Dishtowels Have a Long History


Dear FlyLady,

I had to laugh when I read the list of uses for dishtowels because I was sitting with an ice pack on my ankle wrapped in a dishtowel!!! Yesterday my family and I were helping take down the “Avenue of Flags” in honor of fallen veterans, and I stepped on a rock and fell and wrenched my already weak ankle. First thing I reached for when I got home was a dishtowel to wrap my ice pack for my now very swollen ankle.

Dishtowels have held a long history for my 60 years. My childhood dishtowels came from the 25-pound sacks of flour bought weekly from the Hogan Mercantile country store. My mom emptied the flour into the giant former lard can turned flour canister, pulled the white string that bound the usually floral print-bordered cotton sack to create an endless supply of fabric for dishtowels, curtain material, skirt material, etc. from the flour sack ‘containers’.

Besides the usual dish drying general purpose, my mom waved a dishtowel in the air to “shoo” out the flies AND kids from our house when too many kids ran through too many doors in the summertime allowing too many flies into the house. I can still hear the screen doors slamming.

My mom used the old nearly threadbare dishtowels (that had been bleached snowy white) to skim the bucket of milk from any impurities after my young brother brought the milk in from the barn. The bleaching part was another wash day ritual as my mom had a red-rimmed, white enameled dishpan of Clorox water that she bleached her ‘whites’ in because no one knew what terrible shame would befall our family if she hung out dingy whites on the clothesline for any passersby to see. LOL!

My dad used a dishtowel to drape around the necks of my nine brothers when it was haircutting time in the kitchen. Those feed sack dishtowels were big enough to keep the hair away from their clothes and from down their necks.

A clean dishcloth was used to drape over the enameled dishpan for the gelling process when headcheese was made at hog-butchering time. And yes, it was made from the hog’s head.

My dad covered his large 25 gallon stone (crockery) jars with dishtowels to protect his 14-day sweet pickle mixture during the 14 days of pickling processes. Boiling and straining the mixture, and weighting it down with clean scoured rocks.A process so secret that only my dad knew the recipe and kept it in his head.

Dishtowels could be a rare substitute for a baby diaper in an extreme emergency, but then it was never again used in the kitchen. It was relegated to the back porch or shed to be used to wipe off eggs from the chicken house or for a grease rag for mechanical purposes.

On Sunday afternoons dishtowels would be wrapped around the gallons of icy cold cream and handed off to the younger kids to ‘churn’ into butter by shaking the gallon jars until flecks of butter could be seen in the milky mixture and the seemingly endless hours of churning would come to an end. I just couldn’t wait until I was bigger and could turn the paddle of the jar churn that my older siblings got to use.

Floursack dishtowels could be tied around a small girl’s waist to be used for an apron or draped across her lap to hold snap beans or peas to be snapped or hulled for canning.

Dishtowels could be used as a mat for drying canning jars as they were lined up on after being washed but before scalding them for the final filling of any of an endless parade of beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, etc.

Dishtowels could be used for a cold wet compress on the forehead of a feverish child.

Dishtowels were used to wrap around the crank-style ice cream maker on the Fourth of July.

Dishtowels could be torn into bandages and wrapped around my dad’s leg when the chainsaw kicked back and tore into his flesh. Nothing to see a doctor for, besides my dad had been a medic in WWII.

We never had any ‘fancy’ dish towels with the days of the week embroidered on them when I was a kid, but my MIL had quite a few of them. When she died my daughter and her family moved into her house. Recently, I was babysitting my grandchildren at their house and folded a basket of laundry. There were a few of my MIL’s old dishtowels with days of the week, and on one I noticed it had an added picture on it. The Monday is Wash day towel was complete with an embroidered picture of a girl hanging dishtowels on the clothesline.

A native Missourian FlyBaby


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