Things to do with a Tea Towel: 2016

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This is my first Tea Towel Blog of 2016.  I dedicate this Tea Towel Blog to the sceptics and non-believers, those who do not see the beauty and joy in a tea towel; to those who have a dishwasher and do not see the need for a tea towel; to those who wash up and leave the dishes on the draining board to dry; to those who have a lot of takeaways and/or use paper plates and finally, I dedicate this blog to those people who have great creativity skills and who can use a sewing machine.

Lots of different people have some wonderful suggestions about what you can do with a tea towel that transcends using them to dry dishes and at the same time relive some great memories.  Alternative uses for tea towels fall into two categories: firstly, those that do not involve altering the tea towel in any way and, therefore at any time, the tea towel can revert to its original use; secondly, those suggestions that involve changing the use of the tea towel altogether.

Christmas is a time to get together with friends and family, many of whom I haven’t seen for a long time.  This year I was talking to someone about my Tea Towel Blog and my tea towel collection.  The most frequently asked question is “What do you do with all those tea towels?”  What a question!!  They all get used on a rotational basis.  But when I thought about this afterwards, I do put my tea towels to a lot of different uses, as do my friends.  Tea towels are very versatile; they are the original multi-taskers.

The whole principle of tea towels is that they are environmentally friendly; they are reusable and recyclable so preventing waste. The fact that they come in a lot of different materials increases their versatility – terry towelling, cotton, pure linen, linen mix.  Let’s start with how many different things you can do with a tea towel without actually changing it:

  • One of Mary Berry’s shortcuts is that if you are holding an Afternoon Tea Party, make the sandwiches the day before, cover them with a damp tea towel and put them in the fridge.  This way you are much less rushed on the day of the event and therefore able to enjoy it more yourself. Does this work? I was sceptical but my friend Liz tried it and it worked.  The sandwiches were as fresh as if they had been made on the day.  As everyone says these days “If Mary Berry says it, it must be right”
  • Having a lot of tea towels can be very useful when moving house.  In 2003, I used all my tea towels to wrap all my china, crockery, pottery and glassware.  The result was no breakages.  Tea towels are much more flexible than newspaper, are thicker than tissue paper and clearly do not contribute to landfill.  Also your hands, and china, do not end up covered in newspaper print.
  • When I was at work, I often lent my tea pots and china for events we held like our Annual General meeting.  I always wrapped everything in tea towels for protection; they also proved very useful for wiping up before bringing everything back home. This made sure that I didn’t bring home dirty crockery.
  • With my new interest in caravans, tea towels prove very useful for protecting breakable things when we are on the move.  Now, of course, I have tea towels with a caravan theme.
  • I use my Christmas tea towels to wrap all my Christmas china up after 5 January until it is ready to come out again on 1 December. This saves storage space because the Christmas tea towels are not stored separately
  • I often use a new tea towel as wrapping paper for birthday, Christmas and wedding gifts.  You can buy good quality tea towels very cheaply these days either in multi-packs in a supermarket or from online sellers who are having a sale.  There are a number of advantages to using a tea towel as wrapping paper; it is not wasteful because the ‘wrapping paper’ has a use in itself, saving landfill (most wrapping paper cannot be recycled). Tea towels can disguise awkward shapes, are not ripped by protruding corners and are flexible.  There is no need for cellotape, you can just use string. This gives it a rustic look and the string can be used again.
  • A friend of mine loves collecting items with the London Underground map.  Her latest acquisition is a set of placemats.  She has used her London Underground tea towel as a table centre which I have to say looks very smart.
  • Some tea towels make great table centres and can act as an alternative to a table cloth. Alternatively, ‘themed’ tea towels make good place settings for a special occasion e.g. Christmas, birthday party
  • Fold a tea towel as a lining for a bread basket.  If serving warmed bread or rolls use the folds to cover the contents so it retains it’s warmth.
  • Tea towels are excellent as trays covers if you are wanting to cover a shabby tray or want to add a bit of difference to a special occasion.
  • I read on http://www.all-tea-towels.co.uk about the idea of having a pile of tea towels in a guest toilet so that each guest can use a different hand towel.  Towelling tea towels are most appropriate for this.  They must have learnt this from Claridges hotel where there is a pile of towels in each of the toilets for customers.
  • I have used older, slightly more boring tea towels to line drawers.  They are more robust than drawer lining paper, can be washed and re-used or alternatively put back into circulation as a tea towel and replaced by another.  The green/white and blue/white checked ones are tea towels I inherited from my mother and didn’t want to get rid of it, but they lack a ‘little something’; similarly the red and white one was inherited from Dorothy.   I think towelling ones work the best because they are softer and can be fitted easily into any size drawer.
  • Tea towels can be used in the same way as shelf liners.  Especially useful are the cheap honey-combed cotton ones, when they have shrunk, because they fit more easily on a shelf
  • A damp tea towel is excellent for proving home made bread; just lay it across the bread tin and put in a warm place

