Vintage linen tea towels — from Parisian Prints, Kay Dee, Martex, Tammis Keefe, Vera Neumann

vintage linen tea towlsEarly in my estate-sale-hunting life, I discovered vintage linen tea towels. It seemed that every home I entered had a stash of vintage linen tea towels — unused — many still with their labels — finally unpacked from a drawer and now for sale. These also are abundant on ebay, at very reasonable prices.

rooster tea towelI began snatching these towels up, and began using them. 

roses tea towelNot only do I love them for their (1) terrific vintage graphics and colors, (2) thrifty cost, (3) provenance — but I really love them functionally as well.

strawberry and cherry tea towelsMost importantly: Linen kitchen towels really soak up the water. They dry fast. Yes, they fade as you wash them — but, they get softer and softer and still retain their absorbency. Indeed: Nothing Dries Like Linen!

I use them every single day, exclusively, as kitchen towels.

I will guess they came to be known as “tea towels” because… what?… they were used by the Mrs. when she served tea? 

Hmmm. All I know is that they work great as daily kitchen towels. Don’t keep them packed away! Use them!

Above: Some designs were ‘mod’.

Above: Some designs resemble Thibault murals.

Above: This one has a very 1940s look to me — very sweet… like a Meyercord decal.

Back in the day, popular makers of linen tea towels seem to have included:

  • Parisian Prints — this was the biggie, I *think*.
  • Kay Dee
  • Martex 
  • Tammis Keefe — glorious!
  • Vera Neumann — glorious!!
  • Fallani & Cohn (thanks, Janet!)
  • You also saw custom made as location-based souvenir towels and labeled as such.
  • And… as special event souvenir towels (thanks, J D!)
  • They also were sold as calendars. 
  • Who else made them?

In my collecting, I’ve picked up lots of roosters and chickens. 

Santas too. Put out novelty towels for the season!

Fruits and florals also were very popular.

I love vintage tea towels. How about you?

  1. Jamie says:

    My favorite brand for tea towels and tablecloths is Wilendur. My fave designer is Tammis Keefe who also designed under the name Peg Thomas. Someone (maybe Michael Miller or Moda) put out a line of her fabric designs in quilt weight fabric 6 or 7 years ago.

  2. Myra Horn says:

    We have been collecting linen calendar towels forever and now have about 80 at last count. I think the oldest is from 1956 and lots from 60’s and 70’s. Use them to dry dishes. Holiday ones very hard to find. Bought most at yard sales for 10-25 cents! Love them!

  3. Lawrence Merkle says:

    Hi, I also picked up unused kitchen towels at house sales and when I was looking for a Christmas tablecloth a couple of years ago in an overly packed credenza I found some of the towels one of them was designed by Tammis Keefe and I goggled her and discovered all the hankies she created and started to collect her hankies depicting buildings in US Cities. As many of your readers know one collection creates a new collection.

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