Curious about towels

Let’s talk ‘towel’

  • Towels are a domestic textile, found in the home or private interior.
  • In general, cotton is the gold standard for towels because it’s durable, soft and absorbent. 
  • Hotels use special cleaners and large capacity washers and dryers to make their sheets and towels extra clean. They also have detergents not available commercially. Typically the towels are then folded, by hand.
  • Towels are generally made by machines that spin, warp, weave, bleach and dye the material, as well as package the product. It is said that towels were invented in Turkey, in the Middle East, and they were originally light and sheet-like. Annually, on the 25th of May, National Towel Day is observed in some countries.
  • In 1836, Dickens was said to be the first to use ‘towel’ as a verb.

“A towel, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

End of life towels: Gather, wash, dry …

I approach charity shops and am gifted towels that have been donated, but that are deemed not suitable for sale. These towels would have been sent to the SPCA, if not for my intervention. This becomes an ethical dilemma for me and is informing the beginnings of an ethical code of conduct, with respect to my responsibility around the materials I use in my practice. i.e. pay it forward.

Folded Towels for Wendy, 23rd Sept
I approach a towelling and laundry supplier and am gifted with twenty preloved towels. See post for more about these towels.

Classic Hotel Folding Method

  1. Begin by spreading your bath towel out on a flat surface. Fold one long end towards the middle.
  2. Next, fold each short end towards the middle. Be sure to leave a gap where the ends meet. 
  3. Finally, pick up one end and fold it over the other, creating a beautifully folded bath towel.

    May 1, 2020,

Other ways to fold a towel
– Towel Bar Folding Method
– Wear-Reducing Folding Method
– Spa-Style Rolling Method
– My Mum’s Method

Towel phrases and selected quotes
“Throw in the towel” – as in give up
“Give ’em a towelling” – as in beat up
“Towel it off” – as in wipe it up

“I hesitate on the bank. I am in an awful mess mud-caked skirts, and blood-stained hands and face. Shall I make an exhibition of myself and wash here, or make an exhibition of myself by going unwashed to that unknown German officer who is in charge of the station? Naturally I wash here, standing in the river and swishing the mud out of my skirts; and then wading across to the other bank, I wring out my skirts, but what is life without a towel?
Mary Henrietta Kingsley (1862-1900; ethnographer, scientific writer, and explorer): Travels in West Africa, 1897).

“The house was immaculate, as always, not a stray hair anywhere, not a flake of dandruff or a crumpled towel. Even the roses on the dining-room table held their breath. A kind of airless cleanliness that always made me want to sneeze.”
Sandra Cisneros (1954-; American educator, poet, writer): Woman Hollering Creek, 1991).

Everyone loves a fresh, fluffy towel. Soft, luxurious, and delivered when you need them, our superior towelling range lets your guests know how much you care.”
Linen Master: Linen and Laundry Services

Artists working with towels

I was recently told that there was an artist who also had a curiosity of towels, who had exhibited at Michael Lett sometime in the last decade. [1] This artist, Paul Lee (b. 1974), uses everyday objects in his work, such as lightbulbs, washcloths, bath towels and soda cans. His work has been described by Contemporary Art Daily as “creat[ing] traces to personal narratives and private conversations. Through abstracting of familiar materials, Lee produces legible references to reality and transposes body into sculpture.”[2] There is a heightened relationship between reference and form, via a universal vocabulary of collective personal narratives.

I am connecting with Lee’s work through his choice and use of materials. I’m also feeling into his approach to an embodied connection with form, playing with the “dichotomies of mind and body, body and world, connection and separation.” [3]

  2. Paul Lee at Karma: I see with my body now, May 10th, 2019
Paul Lee, Untitled (black solid/negative), 2013, towels, hoops, stainless steel, thread, pigment based ink, 2083 x 1270 mm