‘Radical Women and their Political Struggle’ or, alternatively ‘A Homage to Four Beatrices’. A Tea Towel Collection.

If you read the Sunday papers, you can always find a ‘5 Minute Interview’ with someone, supposedly famous, in one of the magazines.  The final question is often “Who would invite to your dream dinner party?”.  I am always fascinated by the answers.  Without any hesitation, my response would be ‘The Four Beatrices’.  “Who?”  I hear you ask.  These are women who I have admired, who have had an influence on my life, in various ways, only one of whom I have met, but the women to whom I would want to ask “What does Brexit mean to you?”, and all manner of other questions; the intriguing part is that I  am not sure what their answers would be.

This ‘Special Collection’ of tea towels, celebrating the rights of women, depicting radical women and their political struggle, is about women who have fought for my right to vote and women who have tried to lay the path to women’s rights and equality, my rights and equality.  Women’s equality does not stand alone; it is often part of discrimination that affects black or gay people, poverty and social class, religion and political beliefs.  

Women’s rights and equality is not something I write about as an intellectual exercise but as something that is close to my heart; it is personal, which is why I chose this subject for the second ‘Special Collection’ of tea towels, in the centenary year of women being able to vote in Britain, and to be published on the first anniversary of the opening of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum.  

Party politics have never been of interest to me, probably because I felt I lost part of my childhood to them.  For me, it has always been politics with a small ‘p’, issue based.  No political party can claim my allegiance, but elections can bank on my vote.  My vote was hard fought for, over a long period, with as little publicity as the press could get away with.  Women died for me to have a vote, they suffered the indignity of imprisonment, force-feeding and the ridicule of both women and men, equally.  Politicians shouldn’t take the electorate for granted, relying on the fact that some people will always vote, for example, Labour or Tory.  Politicians should respect our right to make choices depending on their actions.

For all my working life, I was employed in organisations largely made up of women, usually managed by men.  Women’s suffrage was not about just being able to go to a polling station once every couple of years or standing for parliament; it was about equality and power sharing.  I was always surprised at how few women, in my staff team, voted.  

I remember Annie saying one Election Day “What’s the point in voting?  It won’t change anything”. 

There began my lecture: “If women, in 1850, had said that, today we still would not have the right to vote”.  

I don’t think any of them realised that, even in their lifetime, there were women, in Europe, who did not have the right to vote.  In Switzerland, women’s suffrage only happened in 1971, in Liechtenstein it was not until 1984. 

Women’s exclusion from the political system comes in many forms.  Let me give you one example: there are 11 statues of significant international political figures standing in Parliament Square, in London; not until 24 April 2018, was there was a female presence.  That was when a statue of Millicent Fawcett, a suffragist, was erected.  On the unveiling of the statue, Theresa May said

“I would not be here as Prime Minister, no female MP’s would have taken their seats in Parliament, none of us would have had the rights and protection we now enjoy were it not for one truly great woman, Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett”.

As with most contentious issues there are always different approaches.  Millicent Fawcett believed debate and argument should show the way.  Emmeline Pankhurst, however, followed the slogan “Deeds not words”, using more militant tactics, with arson and criminal damage being weapons in their arsenal.  

The path to universal suffrage took many routes; thousands of women have dedicated their lives to women’s equality and suffrage, all have their part to play.  Where we are today is not as the result of one person, one approach, nor just about people who have achieved fame, have become household names.

If this ‘Special Collection’ is a ‘Homage to Four Beatrices’, who exactly are they, these four women that have, seemingly, impacted on my life?  

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Beatrix Potter (Beatrice Number 1). Image courtesy of @NationalTrustImages

My first entrant is Beatrix Potter.  From a small child, I delighted in the beauty of the Lake District and I have Beatrix Potter to thank for that.  I have her to thank for my love of topography, geology and the countryside but, alongside that, her ability to see that women have a place in the world, with, rather than subservient to, men.  Not the Beatrix Potter of Squirrel Nutkin and Peter Rabbit, who I found irritatingly naughty, but the Beatrix Potter who was a fierce campaigner on conservation issues and was determined not to see wealthy developers take over swathes of Lakeland countryside; the Beatrix Potter who was the first women to be elected as President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association, as a skilled, and prize-winning, breeder of Herdwick sheep; the Beatrix Potter who bought, with her earnings from writing and painting, 14 farms and 4000 acres of land which she endowed to the National Trust to be preserved for what she believed in, the traditional hefted grazing system, unique to the Lake District for more than 1000 years, allowing for communal shepherding without walls or fences on the largest common grazing land in Europe; the Beatrix Potter who followed her talent, and heart, in writing and painting and gave them up to preserve the beauty of the landscape in an economically viable, and practical, manner, as a farmer.  The Beatrix Potter who worked, as an equal, in what was a man’s world, in order that changes might be made; the good preserved, the not-so-good made better.  Not party-political but politics with a small ‘p’, not a politician but a pioneer.  And 75 years after her death, it is fair to say, that she had played a big part in the Lake District becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.

The second Beatrice in my life is Beatrice Sharp.  Not famous, not even well-known.  My first introduction to her was when I found a photograph, by accident, in a shoe box on the top of my mother’s wardrobe.

“Who is this?” I asked, intrigued.  

“My mother”

“Doesn’t that mean she’s my grandmother; did I know her?”

“No, because I didn’t know her”

“What do you mean, you didn’t know her, if she were your mother?”

“She died when I was 2.  My only memory of her is when they brought her coffin down the stairs for the funeral.”

A lump came to my throat.  How does that make a child feel, the only memory of your mother is in a coffin?  Questions tumbled out.  “Why isn’t this in a frame? Have you got any other photos of her?  Do you know anything about her?”   

“There are a couple of other photos but I don’t know anything about her”

“Aren’t you interested?”

“Dad wouldn’t talk about her, so I didn’t push it.  I don’t know if it made him sad or that he just felt guilty.  I do regret that I didn’t ask him; but it’s too late now”

The photograph I found was of a good looking woman, tall and robust, short cropped hair, wearing leather boots laced to her knees and dressed in the Women’s Land Army uniform; she was stood next to her friend.  It was dated 1916; she was just 17.  

Talking to my mother, we realised there were still people around who could answer questions and fill in the gaps.  Visiting my grandmother’s younger siblings in Millom was one option.  There were so many questions I wanted to ask and my Great Aunt Mona had much to say; I think she just wanted to tell the story, the story she had kept to herself for so long.

“You do know that Beatrice wasn’t my full sister, she was my half-sister?”.  In stunned silence, my mother whispered “No”.

Mona continued “Beatrice’s mother died very young, when she was about three; she was an only child.  I think our Dad felt he should marry again so there was a woman to bring up Beatrice.  I don’t think he gave much  thought to what that might mean to Beatrice”. 

So many questions sprang to mind but Mona ploughed on “There were three of us; John, Maggie and I was the youngest.  Three half-siblings probably changed things for Beatrice; she’d been an only child for quite some time, she was a lot older than us.  Beatrice was always on the edge of the family, a child-minder rather than a sister.  As children, I don’t think we excluded her but no one bothered about her loss, her grief; they probably thought she was too young, at the time of her mother’s death, to understand and feel anything”

“I know Beatrice missed her mother” Mona continued, “which, I think, is why she left home at a very young age.  The Great War was a good excuse to leave home; she enrolled in the Women’s Land Army, moved to Lancashire and she never lived in Millom again”.

