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Queer Eye And The Bearable Sprezzatura Of Cloth, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:25am

In the New Year we try to understand what we care about. However, as one who can care too much, I’d like to also consider insouciance. The careless flap, the nonchalant tuck, malleable pieces of cloth.

Consider the dishtowel, or “tea towel” as our British–and perhaps Australian and Canadian–friends, call them. At some point over the holidays I decided to resurrect my faith in humanity by watching every episode of Queer Eye. It almost worked. And, in the process, I found out about throwing rag-like object over your shoulder while you cook. How did I not know? I’d been wondering whether I was weird, rinsing and wiping my hands so often, but now I find out I was just uneducated. Infinitely better.

In my experience, linen towels absorb best and leave little lint, so I asked my children to give me new ones for Christmas.

I now own two of these. I have not yet posed them with a milk pitcher and strategic branches. Never mind.

Semper Paratus, as the US Coast Guard says, or, Always Ready. These towels are sturdy but elegant, earthy but disciplined. I aspire to become them.

I was also asked, before my blog fell over and the holidays descended, to discuss the French tuck. Although I’d known what it was, via J. Crew and Jenna Lyons’s legacy, it took, yes, Queer Eye, to convince me of the value. Thanks, Tan the Style Eye.

Jenni Kayne cashmere fisherman’s sweater (at Jenni Kayne, here, try the code JKOCTPA until 1/15/2020, and at Nordstom here, I don’t know if they will honor the Jenni Kayne code but no harm in trying, politely,) Madewell jeans, Timberland boots on sale at Zappos, vintage chandelier earrings. Both sides now.

Some fun earrings just because.

The French tuck has absolutely nothing to do with functional preparedness and everything to do with the visual. The sweater hits me at an awkward location, neither short enough to show that I have a waist, nor long enough to pretend it doesn’t matter. So, in goes the hem. An indicator, if you will, what we called in software design an “affordance,” a clue to what lies beyond.

Takes a couple of tries to get it right, and does require resetting throughout the day, but I’m now a fan.

And here we go back to caring enormously, but with the comfort of knowing sometimes you can just shove cloth around and presto change-o the day improves.

Have an amazing weekend everyone. I have missed you.


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58 Responses

  1. Is that a eucalyptus branch? Is it touching the butter?

    I’m sorry, I don’t think that was your point. Glad to see the blog back.

    1. @Cathy, Excellent questions. I believe the answer is yes, and yes. I took the photo from the Rough Linen site. Not to apologize. Just glad to hear your voice.

  2. I’m pretty obsessed with Rough Linen. I have tablecloths, runners, napkins, placemats..etc. Love the Orkney linen with the deep hem. I haven’t done the dishtowels, because I’m very rough on them (as in wiping up tumeric with them) and so I buy inexpensive white ones, and turn them into painting rags when they’re just too stained.

    Glad to have you back. xo

    1. @KSL, I can imagine your turmeric-stained towels and I bet that in their own way they are lovely:). I have Rough Linen pillow cases, and a duvet cover, and I’m very fond of them. I did wear out a pillow case though, which made me kind of crabby:(.

  3. Funny but I’ve been watching the new Queer Eye and loving its message of self care and self acceptance. It reminds me of Mr. Rogers – seriously. And that’s a good thing because it’s such a lovely message in these crazy , fractious times – the idea that you are perfect just the way you are.

  4. The best towels for the kitchen are the Williams-Sonoma pantry towels. They hold their marvelous color and last and last. One color a season and you’re good.

  5. Oh, y’all are so disciplined!!!! You use tea towels so frugally, with such clarity and reserve! Me , I go for the carnival feeling, I have one with a giant Madonna, another with Cezanne’s Giverny. I GET the muted restraint, I really do. Some of my BEST FRIENDS are tasteful. But I just can’t resist a splurge and splash, a garage sale explosion and color and a frayed thread or two. still, I love, love your sweet photo, it makes me want to drop by for some English Breakfast. Thank you so much, as always, Dear One, for this wonderful blog.

    1. @Bronwyn Black, I think splurges and splashes are their own kind of good taste. Very Artsy:).

      And I hasten to add, I didn’t take that photo, it came from the Rough Linen site. I’ll make that clearer.

  6. Now I know it’s Saturday. My tea towels? I bought some from Buckingham Palace and whoa to anyone who actually uses them.

    Now why did you set yourself up to watch all of Queer Eye? Am I missing something? I used to watch it but then never picked it up again.

  7. I inherited wonderful linen dishtowels from Germany. My grandparents left in late 1939. I have wondered why such a simple item was taken. My grandmother sewed their initials on them and crocheted a hook to hang them. A simple act of grace with chaos everywhere.
    Your dish towels are lovely and apparently they can last a long time.
    I have missed you.


