They're versatile. They're inexpensive. And they're often handmade. The tea towel is more than a dish rag or an eco-friendly substitute for disposable Bounty or Viva these days. It's a bit of graphic art, available in a plethora of patterns and illustrated amusements. We scoured stores and websites for a range of the designs, then asked designers for better ways to use them.
1. Line a bread basket.
2. Cushion the bottom of the fruit bowl.
3. "They also make cute reusable gift wrapping, using them like we do in Japan as a furoshiki," or wrapping cloth, Lookout & Wonderland designer Niki Livingston said.
4. Use stiffer materials such as linen in place of vinyl shelf liner. When the shelves get dusty, just toss the towels into the laundry.
5. "Especially during the holidays I love packing up fresh citrus in a tea towel and tying it off with yarn and baker's twine," Culver City, Calif., textile artist Heather Taylor said. "This makes for a great hostess gift."
6. A variation on that theme: Use a tea towel to wrap scented handmade soap and leave it out for house guests, suggested Kara Smith, president of SFA Design in L.A.
7. Use large ones as place mats.
8. "I love using tea towels as napkins or bibs for those get-your-fingers-dirty meals like crabs and ribs," Studio City, Calif., textile designer Paula Smail said. "They look great on the table, and if they are illustrated, they become conversation starters."
9. Use soft materials such as flour-sack cloth to blot moisture when washing salad greens. Lay out lettuce on the towel, roll it like a cinnamon roll, then shake gently.
10. Lay down a damp towel to prevent the cutting board from slipping when carving meat or rolling out cookie dough.
11. "I always use pretty tea towels draped over a tension rod for my bathroom curtains," said Annette Goliti Gutierrez, co-owner of the Los Angeles garden gifts store Potted. "They're super-affordable, easy to clean, and even a non-sewer like me can feel like she's 'made' them."
12. Line tote bags with them. They're easier to clean than totes.
13. Stretch and staple them over wood frames as textile artworks to hang on the kitchen wall.
14. A suggestion from L.A. interior designer Vanessa De Vargas: Have a tea towel sewn with a drawstring. Instant shoe bag.
15. Use as a wine bag. Ted Vadakan, cofounder of the L.A. store Poketo, shows how to wrap a bottle at poketo.com/blog/2012/10/18.
16. L.A. designer Kishani Perera suggests sewing them into simple toss pillows.
17. Lay one over your computer keyboard as a dust and cat-hair cover.
18. When designs fade or the material gets ragged, use them outside. Car buffs love the flour-sack material for wiping the dashboard.