“It is a lovely experience walking around a museum by yourself” (Brad Pitt)
A quote from Brad Pitt is always a good way to start your journey around a museum! The Virtual Tea Towel Museum offers you exactly that opportunity, to browse the museum, on your own, in your own time. Imagine you are walking into a museum for the first time; you arrive at the Ticket Desk and pay your entrance fee. Good start because the Virtual Tea Towel Museum is also free to everyone.
You are then given a leaflet to help you find your way around the museum. Think of this page as your leaflet, Your Guide to the Virtual Tea Towel Musem. The purpose of this page is to help you get as much as you want from the Virtual Tea Towel Museum, to be able to look at the bits that might interest you, avoid those bits that you will find boring and therefore, hopefully, you will be encouraged to return time and again. After all, because it is free, you don’t have to try and get ‘your money’s worth’ all on one occasion.
Good museums have a purpose, a theme, an identity. In April 2015, I began a Blog (www.myteatowels.wordpress.com), writing the story of each of my tea towels; the Blog still continues, because I have not finished the task I initially set myself and because my tea towel collection continues to grow. The Virtual Tea Towel Museum does not replace the Blog, nor does it include the Blog but each tea towel on display will show a link back to the Blog (if it is a tea towel that has been blogged about), if you want to read the story and there is another link to get you back to the Museum. The aim of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum is to introduce Visitors to the world of tea towels; to show the Visitor the wide variety of tea towels available; to let the Visitor see that a tea towel, for some designers, is a ‘Blank Canvas’ on which to create a piece of useable, and affordable, art; to enable Visitors to understand the stories behind tea towels; to let the Visitor see that there is fun to be had with tea towels; for the Visitor to learn about all the processes behind the tea towel that you used this morning, and much more. But these aren’t all my tea towels; there is a section for ‘Guests’.
If you have opened the Virtual Tea Towel Museum, you will see the three parallel lines at the top. Press those and the ‘Menu’ will be displayed. This ‘leaflet’ explains in more detail what each of the headings involve.
Home Page or Gallery
This is what immediately opens up. The tea towels, currently over 1200 different ones, have been divided into 16 Collections, each with a different theme. Over time, the Collections may grow in number, and will be updated regularly. In the main, they are tea towels that I have collected over the last 50 or so years: I may have bought them, been given them as a present, inherited them from relatives, been bequeathed them from people who know I love tea towels. There are a few that I have bought (or created) for other people but before they have left my home, I have photographed them and written about them. Let me tell you about the Collections; the Collections relate to the design on the tea towel, not necessarily the story behind it. Occasionally, a tea towel will appear in more than one collection because, for that design, it is apprproiate but I have tried to limit that happening as much as possible.
- The Miscellaneous Collection: This is a small Collection of tea towels that fit nowhere else. You will not see these in any other Collection. ‘Oddballs’ sum them up.
- The Royal Collection: These tea towels relate to Royal Events, People or Places. A small collection, hopefully growing. Because of the specialist nature of this Collection, it is unlikely they will be found elsewhere.
- The Events Collection: Here are tea towels relating to specific events – that may be a theatre production, a Food Show, an anniversary etc. It is about a one-off event. These tea towels may, occasionally, be found in other Collections.
- The Promotional Collection: It was sometimes difficult to separate Promotional tea towels from the Events Collection. The easiest way to think about it is that tea towels in the Promotional Collection do not relate to a one-off Event, they are more like an advertorial, someone wants to promote their goods. You may be surprised that tea towels from a specific Tea Room are in this section, not with the Tea Time Collection
- The Recipe Collection: Another small, but hopefully growing, Collection. Some tea towels actually have recipes on them which you can follow; this indicates an interesting regional variations in food.
- The Calendar Collection: The annual Calendar is very popular around Christmas; the National Trust always has a Calendar tea towel each year (but not for 2020). This is a small Collection because I had avoided buying Calendar tea towels, in the past. I am now a big fan of Calendar tea towels. I am on the lookout, in vintage shops, to expand this Collection.
