The One That Got Away: Love on a Dishtowel

A hardworking, conscientious girl. A boy with a massive crush. The sweet story of young love. How do you capture that in a few stitches?

It can be done—just look at these funny towels!

A great many vintage items pass through my hands, as I poke around garage sales and thrift shops and as others scavenge for me, as well.

I can’t keep everything, of course, so I sell a lot of what I find and keep only what I consider to be really special.

But sometimes I don’t realize a thing is special until it’s gone. Absence, it seems, really can make the heart grow fonder.

Such is the case with these adorable towels.

My mother picked these up for me, at a bargain price, from a white elephant sale—one look told her they were not to be left behind.

These three towels were probably originally part of a set of 6 or 7 “day of the week” towels, each depicting a housekeeping chore assigned to a different day of the week.

Towels like these were popular in the 1940 and ‘50s and many iron-on patterns were sold, so a person could make her own set according to her tastes.

Of all the many sets I’ve seen, this is one of my very favorites.

I love these towels for the craftsmanship and the details that are included—just look at the boy’s tiny spurs and bandana and the fringe on the girl’s split skirt!IMG_2652

But I love them even more for the narrative contained in them, the story between the boy and girl that we’re invited to participate in. It’s that age-old story of puppy love!

Some people might look at these towels and say they simply reinforce negative, outdated gender stereotypes—a boy bringing a girl his mending and ironing, while he dawdles around, getting in the way.

All I can see, though, is the sweetness. He fills his 10-gallon hat with mending and she throws her hand to her head and says, “Oh! The things I do for you!”IMG_2645

He takes a broom and offers to help with the cleaning, but it’s only a ruse to stand by and moon over the object of his affections. And she, playing hard to get, turns her back and pretends she doesn’t know the turmoil he’s experiencing.IMG_2654

She tries to iron and he shows off for her, trying to impress her with his skills with a lariat. You can almost hear her saying, “Get away, I have work to do!,” while she secretly loves every moment.IMG_2666

It’s all here—drama, emotion, whimsy, the human story. And it’s an ongoing story, developing over the days, as their clothes change in every setting.

I also can’t help but wonder, when I think of these towels, about the loving hands that did the careful stitching. Was the maker a young woman, stitching a romantic story and hoping it would materialize in her life? Was she a new wife, feathering her nest and honoring the thrill of a recent courtship? Or was the maker a care-worn housewife, reliving the sweet memories of what she felt when she first met her husband?

For this little cowgirl and cowboy, the moment never passes, the bloom never leaves the flower of first love.

I hope the new owner of these towels loves them and the story they tell!

33 thoughts on “The One That Got Away: Love on a Dishtowel

  1. How incredibly special. I don’t know how you can bear to part with some of the items you touch. Like watching Antiques Roadshow, when Jim and I turn to each other and say “I’d sell that!” or “I’d keep that!” But I love the fact you pass things on, as well, so others can love on them, too.

    • As you know, we can’t keep everything we love! Your house would be full-to-overflowing with quilts and mine would be with old linens. I feel like, when I blog about some of these special items, I am keeping them, in a way . . .

  2. My inability to “let go” is precisely why I don’t go to garage/tag sales, antique shops and flea markets!!!! There are way too many “good deals” lurking to add to an already overwhelming stash of “stuff” that someday our kids will have to deal with!!!!!! LOL!

    • I can’t resist the garage sales and actions, though! They are a primary form of entertainment in my life–hence, the need to sell on Etsy and find the right homes for all these pretty things.

  3. You Romantic you! 🙂 Whoever bought those will love them – why else did they? I wonder if they have in their position another three and are now searching for the seventh and final towel to finish their collection ….. Wouldn’t that be something!

    • I’ve wondered if people try and collect all of a set, towel by towel. Some of these sets were very popular (think cutesy animals) but I’ve never seen this one before.

      • I know a man who spends hours on various sites scouring the world for bits to add to his collection of old wood working tools – so yes, I think trying to complete a set is more than likely – as is buying an incomplete set just because you love them!

  4. You seem to have so many of these lovely period pieces. I think they must be specifically American. I’ve never seen any here in the UK, and they’re certainly not part of my childhood. Thanks for sharing them with us.

    • I think this day-of-the-week trend was very big in the US–there were gazillions of iron-on transfers sold and you cans till buy unused sets on eBay. It would be an interesting cultural study–why the US and not the UK? Hmmm . . .

  5. I’m sure the new owner loves those towels. They searched the internet, found them and bought them. It takes a special person to do that….someone who really loved those towels and just had to make them their own. I’m sure they’ve found a good home. Well done, Kerry! That’s what selling vintage is all about.

      • There are certain items that I’m sad to see leave, I have to admit. I just have to remind myself that there is a fine line between collector and hoarder and at times I get really close to that line.

  6. Those ARE the coolest day-of-the-week towels! Definitely the stitcher had a great sense of humor. You’re saying you parted with these? If so, you are a stronger woman than I!

    • I did part with them–sigh. If I tried to keep every cool vintage item I’ve found, they’d put me on that TV show about hoarders. My husband already thinks I keep way too much . . .

  7. Thanks for narrating the story I would otherwise have missed or not realized because I’m always in a hurry. I have to start stopping to smell the roses. The world is full of amazing things that you can only see if you bother to take time to see. I shall remember that for the rest of the year!

    • You’re right–the details are worth taking the time to notice. I really focused on the details of these towels when I was ironing them–I was forced to go slow and just look.

    • These would be fun to embroider, wouldn’t they? I know there are lots of vintage transfers available on eBay but I didn’t realize new ones were being sold!

    • Mawkish is just the right word for so many of the towels–too many puppies and sunbonnet Sues. But those were the popular ones with stitchers, I guess.

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