Early Vintage Tea Towels


When I began collecting vintage towels, I was drawn to the beautifully colored, intricate designs of the 1950s and 60s, when the screen printing process was very sophisticated and elaborate designs were the norm.  As my foray into collecting continued, I discovered that I was equally attracted to the simple one and two-color designs of the 1920s and 30s from the Art Deco period.  Their charm is in their simplicity and ability to paint a complete picture with little color.
Linen tea towels made their appearance in Victorian England in the second half of the 19th century in service of tea, hence the name “tea towel”. They were used as tray liners, covers to keep tea hot and, of course, utilized to dry precious ceramic teapots without scratching or leaving behind lint.  Often these towels were elaborately embroidered by ladies of the household, becoming an integral part of the tea service itself which was passed down through generations.
When household linens began to be mass produced, block printing by hand was utilized to decorate towels.  The monochromatic nature of these early printed tea towels often created striking designs.  One-color, tonal variations of one color and then two-color towels were produced with successful results.  They have a lot of character and depth even with the lack of detail and simple color scheme.
As time went on, towel designs were machine printed using more sophisticated methods producing multicolored and intricate designs. However, I’ve discovered that early printed tea towels deserve as much attention as their fancy successors.
If I had to choose a favorite, I would pick the lanky maid in yellow.
Which one do you like best?

13 thoughts on “Early Vintage Tea Towels

  1. Cindy from NeatoKeen is a gem. Her vast knowledge of vintage textiles is exceeded only by her kindness and generosity..this lady knows her stuff and has the most beautiful textiles to be found online.


  2. They are all so beautiful but I especially like the kittens – they are from the 1030’s to the 1940’s I believe.


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