“Why didn’t she return?” I asked, thinking that would have been unusual in those days.

“She hadn’t told the truth about her age; really, she was too young to be posted away from home but she was interested in the Women’s Suffragette Movement.  She thought that if she moved away from the confines of Millom she might be able to work with, and for, the movement”.  

“Did she keep in touch? Did you see her?  Were there pictures from that time?”

“Oh yes.  She came home from time to time.   She didn’t talk about what she was doing.  When she died, we heard that she had been active in the Lancashire Women’s Suffragette Movement”

“Do you know what she did?”.

“Not everything.  I know she went to meetings, giving out leaflets.  I know she actually met Emmeline Pankhurst on one occasion and she took part in marches.  But, I also know she met George and fell madly in love; that had never part of her plan”.  Mona smiled, a secret smile, the holder of the key to the family ‘ghosts’.

“I have no pictures of their wedding day; in fact, none of us went.  In those days, it was a long way to travel just for a wedding”.  

Talking to me, she said “When your mum was born, they came up to show her off and there are lots of photos.  Beatrice was so happy and looked beautiful; I realised it was the first time that I had seen her genuinely happy.  After they went home, we all talked about the visit.  We thought she had lost some weight but didn’t realise she was ill, seriously ill.  We wouldn’t have let her go back to Lancashire.  She spent the last nine months of her life in a sanatorium in Fleetwood, where she knew no one”

My mother sat in a rigid silence throughout this.  That was another of the pictures I found in the shoe-box, my grandmother wrapped in a fur coat and rug, sitting in a ‘basket chair’, on the steps of the sanatorium, with shrunken cheeks and hollowed eyes.

“She missed you so much”.  Mona said, turning to my mother.  “She wanted to come home, to be with you but it was an isolation hospital.  Once she went in, she never saw you, or any of us, again.  You lived with us until your Dad married again”.  Silent tears rolled down my mother’s cheeks, as she said “Families are a dangerous place to grow up in”. 

What my mother never realised, until that meeting with Mona, was that her own grandmother was called Barbara; that she had given me the name of Barbara, not knowing that it tied me to my great grandmother.  I am touched by that link to the past; and I am proud that a woman that I never knew, but was closely related to me, was part of the Suffragette Movement, had campaigned for my vote.

The third Beatrice, in this homily, was my mother; daughter of Beatrice Number 2, the baby who made her parents very happy but the baby who never knew the mother she was named after.  History had repeated itself; my grandmother never really knew her mother and her father remarried leaving her with an unhappy relationship with a step-mother.  My mother never knew her mother and had a similar relationship with her own step-mother.

My mother, however, adored her father, regardless of her the childhood she endured; from the age of 14 she worked in his building firm as a book-keeper.  He was a local politician, an Alderman, the Mayor of Ealing and she became his Mayoress in 1958, him having been widowed a second time.  She got a taste for service to the community and, in 1960, was elected as a Councillor and remained so for 22 years.

I recently moved house and, in that process, found a box of scrapbooks that she kept about her work as a Councillor: newspaper cuttings, photographs, speeches she had written, letters.  It was then I realised how highly thought of she was; it was almost the ‘secret life of Beatrice’.  Where  I had thought my childhood was sacrificed to politics, it was actually setting the foundations for my adult life. 

The local paper, the Middlesex Gazette, documented her journey through politics, with respect, understanding and familiarity, something that doesn’t seem to happen these days.

In 1969, she was the first woman Chairperson of the prestigious Education Committee in Ealing.  I have an amazing photograph of her, under the headline “Beatrice is Overlord of 113 Schools”, sitting on one of those ridiculous, winged, rocking armchairs, with a silver cigarette box and a Murano glass ashtray on a side table; I still have the chair, cigarette box and the ashtray.  She became the first woman leader of her party: the paper said “Beatrice takes over party leadership” and the first woman Leader of the Council: “Beatrice Howard, the woman in charge at Ealing Town Hall”.  She was awarded an O.B.E for her services to politics: the Middlesex Gazette’s headline was “Beatrice is given O.B.E.”.

I once asked her if she had ever thought of standing as an M.P.

“Never.  I like to see things improving for people I am living alongside.  I like to affect people directly.  Being an M.P. is about party politics, not about following your conscience”

“But, surely, being a Councillor is about party politics” I said “you’ve stood as a member of a political party”

“Constituents vote for you on local issues, not national ones.  I remember the 1974 General Election where membership of the European Union was the foremost issue, yet in the local elections, held on the same day, people were only interested in housing and schools.  That’s what I like.  Being able to do something that will change one person’s life for the better, not arguing about whether we were going into Europe”

“But what about the people who don’t vote for you, who don’t belong to your party?  Did you help them?”  I asked, naively I realise now.

“Once you are elected you are the ‘servant’ of all your constituents.  If someone comes to me about a housing issue, I don’t ask whether they voted or who they voted for”.

In that box of scrapbooks, I found a speech that she had given at Ealing Grammar School for Girls Prizegiving in 1967.  She said:

“…..Our right to vote was fought for by women, often not much older than you.  I don’t care which party you will support in the future, or who you vote for, but I do care that you exercise that vote, in both local and general elections.  Each of us has the power to effect change”

Good on you, mother!!

I am proud of my mother, a local politician, committed to local politics, the rights of local constituents and a passionate believer in our right, and responsibility, to exercise our vote.   That commitment to rights and justice was obviously ‘inherited’ from her own mother, even though she never knew her.

And finally let me introduce you to Beatrice Pearce, the only one of the four who is still alive.  Is she famous? Not famous as such, but well known amongst tea towel lovers.  She was one of the founders of the Radical Tea Towel Company and, let’s face it, tea towels are my passion in life.  Let Beatrice Number 4 tell her own story:

“In May 2011, I was wracking my brains for a present to buy an elderly family member who was celebrating his 91st birthday.

David was severely disabled after a hip operation that had gone wrong several years earlier so I needed to find something that would go through the letterbox and not involve him trailing out to the post office on his crutches.  He had been involved with trade unions and left wing politics throughout his life.  I thought I’d get him something for the house, something that he could make use of on a daily basis.  

And that’s when I thought – a Tea Towel!!  A tea towel with a radical or political theme.  First I googled ‘political tea towel’, then substituting ‘socialist’ for ‘political’ then ‘radical’,‘left wing’ and lastly ‘trade union’.  No success.

T-shirts, mugs and badges were there in their thousands, every theme, image and slogan you could imagine.  But I didn’t think David would look good in a T-shirt, somehow, and a mug wouldn’t go through the letterbox.

So then I started thinking.  Well, if I want a political tea towel, and after hours of Googling cannot find a single one, I wonder how many other people want the same and can’t find one either?  Clearly a gap in the market and so one afternoon in May, after a discussion around the kitchen table, the Radical Tea Towel Company was born”.  

You might think that political and/or radical tea towels were a really niche market but this was a risk she was willing to take.  The focus of her tea towels is always left-wing politics with such a huge range of issues from the Suffragette Movement to the Chartists, from the Jarrow March to Orgreave, from Jeremy Corbyn to William Wilberforce.  There is a clever use of quotes, posters and sketches; each tea towel has a message.