- The Animal World Collection: Tea towel designers love to include animals in their tea towels. In my Collection, the most popular are chickens, cats and Highland Cows (because of my love for them). I suspect dogs are under-represented. Many of these also appear in the Linguistics Collection because of my love for Venery Nouns
- The Tea Time Collection: I have a passionate love of loose leaf tea, tea paraphernalia, tea pots and all things tea. My tea towel collection reflects this.
- The People Collection: More recent tea towels often feature individuals, or groups of people, on a tea towel, especially through schemes like the Blue Plaque Scheme, the Penguin Paperback covers and the development of the Radical Tea Towel Company, all represented here. My love of history, literature and language has meant that this has become a separate collection
- The Christmas Collection: Obvious really. Tea towels relating to Christmas, and in my household only used during December and up to 5th January.
- The Linguistics Collection: Any tea towel relating to language, dialects, Venery Nouns, poems and any lengthy writing. A lot of these also appear in other Collections. This is one of my favourite Collections.
- The Kitchens and Gardens Collection: A very mixed Collection with anything applicable to kitchens, gardens (but not National Trust gardens), flowers, food (but not recipes).
- The National Trust Collection: This is really where it all started, a love of National Trust Gardens and Pat Albeck’s tea towels in particular.
- ChariTea Towel: This is a small Collection of charities that use a tea towel as part of their fundraising or promotional work. They are tea towels that immediately identify the charity, as opposed to being one of a number of things sold in a shop to raise funds.
The last three Collections relate to tea towels that are from particular places
- The International Collection: Tea towels from everywhere outside of the United Kingdom, that are easily associated with the place.
- The Scottish Collection: This is a separate Collection because, although I am not Scottish, I have a deep and passionate love of Scotland and all things Scottish, hence a large Collection of Scottish tea towels.
- The England, Wales and Northern Ireland Collection: This is the largest Collection and includes some of my oldest tea towels. Each tea towel identifies with a named place/region. These were very popular 50 years ago but less so nowadays. Many apologies for the lack of representation from Northern Ireland; I haven’t been there and haven’t been given any as gifts. I hope to remedy this as soon as possible.
- We’re All in This Together: This was a new Collection introduced in 2020, in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic. People were invited to write about what the Pandemic meant to them. Each is accompanied by a tea towel. This will remain in the Museum, as a reminder about how the Pandemic affected us. Some pieces are from children in Home Schooling, some from abroad and some written as a Diary. I remember being affected, and moved, by the work of the Mass Observation Unit. This, in a very small way, parallels that.
- #TheGreatTeaTowelSharing Collection: In 2021, as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, Britain went into Lockdown Number 3. I invited, through a Tweet, people to send in pictures of their tea towels which would then be included in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum. There were so many entries that, instead of putting those additional tea towels into existing Collections, that a new Collection would be created, recognising the work and effort people put into submitting new entries. A good museum should recognise what is happening today, what will make history (accompanied by a great tea towel).
There are three other ‘Squares’ which you can tap on to
- Guest Tea Towels: Here I invite a range of people to choose a favourite tea towel of their own and write about it, how old it is, what memories it evokes. There will be a photo of the tea towel, possibly accompanied by the Guest. This section will be added to on a continual basis. The Guests will be people that I know as friends or relatives, people that I have ‘met’ through Twitter or strangers. As long as they love a tea towel they can be my Guest. Because there are a number of Guest Tea Towels, I have decided to have Guest Tea Towels 2017 and a separate Collection of Guest Tea Towels 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and so on. I hope this may help the Visitor move around the Museum more easily, especially if they are a regular reader of Guest Tea Towels. This also allows people who have ‘Guested’ in 2017 to have another tea towel in later years.
- In Conversation With…… As you take the tea towel off the hook on the back of the door, to do the wiping up, do you think about all the processes that are involved in getting that tea towel to you? Visitors will be able to meet tea towel designers, producers, sellers and learn more about their trade. An ever-growing section. The background behind the tea towel you have been using today.
