tea Towel Story…… Alan and Sheila’s Tea Towel Story

Paul’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Paul’s Tea Towel Story…… Paul’s Tea Towel Story

Shirley’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Shirley’s Tea Towel Story….. Shirley’s Tea Towel Story

Helen and Irene’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Helen and Irene’s Tea Towel Story….. Helen and Irene’s Tea Towel Story

Rosie’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Rosie’s Tea Towel Story….. Rosie’s Tea Towel Story

Mick’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Mick’s Tea Towel Story……Mick’s Tea Towel Story

Rob’s Tea Towel Story

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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

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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 http://www.virtualteatowelmuseum.com.

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:

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“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!

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“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”

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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

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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

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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.