When I went to London, I fell in love with dish towels. Well, I fell in love with a lot of things … with the stores, the gardens, the big black cabs, the cathedrals, the tube, the Thames, the bridges over the Thames, the theaters … everything! But yes, the dish towels.
Because I have cleaned and rearranged my linen closet, I have a stack — a large stack — of dish towels to iron. (Of course I have to iron my dish towels. Not to would be a travesty with ones like these.) These are 100% Irish linen with bright colorful designs. As soon as I saw them, I fell in love. I bought them by the armful. They were not expensive — at least not by American standards — and they cheered up the kitchen, and me. I can’t remember now (it’s been over half a century) where I got them. Marks & Spencer? I don’t think so — that was more clothing. Liberty of London? No, they were into silks and woolens. Oh, my gosh, I had become a sewing fiend and I went crazy over the beautiful (and yes, expensive!) materials at Liberty of London. Maybe it was Harrods, but I doubt it — a bit too ordinary for Harrods. More like Selfridges. Yes, Probably Selfridges.
I used them everyday and they wore like iron, as attested by the fact that over 50 years later I still have some. I admit I can actually see through a couple of them. Others finally got holes and wore out, so they are gone. But I didn’t always use them for drying dishes — some I used for decorating. Years ago I lived in a two-story apartment and to make the stairwell more interesting, I hung them there, sort of like battle flags. Rather clever, I thought. But mainly over the years I have used them for their intended purpose. There is nothing that dries glass lint-free better than Irish linen. Period.
As they finally succumbed to what all mortal flesh (or linen) must one day, I realized my supply was running low. It happened that year that my brother asked what I wanted for Christmas. “I’d love some linen dish towels,” I told him. Little did I know how difficult they were to find. This was pre-internet days. I think he finally stumbled into to the Williams-Sonoma store in Houston and was greatly relieved to find they actually carried them. At a price. When he told me how he’d had to hunt high-and-low, I thought “Rubbish. He’s a man. He doesn’t know how to shop.”
I went to Macy’s, Dillards, Target, Linens and Things (it’s in their name, for Pete’s sake!) and Neiman-Marcus. “Linen dish towels?” the sales staff would ask. “Oh, I don’t think we have linen. Our dish towels are 100% cotton” — as if that were a good thing. From then on, whenever I went into a store with kitchenware, I checked the dish towels. Sure enough, no linen until one day I found some (on sale, yet!) at Sur La Table. I bought all they had — 3 towels — and although they are very plain, which probably makes them elegant, they aren’t exciting. I have found I can order them on-line for $20 each. Really? I’m sure in London I bought at least five for that price — but that was long ago and far away.
So now I look at them with great nostalgia. Some depict scenes — I think I had two of the Houses of Parliament — which I also fell in love with — and some were whimsical as the one with the British Lion with the Union Jack in his mouth. I embroidered that on the back of a Levi jacket (sans the flag) many years ago. Although I no longer wear the jacket, it was a labor of love and I can’t part with it. Most were simply designs –paisleys (love paisley) or flowers. Colorful and bright. Cheerful for such a mundane chore as drying dishes. Which reminds me, I have a bunch of wine glasses waiting to be washed and put away. I need to get to that.
Right after I iron this stack of dish towels.