Personally, I have always seen a tea towel as a ‘blank canvas’, something an artist can transform: as a thing of beauty, a form of advertising or as a means to ‘getting your message across’.  Vision and creativity can transform a household item into a thing of beauty.  And that is exactly what the Radical Tea Towel Company has done.  From that small beginning (and David did get a tea towel in the end), Beatrice Pearce has taken my two passions in life and combined them: tea towels and political activism. 

It is from the Radical Tea Towel Company’s work that this Special Collection is taken; the tea towels speak for themselves.  They are, in my opinion, simply wonderful; they offer powerful messages on a humble tea towel and they are all about women, and the work of women!  There is no link of tea towels to women and ‘women’s work’; this is a serious attempt at reminding anyone who does the drying up that there are political figures and political issues that we should all be mindful of.  This is not about stereotyping!

Four women named Beatrice, four women who have been ‘influential’ in my life, four women who I admire, four women who would appreciate, I’m sure, the Special Collection dedicated to ‘Radical Women and Their Political Struggle’ and four women who would answer the question “What does Brexit mean to you?” honestly, making a lively dinner table discussion.  Oh, what a shame that that meal will never take place!

The Special Collection

The twenty seven tea towels that I have chosen from the Radical Tea Towel Company’s collection are  ones relating to women.  It is a mixed selection, probably not women you would have imagined being linked together but all women of spirit, who followed their beliefs and passions and you can’t argue with that.  In order not to overwhelm the reader, I have divided them into five sections

Votes for Women

The whole movement about campaigning for the right for women to vote took place in the midst of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which flourished between 1880 and 1920.  The Arts and Crafts Movement stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms.  It advocated economic and social reform, essentially anti-industrial.  Many of the great artists were also supporters of electoral reform and offered their skills to the Movement for Votes for Women to create posters and pamphlets.  The Radical Tea Towel Company have taken nine such images and created nine beautiful tea towels.

These tea towels reflect the two divergent approaches to campaigning: debate and representation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, led by Millicent Fawcett and the more militant approach of the Women’s Social and Political Union, led by Emmeline Pankhurst, a breakaway group set up in 1903 because of the frustration some women felt at the slow progress of NUWSS.  Tap the images to read the stories

Women Born in 18th Century

Two tea towels representing very different women: Mary Wollstonecraft regarded as a founding feminist philosopher and Jane Austen who was a novelist, often overlooked as a writer of feminist issues

Women Born in 19th Century

Thirteen women, born across various parts of the world, who chose their own paths: Suffragettes and Suffragists, writers and politicians, socialists and anarchists.  Women who did their bit to change the ‘lot’ of women, the poor, the hungry, refugees.  You may not always agree with their stance but you can never argue that they did not fight their corner.  Each tea towel has a quotation which sums up their beliefs, their work, their life with the most amazing pictures of these great women.

Women Born in 20th Century

Two black women in America who did change things for the rights of black women; civil rights activists in the true meaning of the words.

Greenham Common

The final tea towel in this ‘Special Collection’ is a tribute to the women who campaigned and marched in protest against nuclear missiles at the American base at Greenham Common; women who camped there with their children, who hung ribbons on the wire fences, who sang and chanted, who took part in the human chains round the base in 1983 and for whom their lives were never the same having taken part in the protests.  This was a camp that lasted nearly 20 years.

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Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp was established in September 1981 and disbanded in 2000. It was set up to protest against the American base where nuclear weapons were held.  On 1 April 1983, 70,000 people formed a 14 mile human chain from Greenham Common to Aldermaston.  The tea towel was inspired by a Peace Sign collage erected next to the control Tower.

This has been a massive piece of work, researching the Four Beatrices, linking them with the Centenary of women having the right to vote in Britain and the diverse women depicted in the tea towels shown above.  I doubt that it would not have been completed without the advice and support from Cathy Grindrod, tutor of the Creative Writing Course I attended and the fellow writers from that group.  Thank you.

Thank you to Radical Tea Towel Company for the beautiful tea towels used in this Special Collection. To see their ‘whole works’ go to http://www.radicalteatowel.co.uk or

@radicalteatowel

In Conversation With…. Class Printing

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I have a number of those tea towels, produced by schools and nurseries, as fundraisers, with the handprints, or drawings, of children;  schools and nurseries from London, Tiree, Barra, Canna, Leicester and even one celebrating the Millennium at Ferryhill Church, Aberdeen.  They are always a ‘crowd pleaser’.  I have often wondered about the firms that are involved in arranging the printing.  Then I came across Class Printing on Instagram; ‘this is business that would be a good subject for In Conversation With…’ I thought.

Kathryn was a font of knowledge but, of course, there will always be a problem about getting photographs of tea towels to use in this article: firstly, because many of their tea towels have the names of children which might then easily lead to identifying some children and secondly, because tea towels are ‘commissioned’ by other organisations, not necessarily designed by themselves, so it requires permission of the originating commissioners.  But a little problem like that has never stopped me, it just requires creativity.  Class Printing produced a lovely tea towel for “ecole de WIX Primary School: 2016-2017” which is in the Museum but which I won’t print in this article.  Let Kathryn tell their story:

”Our company was founded by our two directors in 2010.  Class Fundraising was launched to provide screen printed textiles for school fundraising projects.  The company grew quickly to then form Class Printing, offering textile printing to a larger range of customers, from artists and charities to large national companies.  We also invested in the latest high-spec digital printing technology and expanded our product range to include items such as cushion covers, bags and aprons.

 

We offer screen and digital textile printing; our customers include schools, artists, retailers, charities and companies of all sizes across the UK.  Products we have produced have been shipped all over the world, including to America, Australia and Japan.

Many of our design team come from a background in printing, production and design.  They have gained knowledge and experience through employment, courses and specialist in-house training.  We have a close-knit productions and operations team who work together to take orders from an initial enquiry through to a finished product”.

I wanted to know if Kathryn and the team had a favourite tea towel that Class Printing has produced: “This is a tough question as we have so many to choose from and each of us has personal favourites.  We do all love the tea towels that we have printed for Perkins and Morley though, as they always create such colourful designs”.

How many designs do they print each year? and do they create their own designs, or just work on commissions?: “Each year we screen and digitally print thousands of designs for schools, artists, retailers, charities and companies.  We have an art work team and can create bespoke designs in-house but usually receive completed designs from our Class Printing customers, rather than being commissioned to create designs”.

What about choice of colours and materials?  “If you look at the website you can see the wide range of our colour palette.  There is also an article about the new fashion for purple.  There are seven standard tea towels: 100% premium cotton with options of hemming on two or four sides; 100% natural, unbleached cotton with the two hemming options; cotton/linen union with hemming on four sides and 8oz cotton panama with the two hemming options.  Plus there is the possibility of organic cotton.  Then it’s up to the customer to choose.”

What about the ethos of the company?: “We believe it is important for the company to excel, which means investing in our employees as well as new technology.  Our company understands the significance of passing down our specialist knowledge and skills for future generations.  As a company, we want to be able to offer a friendly, professional service to those who are just starting a new business, right through to large companies.  We want to see our employees continue to develop their knowledge so that we can endeavour to offer our customers the best advice and service.”