- Special Collections: I am privileged to have been given tea towels, in bulk, by people who know longer need them. 2018 will see the start of the ‘Special Collections’ where the Visitor can ‘meet’ the owner of the tea towels, learn about the Collection as a whole. Each tea towel will not be blogged about in depth in the Special Collection but a Tea Towel Blog may appear in http://www.myteatowels.wordpress.com if I am inspired!
Meet The Curator
This is a separate section on the menu where you can Meet The Curator of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum and hear about how this adventure all started.
Enjoying Your Tea Towels
This is a Photo Gallery of people with their tea towels, using their tea towels, dressing up in their tea towels; cats with tea towels, artistic poses of tea towels, all with captions. It is important that Visitors can see that tea towels are a source of fun and enjoyment and not only for wiping up. If any Visitors have any such photos, you can Direct Message @myteatowels and I will include them, or use the Visitor’s Book to contact me (remember to include your email address so I can get back to you). I have now opened an Instagram account (myteatowels) in which there are many photos of tea towels, added to on a weekly basis.
All About Tea Towels
There will be occasional articles about tea towels. The first two are updated versions of
- Things To Do With a Tea Towel
- How To Look After Your Tea Towels
There will be more to follow.
All good museums have a shop. I find it very frustrating when a Museum Shop sells nothing that relates to the Museum. In the spirit of the Virtual Tea Towel Museum, there are a few websites which specialise in selling a range of tea towels to the public; on a lot of websites it is difficult to spot where the tea towels are. In the shop, there is a list of online stores; all these have some tea towels in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum Collections. The online stores are responsible for the sale and service of any tea towels, not the Virtual Tea Towel Museum. The Virtual Tea Towel Museum does not receive any commission from any sales. If Visitors know of any other good online stores for tea towels let me know via the Visitors Book. They can be added later.
The Vocabulary of Tea Towels
This is the section where the ‘language’ of tea towels is explored. The first article is about identifying (or not) the Collective Noun for Tea Towels. After some research, and consultation, the Virtual Tea Towel Museum has concluded there are five different Collective Nouns for Tea Towels, depending on how they are used. A future article will be on the name for a Collector of Tea Towels.
Any Visitors are invited to sign the Visitors Book; their comments will be posted, after moderation, no email address will appear and their details will not be passed on to anyone else. Use the Visitors Book to let me know if you want to send a photo for ‘Enjoying Your Tea Towels’ or if you would like to be a ‘Guest Tea Towel’ or you have any ideas that you would like the Virtual Tea Towel Museum to develop.
A museum shouldn’t be a static enterprise but an ever-changing landscape; the Virtual Tea Towel Museum hopes to be just that.
- New tea towels will be added to the Collections all the time, with their links to the Tea Towel Blog, if you want to know the full story; usually once a month
- There will be some ‘Special Collections’ added, tea towels that were collected by someone and inherited by me or for some other reason.
- There will be articles on topics like School Tea Towels, Using Tea Towels as Wedding Invitations, Inheriting Tea Towels, Making Things from Tea Towels
- The Guest Tea Towel and In Conversation With.. sections will be added to all the time
If there are topics that Visitors would like to see included in future, please let me know via the Visitors Book.
“Richard found himself, on otherwise sensible weekends, accompanying her to places like the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery, where he learned that walking around museums too long hurts your feet, that great art treasures of the world all blur into each other after a while, and that it is almost beyond the human capacity or belief to accept how much museum cafeterias will brazenly charge for a slice of cake and a cup of tea”. Neil Gaiman in Neverwhere.
Make yourself a cup of tea, cut yourself a slice of cake, sit down and put your feet up and enjoy the Virtual Tea Towel Museum and it won’t cost you a penny, neither will your feet hurt. Enjoy!
Barbara Howard, Curator (Updated 24 February 2021)