Sep 4, 2011

French tea towels - Les torchons

Tea towels are a standard in kitchens around the world, but the French tea towel, le torchon, has its own character. Traditionally made of a flat-weave linen or m├ętis (linen-cotton weave), the classic style of tea towel is white or off-white with red stripes. The stripe are sometimes along each end or can be along each of the four sides.

On vintage tea towels, there is usually a small embroidered red initial or initials. These were added so the owner could identify her own tea towels when they was sent to the blanchisserie (laundry) for washing. (The same mark was added to sheets and pillow cases and white shirts.) Wealthier homemakers had their tea towels embroidered with fancier red monograms.

The fastidious French kitchen required tea towels to be in sets of four, each with a loop for hanging. The four towels were to be used for separate tasks - hands, glassware, dishes and cutlery. Kitchen towel racks came with four hooks, each hook labeled for the corresponding towel.
The toweling was manufactured in the exact width needed for the towels with cutting lines designated in the weave. When new, the toweling always had a glazed finish to protect the fibers. Here is a piece of unused yardage of vintage French linen toweling for the kitchen: