What is a tea towel?

A tea towel is a multifunctional flat-woven linen or, more recently, cotton towel that is often imprinted with a decorative design.

For generations, tea towels have been the ultimate kitchen accessory. In 18th century England, the lady of the house used tea towels to dry delicate china, insulate tea pots and cover baked goods. They were utilized during all aspects of High Tea during the Victorian Era, from preparation to presentation to cleanup. In fact, the towel’s integral role in teatime is how it got its name. Tea towels were made from lint-free linen (so as to not leave lint on fine china and glassware) and were a sign of status, wealth and creativity. They were not only a functional household item, but also a canvas on which women displayed their embroidery skills. 

Tea towels had a different role in women’s lives across the pond in America. During the Great Depression, when resources were in short supply, women sewed flour sacks (traditionally used to transport and store food staples)into clothing and towels. When manufacturers caught wind of this new trend, they began making their flour sacks with printed and decorative linen fabrics to make them more appealing.

Today, these unique towels can be used by everyone for almost anything. Use them as a hot pad, tuck salad greens in them to keep them crisp, decorate your kitchen and bathroom with fun and sassy sayings, or wrap them around wine bottles for an extra-special gift. Tea towels are so versatile even Van Gogh used them as a canvas for his multimillion-dollar paintings when he was low on canvases. One of his paintings, a still life of a vase of flowers, was painted on a tea towel near the end of his life and ultimately sold at auction for £2.1 million (about $3.5 million). 
Tea towel next to teacups - FAQ, Green Bee Tea Towels_credit Erol Ahmed, Unsplash

What is screen printing? 

Screen printing is the process of pushing ink through a mesh stencil (called a screen) to imprint a design upon a surface. In our case, that surface is a cotton tea towel, but screen printing is used on many different types of surfaces—from paper and heavier fabrics to wood and glass. 

To create the screen, we first adhere our design onto a transparent acetate film and then lay that film onto a screen covered with emulsion. After the screen has been exposed to very bright light, the part of the screen that is not exposed hardens. The part of the screen that did not harden—the imprint of the design—washes away. We lay the screen over the tea towel and press our ink through the mesh using a squeegee. And, voila! Our design is imprinted and ready to be dried, ironed and shipped to you. 

Because the screen can be saved and used multiple times, screen printing is great for printing in bulk. And while many companies use printing equipment to complete their designs, all of our tea towels are handmade with love.

Watch a short video of us screen printing to see how it’s done.

What are tea towels made of?

We handprint our tea towels on cotton flour sack material, a textile originally used in the mid-1800s to transport and store grain, sugar and other food staples. (Tea towels can also be made of linen or a combination of linen and cotton.) The material is soft, durable and absorbent. Unlike other decorative towels, ours are not only beautiful and fun, but high-quality and functional—and they actually work! We love this feedback from one of our customers: “Best damn towels I’ve ever used. The pretty is just extra.”
Women workers with flour sacks at British mill during the First World War (Wikimedia)

Where do the designs come from?

Designs come from a variety of sources. Some are original works, some are made by Rena Krouse, some are purchased—and some are a mashup of all of these. There is no single way. Much of the handwriting is done by the fabulous Gale Nation (www.galenation.com).

There are so many tea towels to choose from! Which are your favorites?

You can’t go wrong with Grateful, Thankful, Blessed! That towel is in season all year round. We also love our Christmas tea towels and other seasonal towels, like bunny brown. And for all you southern belles, we’d recommend our Sweet Tea and Jesus towel. Lastly, as KC natives, would be remiss if we didn’t mention our Kansas City tea towels.

Who are we kidding? We love them all, and we hope you do, too!

How do I care for my new tea towel?

We use specialty inks that adhere to the fabric, so designs don’t fade, peel, melt or dye other fabrics. All towels are pre-washed, pre-shrunk and 100% cotton—and they require no special care. Just wash and dry (and even bleach and iron!), then pour yourself a glass of wine.

Can I exchange my towel for a different one? What about refunds?

We can only exchange for damaged items. Please contact us within 7 days of delivery, and ship items back within 14 days of delivery. Buyers are responsible for return shipping costs. If the item is not returned in its original condition, the buyer is responsible for any loss in value. We do not offer refunds.

Do you ship outside the U.S.?

Green Bee Tea Towels currently only ships to addresses in the U.S.

Do you accept wholesale orders?

Yes! Please contact Rena for wholesale orders.

Do you make custom tea towels? 

No, not at this time. Please choose from the over 100 designs currently on our website, in a wide range of colors and styles.

Where else can I find Green Bee Tea Towels?

Green Bee tea towels are available in 500 retail stores across the U.S., including in all 50 states.

Why ‘Green Bee’?

Green Bee is the product of two things owner and designer Rena Krouse loves: the color green and bees. Bees are incredible. Did you know they are the most successful pollinators on the planet? These tiny, beautiful creatures are also incredibly smart and collaborative—and they, along with other pollinators, are essential to our food supply. Although we don’t think about them much, we would be lost without bees.

Rena was inspired by both bees’ determination and beauty, and so she created Green Bee Tea Towels. The company offers products that are not only beautiful and fun, but also functional and durable. Tea towel with honey dipper and lemon tea, credit Anda Ambrosini, Unsplash