Before the dawn of the dishwasher, families made great fun out of cleaning up the dishes after a meal. Laughing, joking, and even snapping each other with a damp dish towel made for great camaraderie. The drying cloth used for the after-meal frolic was called a tea towel or dish towel.
Most often my mother made her dish towels from flour sacks (or feed sacks), that came in colorful, floral designs and seemingly never wore out. You could bleach them white, if you wanted to go to the trouble. Even before the Depression, feed sacks were being repurposed for use as dress material, stuffed toys, aprons, shirts, pillow slips, curtains, quilts, and even sheets.
Put to Work in WWII
When WWII came along, my mother sewed the bleached bags together to fashion bed sheets. (The percale bedding was stored away in the cedar chest in the event the conflict resulted in another Thirty-Year War.)
When I complained about the scratchy sheets with the annoying seams, my mother reminded me that it was the least we cold do for the war effort, when our soldiers were sleeping in foxholes. I don’t know why, but sleeping on those itchy sheets for four year made me feel a bit more patriotic. With the Armistice, Mama pulled out the percale. Victory was won—at home and abroad!
Over the years my mother acquired a draw full of feed sack towels and insisted I take some, when Mel and I set up our first apartment. They served their time well and were eventually degraded to rags before heading to the trash bin. I miss ‘em.
I was surprised to learn that the old-fashioned feed sacks have been updated and are now selling well. And why not? Today they come with cute sayings, drawings, and stitching, as well as the original colorful designs. The 100% cotton, highly absorbent fabric is still good for lint-free drying of dishes, polishing glassware, straining food, and cleaning up spills.
Those make-shift towels of yesteryear came with far more memories than dishwashers ever will.