Liz bought me this book, as a surprise. You know that feeling, when the Amazon envelope, addressed to yourself, arrives through the door but you can’t remember if you have ordered anything? To open that cardboard package and find a glorious yellow book is something to make your heart beat faster, especially when you had no idea that it was arriving. I flicked through it, looking at the different illustrations. I put it down. I watched a football match. I picked it up again and read it from cover to cover. I had some dinner. I picked it up again and read it from cover to cover, once more. I looked more carefully at the designs and, at that point, realised how few I actually had. If the shops hadn’t closed by this time, I would have been out, scouring the charity shops, looking for all those Pat Albeck designs I had missed.
It is a rare thing that I will write a Tea Towel Blog that is not about a tea towel, with a special memory, from a particular place. There have been celebratory Blogs about the first and second birthdays of http://www.myteatowels.wordpress.com, one on preparing for the Virtual Tea Towel Museum. This Blog is very special to me; it is about the book Matthew Rice, Pat Albeck’s son, wrote about his late mother’s tea towel designs, published by the National Trust. It’s the book I would have loved to have written.
For a Tea Towel Collector like myself, whose favourite tea towel designer was Pat Albeck, this is like a dream come true. 112 pages of joy, with full page photographs of some of her tea towels. The book is divided into chapters: Cottages Castles and Country Houses, Kitchens and Food, Patterns and Graphics, Birds and Beasts, and Flowers Gardens and Landscapes. Obviously, since she designed more than 300 tea towels, not all are included; just a sample. Sad, obsessed collector am I, I just had to go through the book and count how many different tea towels are represented: 81 in total. She designed a Calendar tea towel, for the National Trust, every year from 1976 to 2019, both of those are included. That is 43 in total and I only own 5 (1986, 2005, 2009, 2014 and 2018); I have so many more to collect. She designed tea towels for particular properties, both in England and Scotland, more general ones reflecting her love of gardening, cats; I have so few of her generalist designs and I want some!
The book shows her first tea towel design from 1954. I think I was surprised at how few of the tea towels, that are in the book, I have got. In fact, only Baddesley Clinton, Hardwick Hall and Mecanopsis. I’d hoped that the tea towel that I was given in 1976 then lost, highly decorated with acorns and oak leaves from the National Trust, might be there, but no. That has to be for a second volume!
There are some stunning ones included: A Present from the National Trust, a jug with a bunch of flowers; the Orange Tree, highly decorated and coloured with ‘Glass Cloth’ written on it; a Recipe for Seville Orange Marmalade and an absolutely plain Glass Cloth but with striking colours of French navy, black and milk chocolate. I’ve never seen these ‘in the flesh’ but they are so beautiful. Looking through the book, I realise how accurate that title is; Pat Albeck was the Queen of the Tea Towel. It is fascinating to see the way her style, and use of colours, changed over the decades, yet they are all beautiful.
But I can’t complete this Blog without including a few of my Pat Albeck tea towels that I feel are deserving of a second volume. Just tap on the picture for the notes:
I love the colour that Pat Albeck uses in her tea towels to make them come alive:
Thank you, Liz, for buying me this book; I think you described it as “an early birthday present’. For me it is like birthday, Christmas and any other celebration all rolled into one. Thank you to Matthew Rice for such a delightful book, giving readers some insight into the background behind some of the designs.
I have two regrets, and this book has highlighted this for me: firstly, I never met Pat Albeck, or interviewed her for the Museum, and secondly, I never saw one of the exhibitions of her work. One of the things that I have learned over the years is that if you want to do something, get on and do it; you never know what is round the corner.