”We understand the impact our company can have on the environment.  We only use water-based inks for printing and we are also carbon balanced.  We believe in supporting other local and national businesses and work closely with UK based suppliers”

And the future? “We want our company to continue to grow so that we can offer employment opportunities within our local community.  Also we aim to develop and expand our product range, as well as invest in new technology, to offer the highest quality to our new, and returning, customers”.

Thank you Kathryn for an insight into the world of screen and digital printing.  I am sure there are many of us who do not think about what goes into the production of each, and every, humble tea towel.  I will look at them all in a new light now!

 

For more information: http://www.classprinting.co.uk

 

Jenny’s Tea Towel Story

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So, how long have I known Jenny?  10 years maybe, perhaps even a little longer.  When I was director of a charity in Leicestershire, she was the boss of a ‘parallel’ one.  In a charity, as boss, it can be very isolating and lonely.  No one to share the burden because everyone else in the organisation is managed by you, not your equal.  Jenny and I met up regularly for lunch; we would never break confidentiality, always were aware of possible conflicts of interest but be able to offer support, advice and have a laugh; maybe having a laugh was the most important thing.

Jenny retired first and we continued to meet monthly for lunch; when I retired the pattern continued.  There was none of this ‘splitting the bill’ and then arguing if it was fair.  When we met in Oakham, she paid; when we met in Leicester, I paid.  Simples.  The only condition about eating places was there had to be loose leaf tea.

Jenny and I share many interests, but one of them isn’t tea towels!  I think she probably thinks I’m bonkers.  But, to be fair, she has bought me some of my most unusual ones: Map of Single Malt Whiskeys, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Scottish Dialect, one from the British Museum and this one of Conwy.  Stunning artistry, bold colours, has had many comments on Instagram.  I have asked her many times to be a Guest Tea Towel and she has mumbled under her breath but nothing came of it.

This tea towel from Conwy was a housewarming gift;

”Aha, you can’t have a housewarming present without a tea towel!  I bought it on our holiday to North Wales at the end of January this year – my last holiday before before my year fell apart.  It was a good day and we walked around the Conwy walls and strolled along the bay in cold but lovely weather.  We loved the bold colours of the oystercatcher on the beach.  We thought you would like it.”

When I sent Jenny a photo of this tea towel being used as a ‘tablecloth’ on a rickety old garden table the previous owners had left behind, Jenny said

”Very good.  I approve”

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It makes a great tablecloth!

Since I received the tea towel, Jenny has undergone the start of her treatment.  On 23 May she texted me to say

”Chemo is working.  Donald is shrinking”. (Donald being the tumour that made her world fall apart).  There’s still a long journey to go but at least it has started.

Thanks, Jenny, for a great tea towel and I realise that this was the only way I would get a Guest Tea Towel from you.  It was worth waiting for!!

Emma’s Tea Towel Story

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I like being able to ‘meet’ new people on Twitter, and now Instagram.  While I, boringly, use virtually the same name on both forms of social media, it took me a while to work out that @emmagraney, letterloves and letterloves.co.uk/Blog were all one and the same person.  Emma is a fascinating woman, not obsessed with one thing (e.g. tea towels!) but has multifarious interest and takes some really interesting pictures; I love the shopping lists.

Having been in contact with Emma sometime ago when I posted a picture of my ‘Charles and Diana’ tea towel, she counteracted with hers.  Both demonstrate how unlikely their marriage was to last.  In the build up to Harry and Meghan’s Wedding I posted both tea towels on Instagram; not slow in the uptake, Emma wrote “Is that my tea towel?”. And once again I invited her to be a Guest Tea Towel.  Here is her story,very timely indeed.

”I found these tea towels in a charity shop.  I collect various different bits of Charles and Diana memorabilia.  I collect for the kitsch value and the ‘how far will they go?’ with the portrait likeness.  I couldn’t leave them behind so I took them home and pinned them up on my wall.  They don’t seem to have been used, as they still have their original creases intact.  I like to think that were ‘for best’ and had their own special drawer and were only brought out for show.

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I like the golden one the best with the elaborate aged paper banner giving the wedding announcement and the exciting flick of Diana’s hair.

 I left both tea towels out on the washing line, after I photographed them, for all to see and wonder over.  I know that everybody who saw them really wished they had two Charles and Diana tea towels hanging on their washing line as well!”

 

I know that feeling of not being able to leave a tea towel in a charity shop but I have never found any as good as these two, especially the golden one, so regal.  I love these two tea towels and the golden one will certainly join the blue one in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum.  Thank you, Emma, for the lovely story and two beautiful tea towels, although there is no getting away from the fact that the look on their faces certainly indicates that this marriage was doomed to failure.

 

Stephen’s Tea Towel Story

Stephen Jon is a Mask-Maker, performer and facilitator; that is what it says on his web-site.  I first met him in December 2017; he was asked to facilitate a group of Over 55s, who are part of the Creative Learning Programme of Theatre Royal Nottingham, to take part in Nottingham’s first Puppetry Festival in March 2018.  Twelve of us signed up to join his Puppet-Making workshop with the aim of creating a ‘Raggle Taggle Woof Pack’.  The story of that ‘journey’ is called ‘Too Many Tea Towels’ but in the conversation about why I would want to create a puppet from tea towels, Stephen brought in his three favourite tea towels which all had a story to tell.  Here is what Stephen has to say:

”My first image is of Edward Carpenter, a contemporary of Oscar Wilde, who lived and worked in Sheffield with his male partner.  He wrote books, articles and songs about women’s, and worker’s, rights.  He was a friend of the Fabians.  He was a northern Mecca for progressive thinkers in Britain at the time.  He is important to me because I had a mentor in Noel Greig, a director and playwright, who influenced both my political and artistic journey.  He wrote a play called ‘Dear Love of Comrade’s’ about Carpenter which was performed by Gay Sweet Shop, a company of which he was a founder member”.

Edward Carpenter, I think, was an exceptionally good looking man.  The Edward Carpenter tea towel is from, not surprisingly, the Radical Tea Towel Company.  The other picture is of Stephen holding his towel in a classic ‘Tea Towel Holding’ pose which we all do; he has his other two tea towels hanging over his arm.

“My second and third images are of French Tea Towels which I bought in Corbridge, Northumberland.  The north-east is a very special place for me, I call it ‘my place of yearning’.  I go there regularly, to empty my mind and if I have problems I just escape up-north and walk them away.  I have close friends and family and have been visiting all my life.  I have considered moving there but its real value is as a bolt hole which would no longer exist if I were to live there.  So I remain in Nottingham which I consider my home.  Having been brought up partly in rural Hampshire I still have a craving for the country and Northumberland gives me that in bucket loads”.

These two French Tea Towels are reversible; the colours are so beautiful.  Thank you Stephen for sharing the story of your tea towels.  They are very stylish.

Jean Mackenzie’s Tea Towel Collection

Jean is 92. Does she look her age? Catch the twinkle in her eye, her warming smile, a happy laugh, her smooth skin and neatly permed hair, listen to her memory that is crystal clear, with an awareness of the world at large, FaceTiming with family in England and the answer is definitely ‘no’. Take another look, the way arthritis has ravaged her hands, psoriasis has scaled her elbows and feet, osteoporosis has crumpled her spine, and diminished her height, and there may be a different answer.