    1. @luci, Your dish towels sound like a mythic piece of history. I’m glad you’ve got them. Happy New Year, and hoping for more grace and less chaos.

  8. Queer Eye lifts me up, too. I *save* them to dole out to myself, one episode at a time. Antidote.

  9. Love your insouciant half-tuck. And the fact that I learned a new word today. “Sprezzatura”… how did I never know about that? Not to mention all the images of gentlemen with carelessly half-tucked scarves that were thrown up by my Google search.
    P.S We say dish cloth too in my part of Canada. But lots of my compatriots say “tea towel.”

  10. Welcome back. Now I know our side will win. Love Queer Eye. It is uplifting. Love your new towels. I’ve done the linen towel over the shoulder for some time. All my kitchen towels, dinner napkins, and bathroom hand towels are linen. The Gardener in Berkeley often has lovely offerings. I like the way linen feels and the way it launders. First news of the French tuck reaching my shore is lost in the mists of time, but I use it often. It’s flattering, allows a front finished belt-buckle look to show at the same time the rear view remains less tailored, at the same time the rear fabric is brought up slightly, all of which I like. Met a young Frenchwoman on the deck of a winery in the Napa Valley whose flowing top was French-tucked into her jeans. She was newly engaged; wearing an emerald-cut engagement ring. I complimented her ring. Her fiance had to translate emerald cut for her. Evidently the cut has a different name in French, but I didn’t ascertain what. An emeraude? Happy sunshine Saturday. xo.

    1. @Katherine C. James, Strength in numbers! Glad you’ve had a recent sighting of the French tuck, complete with French woman, and not surprised at all that you’re a long-time devotée.

      I will have to drop into The Gardener next time I’m in the East Bay. Here’s to winter sunshine. xoxox.

  11. This Canadian says “tea towel,” but my dad was English (and he cooked professionally) and I might just have adopted his term. Funny, we always used them for everything in the kitchen, and I don’t think we ever used pot-holders or oven mitts. I remember feeling embarrassed about that, or at least self-conscious, and when I had my own kitchen, I was keen to supply the kitchen with the proper accoutrements. . . but kept defaulting to tea towels . And then my daughter went to culinary school and cooked professionally for a decade and guess what? They used tea/dish towels for everything, including grabbing hot pots and pans out of the oven. . . Dad was vindicated (although I don’t think I ever let him know I was skeptical).

    The simple things of the daily domestic. . . .your linen dish towels are beautiful!
    And it’s so good to have you back here, French tuck (which you wear with élan) and all. xo

  12. So many young ones don’t use tea towels, as everything is in and out of the dishwasher. Me -I go through a few each year, as I don’t have a dishwasher. Linen or waffle cloth is definitely best

    1. @Janey, I can’t imagine not needing tea towels, dishwasher or not! How do you dry off the last drops? How do you wipe your hands LOL!

  13. Happy new year! Most of my dish towels are souvenirs from our travels. They make me smile when I’m drying dishes, so I view them as a good investment. I often have one thrown over my shoulder – who knew that I was fashionable? My linen towels seem to push water around, so I prefer cotton. Maybe I should give linen another try.

    1. @MJ, I knew you were fashionable:). And maybe the wonderful prints that make wonderful souvenirs are impeding absorbency?

  14. I call them tea towels…but mine are all linen. I have a bounty of linen towels…I throw them over my shoulder when cooking.
    You look amazing with that French tuck which I was told to do in Paris in 2015. If my waist was as lithe as yours I might try it!
    Glad that your blog is still alive and online!

  15. I am a Kiwi and have read your blog for several years. We say
    Tea towel here and I agree linen works best. I enjoy Queer Eye. It makes you laugh and cry and for a reality show seems more poignant and authentic than some. I also agree that the French tuck adds a certain element of style. Happy New Year.

  16. Dare I say I don’t like the French tuck ? Yes I first saw it on ‘Queer Eye’ when it was recommended to a distinctly tubby man as a disguise . I didn’t think it worked but now it is seen on almost every model wearing a top and so seems to have become mandatory , like jeans which I also don’t wear . I almost apologised !

    Yes linen is the most absorbent fabric for drying things but also very hard wearing . My mother used to boil our ‘dishcloths’. A 95o wash in the machine for us now does just as well . I remember coming to England and being told firmly that they were tea towels , not dishcloths ‘which you use to wash the dishes’ ! My parents came from S.Africa so I am interested that Canadians also have both terms . And yes being Eurasian and hence a ‘vulgar oriental’ ( a then common British term ) I like them brightly coloured . To me the unbleached undyed ones were for cleaning windows and called ‘scrim’.

