The humble tea towel: from cup drier to artist’s canvas…

David Nicholls, the design editor of Telegraph Magazine, on how the tea towel has evolved from cup drier to artist’s canvas…

According to the modern-day journalist’s primary source of information – namely, Wikipedia – 'the mistress of the house in 18th-century England used a special linen cloth to dry the precious and expensive china that servants were considered too ham-fisted to be trusted with’. Thus the tea towel was born.

Have a look at the styles that are on the market today however, and you might be tempted to frame and hang them on your wall rather than put them on drying duty.

Designers and artists are increasingly looking to the humble tea towel as the perfect canvas on which to print their imaginings.  It has been elevated from a strictly utilitarian item to a modern day canvas for contemporary artworks – and ones that usually cost less than a tenner.

Now you can have iconic 1950s patterns created by the British textiles designer Lucienne Day, folk-style examples by Rob Ryan and witty illustrations by the young designer Donna Wilson to keep you company while doing the washing up.

One stand out piece to launch recently is by Mibo, an award winning tea towel which features a pattern and instructions to ‘sew your own lion cushion.’ It’s clever, interactive, multi-functional and well-executed.

From cartoon-esque vegetables to silhouettes of mid-century architectural icons, there is a style out there for everyone. And for relatively little investment, it provides something infinitely more interesting than a boring ‘pack-of-three’ from the supermarket. Check out these designs, which are, eherm, to dry for...

Above: Catherine Colebrook's 'Ooh I Do Love A Good Tea Towel' on promotion at ACHICA today

Below: Donna Wilson's Use My Beehive To Dry Your Dishes Tea Towel

Mibo's 'sew your own lion cushion' tea towel:

Lush Designs' punchy Carrot tea towel:

The iconic People Will Always Need Plates by De La Warr tea towel:

Lucienne Day Batterie Di Cuisine tea towel from SCP

Rob Ryan's 'Everything that is supposed to be in heaven is already here on earth' tea towel.

David Nicholls ( is design editor of Telegraph Magazine. Take a look at his latest Design Notebook column here

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David Nicholls Design Editor Telegraph Magazine

View all posts by David Nicholls Design Editor Telegraph Magazine