Jean has led life to the full; working full-time from the age of 15 until her retirement, a Guide Leader, a Crown Green bowler, member of the Trefoil Guild, theatre goer, lifelong member of her church, sharing holidays at home, and abroad, with friends and family with a more active social life than many of us. Age has not changed that: whether it is seeing ‘Mamma Mia’ at the theatre, going to weekly Musical Memories’, sipping a glass of sherry, having a rant at Donald Trump for stealing Balmedie Beach or eating fish and chips with her family, she is still enjoying life to the full. She decorates her Zimmer frame at Christmas, with baubles and tinsel, walking with speed; no wheelchair for her.

What has this got to do with tea towels? Unmarried, Jean lived with her two younger sisters, until Myra died in 2006 and Betty moved into a Nursing Home in 2011.

“Living at home without Myra and Betty was so lonely. Moving around was hard, cooking exhausting, shopping impossible and when I was no longer able to visit Betty, I just felt despair. I don’t know why I stopped taking the thyroid medication. It was stupid”

Jean never told anyone how she felt, at the time. She didn’t ask for help; and when help was offered, she refused it. After a serious fall, a stay in hospital that shocked her family and a life-threatening illness, Jean moved into a Nursing Home, two and a half years ago; it may have not been what she would have planned but, truth be told, she didn’t have a choice, unless her choice be death.

“When you get to my age, this is a good place to live, it’s safe and fun, you have friends, and staff to help you, someone to talk to and watch the telly with”.

While her niece spent time with her, settling her in, I cleared her council flat. It was easy to do because she was organised and available to consult with, to make sure I was doing what she wanted with all her possessions. She wasn’t really interested; she wanted to put the past behind her and live in the present, make the most of just being alive. She didn’t want the responsibility of making decisions and having a lot of possessions; there’s only so much a person can deal with.

“You do it, Barbara” she would say. “You know what’s best”.

I thought I knew Jean but there were so many surprises. I found the postcards: a whole box full, from all her holidays, not destined for anyone. On the back of each was a daily record, in her unmistakeable, miniature handwriting. Others may keep diaries, Jean’s holidays were recorded on postcards; they were a delight to read, it was like being there, enjoying those holidays with her.

It was at this point that I found the tea towels. There were two kitchen drawers full of them, crumpled; there was a sense of abandonment.

As she said, “If I wasn’t cooking, what was the point of a tea towel, what was there to wash up?”

Jean said I could have them; this was a privilege, the chance to share, retrospectively, a part of her life she could still recall, and smile at with warmth. It is from her ‘Postcard Diary’ that I was able to identify when, and where, she bought some of her tea towels; every tea towel had a context, a memory. In fact, I can match most of the postcards with a tea towel; from the faded glory of Cambridge to the portrait of the Eiffel Tower, from the Gordon Tartan to Recipes from Scotland.  Where there wasn’t a Postcard Diary, I asked Jean about some of the tea towels; she could fill the gaps.

The totally obliterated logo of Inverewe Gardens intrigued me; Jean is of an age when removing stains meant boiling the offending items in a saucepan, on top of the stove. Not only were there the souvenir tea towels, there were the three Christmas ones, gaudy, thick towelling. And there were the events: the Millennium at Ferryhill Church and the Golden Jubilee of the Trefoil Guild. Only Jean could have a tea towel with instructions about how to test your smoke alarm (and who to ring if it went off). In total, she had 61; a few have gone to family members, some were initially relegated to the dust rags but 13 have now become part of the Afghan Hound puppets that were made for the Nottingham Puppetry Festival in March 2018 and the remainder hang proudly within my collection.

How many dishes had been wiped by her collection? Because all her tea towels had been used, no secret piles of unused ones at the back of a cupboard; for her, tea towels were functional souvenirs. For me, Jean’s collection of tea towels sums up the Virtual Tea Towel Museum: every tea towel tells a story, and Jean can remember many of those stories, with the aid of her ‘Postcard Diary’.

I asked Jean if she considered herself a tea towel collector.

“Don’t be silly. Tea Towels are for using. I’m not one of those people who buys brand new tea towels and sticks them in a drawer. When we went on holiday, or for a day out, if we spotted a tea towel we liked, we bought it. It would remind us of a good time but we would always put old, worn tea towels with the rags for cleaning and dusting. Didn’t have any qualms about that. My tea towels, that have you have now got, are just ones that we liked. Simple as that”.

I am pleased to be able to display Jean’s collection of tea towels, with their stories, as a ‘Special Exhibition’ in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum. They are personal, part of her story.

I have divided them into six Mini-Collections: Jean’s Interests, Visits with Family, Holidays Abroad, Holidays and Day Trips with the Trefoil Guild, ‘Odds and Sods’ and Aberdeen, ending with three ‘classic’ tea towels, from which we should all learn a lesson or two!!  To find out about each story, just tap the picture.

Jean’s Interests

Jean was a Girl Guide and a Guide Leader.  She devoted a lot of her time to the Guides and thoroughly enjoyed working with young women, encouraging their skills and independence.  She was a good organiser and loved the camping trips and became very knowledgable about the countryside.  She has a whole collection of photographs from her Guiding Days which are held by the Scottish Guiding Association……..

The Girl Guides were founded in 1910.  In 1935, some women who had been Guides wanted to meet up together and branches of ‘Old Guides’ were formed.  In 1943, all the branches of ‘Old Guides’ were amalgamated and a new organisation was set up called The Trefoil Guild.  Jean, and her sisters, were lifelong members and celebrated the Golden Jubilee in 1993 with their friends.  This year, 2018, is the 75th Anniversary of the Trefoil Guild but there is no celebratory tea towel, just mugs, fridge magnets and tote bags. How times changes!!………..

Jean’s other lifelong interest was Ferryhill Church which she attended regularly since she was a child.  She has many a tale about the ministers she has seen serve the church.  Today, Jean still attends Ferryhill Church, once every three weeks, when a volunteer picks her up from her Nursing Home and accompanies her.  After each service she stays for the tea and biscuits in the church hall.  This tea towel was ‘created’ in 2000, to celebrate the Millenium and has signatures of all church members at the time.

Visits with Family

Jean, Myra and Betty met up with their younger brother and his family at least twice a year, since he moved to London in the early 1950s.  They often went down to the ‘wilds’ of England to spend a week with them at Christmas or the family drove to Aberdeen, often to go on holiday together from there.  On such trips, many a tea towel was bought……..

Holidays Abroad

Jean loved going on holiday, especially abroad.  She sometimes went with friends, sometimes with family or just with her two sisters.  A lot of her ‘Postcard Diary’ was about holidays abroad……..

Holidays and Day Trips with the Trefoil Guild

Once a member of the Trefoil Guild, other members were Jean’s friends for life.  They went out for meals together locally, they went on day trips or short breaks and they went on holidays together.  The Trefoil Guild meant companionship and friendship.  As Jean would say;

”They were all my friends.  We had a shared interest in the Guides but it was more than that.  We developed new interests together.  I loved those days.  Many of my friends from Trefoil Guild have died but I still have the memories and, of course, there are the tea towels…..”

‘Odds and Sods’

There is a ‘mixed bag’ of tea towels, which aren’t easily categorised, but are part of Jean’s Collection…….

