The tea towel still serves as a plain and pure canvas—typically made of linen—on which artists of all skill levels may elevate it to decorative status through embroidery, paint, stamps, and patterns. As a result, tea towels have become collectible art pieces, often purchased as souvenirs or gifts.
Tea towels earned their popularity through their hearty durability, becoming a workhorse in the kitchen. Some of the earliest came about through the repurposing of flour sacks. These inexpensive and often discarded scraps were given a second life, transformed by homemakers and domestic help into useful towels the size of modern hand towels. In more upscale homes, they were the go-to article for drying fragile crystal and china. The tea towel’s soft texture and smooth surface made it ideal for wiping away moisture, as it didn’t scratch or leave behind stubborn lint.