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  • A clean (but definitely not damp) tea towel is useful for covering cakes and bread that has just come out of the oven, before they are ready to be put into tins.  During the cooling process the tea towel protects them from dust and insects.
  • An age-old tip is that a dampened tea towel can be used during ironing to help remove tricky creases (or to put a creases in the front of a trouser leg, if that is your fashion choice).
  • If you are like me, a spaghetti-lover, you know that eating it can be a messy business.  I have often given guests a well-pressed tea towel to cover themselves from tomato sauce – a more practical form of napkin for messy eating.  It allows people to eat in a relaxed fashion rather than being self-conscious.
  • Tea towels make a great covering for cork boards – a more interesting, and changeable, feature.  In a restaurant on Arran I saw a tea towel with the pattern of a Tunnocks Tea Cake on a notice board which made it a real feature.  Pin marks cause no real damage and therefore the tea towel can be changed at regular intervals and you still have a household object
  • Tea towels are a real asset at a picnic.  They can be used to wrap both food and china for carrying but then are also available to wipe sticky fingers, use as a table cloth or napkin or wrap up dirty cutlery before taking them home. This avoids taking paper towels and creating more litter and waste
  • One of the ‘whackiest’ ideas I have heard for old tea towels is to roll up three tea towels you no longer want to use, plait them, tying up the ends and it can be used as a dog rope toy or draught excluder.
  • When I was in Madeira two years ago, I saw some great tea towels which were black, honey-combed cotton with the traditional Madeiran bird.  It suddenly occured to me that these would make great hand towels in the kitchen because they do not show up stains and do not lose their colour with regular washing.  During the Christmas season I use a towelling tea towel with a ‘Have a Happy Christmas’ on it as a hand towel, a cheery message for Christmas.  It saves people using the regular tea towels as hand towels. Much more hygienic.
  • This is a suggestion from Barbara who places old tea towels under her cat litter tray to catch any ‘spillages’.  Sounds like a good idea
  • Barbara also uses the larger style, brand new tea towels to cover her ironing pile. This stops the cats from sitting on her newly washed laundry.  This is a good idea because a pile of laundry, waiting for ironing is like a magnet to a cat.  I have the same problem with cats!!

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  • I can remember, back in the 60’s, that you could buy two plastic strips through which you could slide the ends of a tea towel to make it into a wall hanging.  These days, there are so many artists designing tea towels that you could justify framing them e.g. Wimbledon Centre Court (www.all-tea-towels.co.uk), Suffragettes (Radical Tea Towel Company), the London Eye by Penny Seume…
  • Tea towels have always been the traditional way of making a costume for a young child in their Navity Play (tea towel on the head with a tie round it makes a good shepherd) or for a fancy dress party.  My friend Helen demonstrates the adult version: either a full outfit or or the ‘tabard’

There are, of course, a lot of suggestions about how you can transform a tea towel permanently into something else:

  • Tea towels are just the right size for making a tube to hold plastic bags, elastic at both ends.   Not only useful, but an easy gift to make.
  • Jane is big into sewing.  Her suggestion was that a couple of tea towels, preferably good quality linen, could be sewn together and lined to make a tote bag.  This is very topical at a time when all shops are now charging 5p for any plastic bag.
  • I decided to make a pillow slip from 2 tea towels for my godson.  He was big into steam railways and I managed to get two different tea towels about steam railways.  I did cheat by not tackling a flap to cover the end of the pillow but used press studs which was equally as effective.
  • 6 tea towels, sewn together, make a unique table cloth (8 if you have a really long, extending table).  The key is to get tea towels of exactly the same size.  I chose celebratory tea towels for the 2012 London Olympics.  No one else has one like it!!
  • Lots of people use tea towels sewn together to make covers for big kitchen equipment like mixers, protecting them from dust.  It can give a unique feel to the kitchen
  • How about using a couple of stylish tea towels to make an apron? This could be a way of giving a theme to your kitchen, if you match the equipment covers, a couple of tea towels and the apron.

There are so many more ideas for what to do with a tea towel.  I am sure Google can give you a lot more answers or why not just do the wiping up???

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3 thoughts on “Things to do with a Tea Towel: 2016

  1. I’ve also used old tea towels to go under the cat litter box – to soak up ‘spillages’. I’ve used the newer, big ones to place over folded ironing piles – to protect the clothes etc from the cats. Who love to use the ironing as their ‘new’ comfy beds.

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    1. I will add your suggestions to my list, with an accreditation to you. I have similar problems with cats – great ideas, thank you. Barbara
      PS I have now amended the blog to include your suggestions. Thank you

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