Aberdeen

It’s not often that you buy a tea towel from the place where you live.  These two are classics.  The Montage of Aberdeen is one that I, personally, have looked for and have never found but is one that I will blog about in the future, since a lot of my life has been tied up with Aberdeen.  The only thing that Jean said about this tea towel is “It’s a shame that there isn’t a picture of the beach but at least there isn’t a picture of Balmedie Golf Course which Donald Trump stole from us”

The Test It tea towel is incredible.  To be fair, Jean didn’t buy this; it was given to her when the Council refurbished her kitchen at Thistle Court, circa 2010. There is a Tea Towel Blog about this on http://www.myteatowels.wordpress.com dated 1 April 2016……..

And finally………..

These three are excellent examples of how not to care for your tea towels…don’t boil them in a pan on the top of your stove. They are, however, well remembered and come with a story.  These three, together with “Red and White Check’, ‘Rose’’, ‘Passiflora’, ‘Baking Bear’, ‘Coffee’, ‘Colman’s Mustard’, ‘Isle of Arran’, ‘Yellow Rabbit’, ‘Woburn Abbey’ and ‘Herbs and Spices’ eventually became part of the two Afghan Hounds for the Nottingham Puppetry Festival in March 2018.  That’s the sort of thing Jean would approve of!!  The rest are now integrated into my Collection and are used regularly.  End of the story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Myra’s Tea Towel Story

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Myra was my friend Jean’s sister.  They shared a home for the whole of Myra’s life; neither married but both had many, many friends and were close to other family members.

I didn’t know Myra as well as I do Jean, because she died in 2006, unexpectedly,  but I know a lot about her, from both Jean and the rest of her family.  Although born in Inverness, she moved as a young child to Aberdeen where she spent the rest of her life.  There are lots of stories about Myra: she was notorious for the speed of her walking, especially across the busy Union Street, we all wondered how she was never knocked down by a car; she was an amazing baker.  If she was a young woman today she would probably have opened a tea room and she loved having her photograph taken.  A camera out and she would be standing, with a ramrod straight back, smiling.

I was interested in the story of the Aberdeen Girl Guides Tea Towel.  When I asked Jean last year, she told me this story.

“This was Myra’s favourite tea towel; she always loved it.  Myra was a Girl Guide as a young girl; she loved being in the Guides, loved the camaraderie.  Myra didn’t have time to really be a child because our mother died very young, when Myra was 14.  She had to leave school immediately and take over the running of the house while Dad went to work.  After all, there were four of us.  Being a Guide was her only chance at childhood, Dad made sure she could always go to the meetings.

As soon as she was old enough she trained to be a Guide Leader.  She loved being a Guide Leader, being part of the Girl Guides.  She liked teaching the girls, nurturing them.  She knew what they could learn by being part of the Guides, feeling part of a team, making lifelong friends and having a lot of opportunities.  Myra loved going camping, being out in the countryside.  Myra was a Guide Leader for more than 36 years.  She got an award for her work with the Guides.

The Aberdeen Girl Guides made this tea towel to try and raise funds for guiding and they certainly did that.  When they produced this tea towel, Myra bought one for herself but also one for Betty and for me.  

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Think about all the Girl Guides there would be in Aberdeen and how every family bought at least one tea towel!

I like looking at this tea towel because there are all those sketches of Guides, drawn by Guides, like on a School Tea Towel but they don’t represent individuals by name.  The colour has faded over time but the blue and yellow were the guiding colours.

The Scottish Guiding Association owned a big chalet in Austria where Guides and Guide Leaders could go and stay on holiday.  We went several years.  I have a photo from there, at the time time when the tea towel was launched and our excitement at seeing what it was going to be like.

Myra would have loved the idea of being a Guest Tea Towel.  I am glad that you are looking after all our tea towels because if I had to use these tea towels every day I might feel sad at Myra not being around but it has been nice talking about her and knowing they are safe”. 

Thank you Jean for telling me the story of the Aberdeen Girl Guide Tea Towel.  A great story.  Jean is on the left of the photo below and Myra on the right.

Celia’s Tea Towel Story

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One of the specialist articles in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum is called ‘Things To Do With a Tea Towel’; it is very popular and a number of people have come up with new ideas, which I have added.  One of these is from Celia.  I have added her suggestions to ‘Things To Do With a Tea Towel’.  Celia has, however, taken some great photos which I think help in the creation of the Knitting Needle Holder and I thought “This is definitely a good tea towel story”.  Let Celia tell her story:

”I’ve used ‘School’ Tea Towels (the ones that children bring home with names and sketches of all their class) as holders for knitting needles.  I have always thought that these tea towels are too precious to use for drying up.  It is a simple process, easily done with a sewing machine.  It means that the tea towel can be used on a regular basis but does not suffer from wear and tear of being used to wipe dishes.

Fold the tea towel along the short side, wrong sides together, pattern on the outside.  Stitch lines all along the tea towel, leaving spaces which become ‘pockets’ for different sized needles.  Sew a length of tape on the edge of one of the short sides.

Place the needles in.  Fold the top edge of the tea towel over needles.  Roll up and tie the tape around the roll.  You can attach a label which describes what size needles are in each pocket.  This can also be used for cutlery”

 

I love this use for a ‘Special’ Tea Towel, whether it be a ‘School’ tea towel or may be a ‘Wedding Invitation Tea Towel’ or a celebratory tea towel like for the Diamond Jubilee.  Thank you Celia for sharing your idea and taking the trouble to provide some excellent pictures to help any budding ‘creators’.  As we say in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum, “Every tea towel tells a story”!

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In Conversation With….Kirsty Palmer

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When I was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year, I was always on the look-out for an interesting tea towel.  On the Royal Mile, every day, near St Giles Cathedral, were Craft Stalls with all manner of things, from mugs and coasters, to jewellery and handbags, soft toys and wood crafts and, yes, inevitably, tea towels.  I spotted Kirsty’s stall on the corner of a row, full of ‘old maps’.  These weren’t maps as such but old maps printed onto tea towels, coasters, notebooks and much more.  “Got to have one of them” I thought.  So I bought one of East Lothian and as soon as I got it back to the caravan, thought “Kirsty would make a good subject for In Conversation With..” and so here we are.  Kirsty says:

”I run my business, Blockart, from my garden ‘shed’ (studio would be a more appropriate description).  I work from the kitchen table; I have a wee studio in the garden but the kettle is in the kitchen so I ended up inside.  I consider myself to be both a graphic designer and business person.  I have degrees in unrelated areas but most useful was experience in business and computer graphics.

How do you keep a small business both going, and growing? “I mostly do wholesale now, with one or two major retail shows, to help shift stock!  I really enjoy meeting shop owners and striking up a relationship with them.  I have been working on a beautiful website but when it crashed, I was too scared to go back and look at it.  It’s working ok now.  I pride myself on the fact that Blockart is small but growing, 100% designed and produced in the UK.  The business has been growing every year and I want to expand into England, but slowly.  It is very important to me that the whole tea towel is designed and made in UK, as much as possible.  Many other designers get their designs made up in China which is about 70% cheaper.  It is hard to stay competitive.”

