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Published: Sunday, January 5, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

20 ways to use a tea towel (besides wiping up messes)

  • A tea towel from Crate & Barrel.

    Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

    A tea towel from Crate & Barrel.

  • A tea towel design from Makelike.

    Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

    A tea towel design from Makelike.

  • This design is from Nell & Mary and handmade in Portland, Ore.

    Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

    This design is from Nell & Mary and handmade in Portland, Ore.

  • This tea towel design is from Anthropologie.

    Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

    This tea towel design is from Anthropologie.

  • This design is from Marimekko.

    Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

    This design is from Marimekko.

  • This design is from Almedahls.

    Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

    This design is from Almedahls.

They're versatile. They're inexpensive. And they're often handmade, by local artisans to boot.
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 variety of the designs, then asked designers for these 20 ways to use a tea towel.
1. Line a bread basket.
2. Cushion the bottom of the fruit bowl.
3. Wrap a handmade design as a hostess gift.
4. "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.
5. Use stiffer materials such as linen in place of vinyl shelf liner. When the shelves get dusty, just toss the towels into the laundry.
6. "Especially during the holidays, I love packing up fresh citrus in a tea towel and tying it off with yarn and bakers' twine," Culver City, Calif., textile artist Heather Taylor said. "This makes for a great hostess gift."
7. A variation on that theme: Use a tea towel to wrap scented handmade soap and leave it out for houseguests, suggested Kara Smith, president of SFA Design in L.A.
8. Use large ones as place mats.
9. "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."
10. Use softer 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.
11. Lay down a damp towel to prevent the cutting board from slipping when carving meat or rolling out cookie dough.
12. Put them out as guest hand towels.
13. Line your tote bags with them. They're easier to clean than most totes.
14. Stretch and staple them over wood frames as textile artworks to hang on the kitchen wall.
15. Use the towel as a wine bag. Ted Vadakan, co-founder of the L.A. store Poketo, shows how to wrap a bottle at
16. Turn your favorite designs into simple aprons with twill tape.
17. L.A. designer Kishani Perera suggests sewing them into simple toss pillows.
18. Or you can sew them into seat cushions.
19. Lay one over your computer keyboard as a dust (and cat hair) cover.
20. When the designs fade or the material gets ragged, use them outside the home. Car buffs love the super-soft flour sack material to wipe down the dashboard -- and as we've proved here, it's so easy to find cool new designs for the kitchen again.
Story tags » Interior decoratingHousehold Products

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