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New to the bookshelves is Every tea towel tells a story : Richard Till’s special collection.  Host of TVNZ’s “Kiwi Kitchen” programme, a highlight was the tea towel of the week segment in which Richard showed off some classic examples.  In this book, 50 tea towels from Richard’s collection are featured including the first image.  A quick read of his book, shows Richard’s enthusiasm for regional designs that highlight an area’s attractions all on one towel.

Tea towel showing a map of New Zealand

An alternative to map books

Not in the book but one that I’m sure Richard would appreciate is this example from Kawerau.  From an explanation of Maori carving to a scene of the Tasman Pulp & Paper Company (now Norske Skog Tasman), it’s a classic design!

Tea towel promoting the Kawerau region

All you need to know on a tea towel.

The following two library tea towels were acquired from Auckland Central City Library.  The walls of the library staffroom were previously covered in tea towels brought back from people’s holidays.  Although not a fan of tea towel interior design, I witnessed the frenzy when they were removed during a refurbishment of the staffroom.  I soon joined in, grabbing these along with a classy ‘I lost my ass in Las Vegas” tea towel which I still adore.

Tea towels from Auckland City Library and Takapuna Library

Not just books, some libraries have their own tea towels.

Nowdays many tea towels are art works, no longer for drying dishes but instead being framed like art prints.  Particular favourites are the black and white Esther Diamond range.  The following designs were created by artist Dick Frizzell.

Two tea towels from the Esther Diamond range

Art on a tea towel.

Wellington artist Liz Hibb’s “Living Goddess” series featured portraits of iconic women such as Lucille Ball, Julie Andrews to Coronation Street’s Hilda Ogden. This one is of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Photo of a tea towel featuring Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

A first class First Lady design.

Crown Lynn collectors wishing to extend their ceramic collection can delve into tea towels.  Christchurch’s Rudolf Boelee has produced a number of Crown Lynn screenprints onto greeting cards, cushion covers and now tea towels.

Tea towel featuring Crown Lynn's Swan design

The classic swan image now on a tea towel.

Another Christchurch example is the Mogambo cup printed by Rebecca Lovell-Smith.  Released in the early 1960s, this design was one of Crown Lynn’s first coffee cans.

Crown Lynn's Mogambo coffee cup tea towel design

Now you can match your Crown Lynn coffee cup with a tea towel.

Ending on another Kiwiana theme is Mr 4 Square, a smiling grocer representing the 4 Square grocery chain.  Established in the 1920s, the brand has seen a revival with the reuse of the cartoon character.  Not only convenient, Mr 4 Square has proved popular with a summer design released last year.

Two tea towels featuring the Mr 4 Square grocery brand.

As their logo states, 'how convenient!"


Sometimes, I find myself acquiring vintage textile objects that are not particularly attractive and possibly possess little in the way of craft merit. All the same, I can’t pass them up – vintage is not that common. One such item I have in my collection is an awkward and rather cumbersome cottage tea cosy.

This truly is the ugly duckling of my collection, and like that duckling, it has endearing qualities. The walls and chimney are constructed out of really thick, almost pelt-like, woolen fabric which looks kinda felted. The roof is textured upholstery fabric. The bottom is trimmed with woven wool and it’s lined inside with green polished cotton. It’s a sturdy little number and, I imagine, would do a very good job of keeping the tea pot insulated.

The front has a cute wee door at left and a picture window in the middle. The windows (there are three in total) are quite something – frilly lace around the inside, transparent plastic to stand in for glass and criss-cross cotton glazing bars. Cottage garden favourites hollyhocks and delphiniums grow up the wall. A large, almost bare tree growing next to the door curves around to the side wall.

Around the back, delphiniums are joined by sunflowers and other colourful blooms. No back door, just another picture window.

The fourth side is dominated by a slim, upright tree with yellow catkins dangling from its branches. Above the tree is a wee attic window – there should almost be a small face peaking out, though that would possibly be a little disturbing.

It’s far too chunky, the roof reminds me of a mushroom cap and the chimney sags alarmingly, but this cosy also has some very sweet features. I love the flowers and trees – in contrast to the clumsy attempt at grass and the dodgy glazing beads on the windows, some of these are very well done. The maker put a lot of time into this cosy. It’s an odd combination of amateurish and more accomplished work. I can’t help wondering whether more than one person made it. This ugly duckling won’t be turning into a swan anytime soon, but I’m still very fond of it.


My fellow collector Fran McGowan has sent me a photo of her cottage tea cosy – it’s the knitted cousin to mine. The maker was very sensible and included a detachable lining, which must have made getting rid of tea stains much simpler.

Fran's cottage tea cosy

December 2010
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