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Which designs stand out? “The most successful designs that I sell are maps which are sold in that location i.e. a shop in Skye will have a tea towel with a map of Skye on it.  (Hence my being able to buy a tea towel with a map of East Lothian on it when I was in Edinburgh).   And my favourite tea towel is East Coast of Scotland Tea Towel as it shows the ‘dog’s head’ of Fife, beautiful Edinburgh and the Forth….. and Dalkeith (where I am based).  I did, however,  have another range, with Scottish Sayings on which was fairly successful but there were a few similar designs around”  

 

 

At school, what did you dream about being when you grew up?  “I can’t remember.  I always liked drawing and designing and creating but I don’t think I thought about being a grown-up” 

Kirsty’s map designs translate from tea towels into other goods like coasters, framed maps, tote bags and notebooks which make delightful gifts.  I just love the Map Hearts which look great on a Christmas tree.  Thank you Kirsty for letting me share your work with visitors to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum.  A great start to In Conversation With… 2018!

 

Kate’s Tea Towel Story

The first thing that  everyone says, when invited to be a Guest Tea Towel, is “I don’t think I have any interesting tea towels, with a story”, rapidly followed by “I will have to iron my tea towels before I photograph them!”.  (I think I am the only person in the world to always iron their Tea Towels, but never socks, duvets etc).  Kate said the first and did the second.

I met Kate in the Creative Writing Class that I joined last September.  Being a Guest Tea Towel was something on offer to everyone in the class.  I know that Kate is an artist; I’ve no idea what medium she works in but you can tell she is an artist by the way that she not only has ironed her tea towels, but also hung them for display.  The washing line is by far the best way to photograph tea towels that are being used (i.e. not framed).  She knows how to display her work!  Let’s hear Kate’s story:

”As promised here are the tea towels that I own, that aren’t just plain ones.  I’m really not sure how I acquired most of them but here goes.

I suppose the Cornish Recipe one was picked up on one of my many trips down to my favourite county.  It’s the sort of thing that my husband would impulse buy.

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The striking fox one is a mystery.  It ‘appeared’ in the dresser drawer several years ago.  I suppose it could have belonged to my late mother-in-law and was acquired when we cleared out her flat.

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The ‘If You Wash I’ll Dry’ tea towel was a present from my elder daughter, a couple of years ago.  The script writing is embroidery.

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The Pooh Bear one must have come from my younger daughter, as she was always Pooh-mad.  

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The last one must have been acquired by me, probably one of those Collect-the-Tokens popular offers in 1980s.  I should think I couldn’t resist it (a) because it is yellow, my favourite colour and (b) because it features coffee, which I can’t do without!

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Other things I have acquired, through similar offers, and are still in use, include a Maxwell House 25th Anniversary Denby China mug from the late 1970s, a Dolmeo wipe-clean apron from the 1990s, a set of glass dessert bowls got with petrol tokens in 1970s and a Wild Cherry Tree from an organic cereal company.  The tree arrived as a 12 inch sapling in the early 1990s and must be 25 feet tall now.  Great for the birds but not so good for seeding itself around the garden!”

Now that is a fine collection of tea towels: the Cornish Recipe one is an old design and still very popular.  I was given one recently, unused, but there are a number on sale on eBay.  I also have the Pooh Bear one, bought in New York in 1998, because I couldn’t find a tourist tea towel and I needed something to remind me of that visit.   But I bet the Douwe Egbert one is worth, relatively, a lot of money.  Kate must be a great finder of ‘offers’ because I have never seen an offer of a Wild Cherry Tree, and I wish I had but I do have a set of Kelloggs Cereal Bowls from 1980s!

Thank you Kate for sharing your tea towels in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum.  Your selection is a classic example of how ‘Every tea towel tells a story’.  I loved them.

Ade’s Tea Towel Story

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You will have met Ade in 2017.  His Guest Tea Towel was a Calendar Tea Towel for 1965, very popular tea towel, especially in America.  Ade is a ‘serious’ collector of tea towels; his are either vintage or brand new, unused, pristine.  Ade’s Twitter Profile says that he takes his shoes ‘seriously’, that he is an author by day and an Inheritance Planner by night with cycling, baking and collecting tea towels as additional interests.  His book “Maximum Inheritance: The easy way to write the will that is perfect for you” is well-recommended.

On 2 January 2018, Ade contacted me “Are you up for a brief article on my latest tea towels?”.  I couldn’t turn down an offer like that!  Ade said:

”I had a whale of a time at Christmas.  It was so long ago.  I hear you say “What was that?”.  I had several additions to my tea towel collection.  I bought one when I went to see ‘The Mousetrap’ (having seen ‘The Mousetrap’ three times, the first time when I was 8, more recently three years ago and there wasn’t a tea towel to be seen.  So I think Ade was very lucky).  The others I got as gifts.  They were all in display of good grace and sparkling wit.  Christmas was a down time for me – I didn’t do a lick of work for two weeks – it’s part of living my life like it’s golden.  But I performed three administrative tasks: first, I made entries to my Christmas Card and Gift Book – more about this another day; secondly, I marked important dates in the calendar – things like tax disc renewal etc.  Finally, and importantly, I altered the provisions of my will.  It’s my day job, but that’s for another day.  There were two changes.  I have a new niece since I wrote the document, so I have made provision for her.  And I’ve followed my own advice of leaving gifts to those who’d get most out of them”

“Cost and Worth:  In my book, ‘Maximum Inheritance’, we discussed how my friend, and client, has a super-dooper spinning wheel – leaving instructions of how it was to be disposed of.  Tea towels aren’t in the same league as coins, stamps or wines as collectible items but if one knows where to look….. These items aren’t meant to remove water from dishes or dry hands.  They are collectibles – their worth exceeds their cost.  With the right person, the pleasure is boundless, such that to take measure is cruelty.”

“Previously my tea towel collection would have got lost in the residue of my estate.  The collection would have been wasted.  It would have been bits of cloth of little intrinsic value and would have ended up in a Charity Shop.  What a waste that would have been!”

”The solution: Bequeath (free of all taxes and other costs) my Tea Towel Collection to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum.  Barbara would know what to do with it.  She’d make sure the lot went to a good home.  I wouldn’t want the set to merely be drying hands or cleaning dishes”

What can I say?  That is a very generous bequest and should I no longer be around I have already bequeathed my whole Tea Towel Collection (together with the Virtual Tea Towel Museum) as a gift to Jai, with clear instructions as to what she needs to do, so long term provisions would be made for Ade’s Collection.

Thank you Ade for that great contribution to the 2018 Guest Tea Towels!

 

 

Susan’s Tea Towel Story.

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The Guest Tea Towel Collection of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum has given me the opportunity to ‘meet’ other people who love a good tea towel, people I may not have met on my journey.  The Virtual Tea Towel Museum is visited by a lot of Americans who are fascinated by the English obsession with tourist tea towels.  Several of my Visitors have suggested I look at the work of Susan Branch, and I have!

Susan is an American author, watercolorist and designer.  She has website (www.susanbranch.com), a Blog, @dearsusanbranch on Twitter and a newsletter called Willard, that you can sign up to.  Susan is the author of the ‘Heart of the Home’ series of recipe books (which she has illustrated), ‘A Fine Romance, Falling in Love with the English Countryside’ and two parts of a memoir ‘The Fairy Tale Girl’ and ‘Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams’.  Twitter is full of pictures of people who have bought Susan Branch mugs and other items.

