In October, I visited Country Living magazine located in the Hearst building in NYC.
The architecture of this building is the most stunning renovation – from the escalators moving through a series of cascading waterfall steps to the welcoming openness of walls of windows through which you can see the skyline.
While anticipating the arrival of my CL contact, Cosmopolitan’s 2011 bachelors took a break from their photo shoot – took me so long to find my camera, this is the only snap of the Pin Up Parade I managed.
Had much better luck with this snap taken by a helpful floor steward – after weeks of communicating via email and telephone, CL editor Sara Morrow and I meet!
Sara’s vision for an article on show toweling – specialty towels normally set out for guests – included my providing background to such household goods, along with a variety of toweling from my collection. Appearing in the December-January 2012 issue, the
two-page article is an informative and fun read on this distinctive vintage genre.
While I enjoyed providing towels for selection within the article, I’m glad I wasn’t in Sara’s position and forced to pick one over another! Rather than just put the towels away until I used them myself, I thought to share more of these showstoppers here.
We’ve always set out our “best” linens for guests, especially as homes with multiple bathrooms were not always the norm, which meant guests would be using the main or only bathroom of the house. Knowing the bathroom was going to be used by non-family led the hostess to prepare the bathroom for her guests’ inspection with a change out of the everyday, from soaps to toweling, with specialties reserved just for company.
Of the showy specialties not included in the article is this couples’ motif set.
His and Hers, Mr. and Mrs., Yours and Mine, His and Mine were very popular transfers, and available through newspaper and magazine services, catalogues or specialty stores like five and dimes. Companies provided these transfers in bright packaging, which added to the sense that such embroidery was for fun.
This type of toweling was also a popular set for a young woman to embroider and store in a Hope Chest for her future life as a wife.
The embroidery on this towel is very fine and very beautiful, the stitches impossibly tiny and perfect. These days, handwork of this type is a dying art. It features drawn work, an ornamental needlework done by pulling threads out of the fabric; the remaining
threads are then bound together in a variety of ways, creating decorative patterns. The monogram was then stitched to the design, which was sewn into the diamond shaped cut out. Even with a magnifying glass, it’s hard to absorb the stitches are hand done. A fine linen towel so beautifully embellished would leave many a guest searching for an alternative to mussing it. Displaying such
heirloom artistry upon a larger, utilitarian hand towel is one solution to the dilemma of Am I really supposed to dry my hands with that top towel or what?
Usage Tip: To eliminate confusion about whether towels are really to be used, drape one a tad off kilter or slightly dampen one’s edge and wrinkle it a bit.
Souvenir toweling has always been a popular purchase, perhaps because it was so packable. This linen towel exhibits pulled thread with embroidery, likely bought during the 1930s, when Cuba was a popular vacation destination. I discovered “CUBA” in an old suitcase filled with stained and torn lace. I was happy to pay the seller’s asking price: $1.00.
This “peek-a-boo” towel is titillating and a little bit naughty, which were the ground rules for such humor in the Fifties. Aprons in this peek-a-boo genre have a skirt that lifts to reveal lacy undies, which is very PG compared to this lassie’s panty-reveal! I’d venture this towel was purchased as a souvenir or as a gift for a friend, and
set out to amuse party guests. This example of mid-century risqué humor is a bit of social history and worthy of a higher price tag.
Children were taught to wash their hands and face with soap and water before eating. Wetting just the fingertips didn’t count and always earned one a trip back to the sink. These towels
may have been gifts, adorably adorned so as to encourage membership in the “Clean Hands Club.”
‘Tis the season to show off our vintage holiday towels and not
worry about value, for the fun of searching out “new” show toweling never gets old.
Tie One On…an apron, of course!