I was very excited when she posted a picture of one of her tea towels on Twitter and, obviously, I couldn’t resist asking her to be a Guest Tea Towel.  Susan quickly agreed to become a Guest Tea Towel and I am delighted she has.  Susan takes me back to the origins of tea towels, of heirlooms and it gives me both a warm feeling and a sense of envy, envy of the skill to produce tea towels like that.  But let Susan tell her story:

 

”This flour sack tea towel was embroidered by my great grandmother.  When I was growing up, she sent a box of them from her home in Iowa to ours in California, every year, for my Mom, usually at Christmas.  As a child I always loved them.  I managed to hold on to this one.  I guess it would be about 70 years old”.

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”I started making dish towels (tea towels in England) when I was around 10 years old.  My Mom taught me how to embroider and this is one of the first ones I made; it is also made from a flour sack, just like my great grandma”

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“I still love to make them and I’ve always collected them, going to Antique Stores, Yard Sales.  I love old linen, especially the crazy ones like this”

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”I have the same stove as my Mom did when I was little (this apple has not fallen far from the tree), a 1956 O’Keefe and Merritt.  It has oven door handles – the perfect place for a tea towel display!”

Thank you, Susan, for some lovely tea towels.  After all, tea towels were ‘invented’ in England over two hundred years ago when fine bone china and cut glass was introduced.  Because of the expense of bone china and cut glass the ‘Lady of the House’, not the housekeeping staff, was responsible for the drying of these items.  To do this, without scratching the surface, pure linen cloths were embroidered for the task and passed as heirlooms along with the china and glassware.  I love the idea that some people are still making tea towels in the traditional way.

PS: Susan refers to ‘flour sacks’ for tea towels.  This is sheets of fabric made from very thin cotton threads.  The weave is lighter than cheese cloth but loose enough that you can see through the cloth!!

PPS: Since I posted Susan’s Tea Towel Story, there has been a lot of activity on Twitter about Flour Sacks and I feel it is only right to include a few of those comments:

Susan Branch said: “Did you know that flour sack dishcloths were really made from actual flour sacks (the flour packaging of the day).  They made dresses from them too! Make do or do without!  I’m sure they made everything from them, curtains, quilts, clothes.  Since they were making bread at home, it was like free fabric”.

@MyCottageDays says: “I have a fabulous book on the history of feed sacks, packed full of information and illustrations on how companies vied for trade with their patterned sacks.  The companies were not slow to pick up on the recycling aspect and that’s how we find so many lovely vintage designs and patterns.  Free fabric and a little creativity goes a long way”.

@mari1017 finishes the exchange with: “Oh my.  Just googled ‘flour sack patterns’…… so much to explore and read!!”.

I love it when tea towels can generate so much information sharing and discussion.  I suspect there is a difference between England and America in the history and useage of floor sacks.  Who knows?

Fee’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me re-introduce you to Fee.  Fee was my first Guest Tea Towel in July 2017.  She is a regular reader of my Tea Towel Blog; she is a good friend who I have known since October 1993; 100 years ago she would have been a Suffragette, today she is involved in women’s issues of all kinds; Fee is the person I would trust with my darkest secrets and who can be relied on to make me laugh at all times; Fee has interesting eating habits and who enjoys a meal out.  Fee is not someone I would have said had any interest in tea towels so I was very excited when she offered to write about her newest acquisition; her collection is gradually increasing!

”I’m a swearer; I like swearing and swearing likes me.  It’s just a very natural part of my self-expression.  Obviously, it wasn’t always (I tended to be a well-behaved and rule-bound child, sadly).  But since my early twenties, swearing has become more and more a marker of ‘me’.  I have a wide range of friends  and many swear quite frequently, and happily, but it is rare for me to find another in my circle who swears quite as often as I do.  Although I do sometimes have a behavioural effect on others, and there are at least two work colleagues, in my current job, who report a real liberation in hearing me put a voice to their usually unvoiced thoughts and give them scope to explore their full linguistic abilities.  My ‘Secret Santa’ present at work this year was a book called “How To Swear” so clearly I have the implicit support of the team to continue in my creative endeavours.

I’m not, however, a completely indiscriminate swearer.  There is nothing worse than the awkwardness of a swear out of place, or context.  I’m very carefully tuned into the language of those around me and will often test the waters with a light and breezy swear word and feel how it lands.  Often I am rewarded with an immediate swear response and then I know that I am in a safe space and can continue and take a few more risks with my lexicon.  Sometimes I tackle the issue head-on by asking a new group whether anyone objects to swearing and, with little exception, most people in the group are breathing a sigh of relief that the issue has been raised, and resolved. 

There are, of course, those who genuinely find swearing offensive, and a verbal assault that is painful to hear.  These people are easy to spot instantly and then, of course, swearing will be off the menu in their company.  Then there are others whose relationship with swearing is slightly more complicated.  They tend not to swear at all, or only on the very light end of the scale and they do a good line in mock horror when they hear me playing merrily at the other end.  However, these people (and I have to know them well to know this) secretly love my big-stakes swearing, would love to feel more comfortable with an ‘F’ rather than a ‘B’, and gain vicarious pleasure from the fact that I so clearly, and loudly, do.

Barbara falls into this second category.  She does indeed swear, right across the spectrum at times, but is happier paddling in the shallows, and watching others diving into the deep end.  She also love a tea towel and a good play on words so this tea towel, that I was given at Christmas, is bloody perfect for her.”

PS: My Mum gave it to me – wtf?

Thank you, Fee, for that great article.  I do, however, find it difficult to imagine you as a ‘rule-bound’ child.  Unlike any email you have previously sent me, this article actually has punctuation!!  It’s also a great tea towel!!

 

Guest Tea Towels 2018

Sue’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Sue…..Click here to read her tea towel story…..Sue’s Tea Towel Story

Cathy’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Cathy……. Click here to read her tea towel story….Cathy’s Tea Towel Story

Eunice’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Eunice ………Click here to read her tea towel story…. Eunice’s Tea Towel Story

Isaac’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Isaac….Click here to read his Tea Towel Story Isaac’s Tea Towel Story

Steve’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Steve…. Click here to read his Tea Towel Story Steve’s Tea Towel Story

Gwyn’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Gywn…Click here to read her Tea Towel Story Gwyn’s Tea Towel Story

Jai’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Jai…. Click here to read her Tea Towel Story Jai’s Tea Towel Story

Jenny’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Jenny…….. Click here to read her Tea Towel Story Jenny’s Tea Towel Story

Emma’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Emma…. Click here to read her Tea Towel Story Emma’s Tea Towel Story

Stephen’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Stephen…..Click here to read his Tea Towel Story Stephen’s Tea Towel Story

Myra’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Myra…Click here to read her Tea Towel Story Myra’s Tea Towel Story

Celia’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Celia…..Click here to read her Tea Towel Story Celia’s Tea Towel Story

Kate’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me introduce you to Kate….Click here to read her Tea Towel Story Kate’s Tea Towel Story

Ade’s Tea Towel Story.

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Let me reintroduce you to Ade….Click here to read his Tea Towel Story Ade’s Tea Towel Story

Susan’s Tea Towel Story.

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Let me introduce you to Susan….Click here to read her Tea Towel Story Susan’s Tea Towel Story.

Fee’s Tea Towel Story

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Let me reintroduce you to Fee…Click here to read her Tea Towel Story Fee’s Tea Towel Story