    1. @Rukshana Afia, Yes you may dare! I didn’t use to like it either, I don’t care for it on every single model, I just found that I liked it IRL for myself, in this case.

      And I shudder on every rare occasion when I hear someone refer to Asians and thing Asian as “Oriental.” So much weight in the term, as Edward Said first explained.

  17. It’s tea towel in our house and a true mixture : some matching! Pairs(one under the dish drainer one on the oven handle). However I love silly souvenir tea towels so some of those are added to the mix. The strictly floral designs are used for a kitchen hand towel. Somehow the linen is fresher and cleaner than terry cloth. Oh and linen bath towels in high summer are a must
    —when cooking the tea towel is slung over one shoulder.

  18. I’ve missed you – I am on a social media break to attempt to reconstruct time before FB & Twitter & Instagram. Blogs, however, fall into a gray area so here I am thrilled to learn about the tuck – which I definitely need some days. Thank you for elaborating. And my daughter and I started watching the 2018 Queer Eye just a few weeks ago but I’m feeling like we need to go back to the original. Happy New Decade & thank you for being here on your blog. One more thing – the linen towels – I’ve been in search of non sticking ones for bread baking and may try these so thank you for that as well.

    1. @Jacqueline, Very happy to be here! And I have a friend who is so dedicated to the original Queer Eye that she can’t even watch this sequel, but I’ve been wholly converted.

      Thanks for the tuck question!

  19. Love your half tuck, and your hair looks fantastic too. Two thumbs up for Queer Eye.
    I use the terms tea towel and dish cloth (for the smaller square one used to wash). Like you, I like linen.
    And I use my husbands discarded old button down shirts to cover up while cooking. I seem to be very messy so need the additional sleeve coverage that aprons don’t provide. A towel over my shoulder might be a useful addition.
    Suz from Vancouver

  20. I love that you can blog about dish towels & French tucks and get so many interesting responses. Do you know about the Radical Tea Towel Company? Cotton, not linen, and much less subdued than the ones you chose, but oh the messages! And their Ethical Statement is pretty awesome too.

  21. A new word – SPREZZATURA! I love adding to my vocabulary. Turns out it is a whole movement in men’s fashion. The first picture that came up was Prince Charles with an open navy sports coat, Pimms in hand. After looking at all the examples ala Google, I think he does sprezzatura the best out of anyone, regardless of what you think about the Royals. Good old Charles. Isn’t it lovely when you find something so simple that improves your day – the linen over the shoulder (you can now keep your children close while you cook) and the French tuck. I like the tuck and glad to know I’m not the only one who has to readjust it throughout the day. Mine seems to come undone as soon as I walk out. I thought the eucalypt sprig was appropriate seeing as half our beautiful country (I’m in Australia) is on fire right now. I am not in an affected area, but my brother and his family are. Our country is in mourning for everything that has been lost – lives, homes, incomes, wildlife, bush land and livestock. Lovely to have you back.

  22. Perhaps because it seemed (to me) the culture was less tolerant? A certain loneliness/ sense of isolation?

  23. Has it been ten years, at the very least?! Wow. I have floated in and out over the time between and found it oddly comforting to revisit your wonderful blog this evening to find tea towels the topic and twisty-waisted knots, for those of us… well. Let’s leave that right there. LOL It is the tea towel that got me.. as I look over the granite at the crumple of cloth, stained and delicate in its sturdiness. Looking forward to its soon coming bleach bath. It wasn’t until I received the myriad of linens from my great aunt Dorothea, that I began to understand the quality of benefits garnered from enduring goods. The tea towel. Exhausted in its service. Crazy. Who knew.


  24. A lovely musing for a weekend morning…am very interested in getting some linen napkins..all I have are tacky, polyester(?) ones from Bed, bath and Beyond. Thanks for the thought… Oh, I love Queer Eye so much, I missed the original series..It seems the world would be a better place if more people watched those men exhibiting the best example of the power of love and acceptence !!

  25. I’m a big fan of flour sack towels for drying, but I have never regretted the purchase of a linen tea towel. If you can believe it, I still have one from about 1955 from a family excursion to Plymouth, England, before I was born! My sister who held it gave it to me because I now live (in USA) on Plymouth Street. It’s in regular kitchen towel rotation.

    As for earrings, my earring days have been over for a while due to recurrent issues that meant I had to let the piercings close up. But those purply daisies from Jennifer Behr are almost cute enough to make me re-think it!

  26. I’m going to be the Crochety Contrarian here: I just don’t understand the charms of wrinkled linen in gloomy colors, and I think the “French tuck” is more a silly affectation than a style enhancement.

    That said, you look great in the sweater-and-jeans combo, tuck or not, and the notion of KSL’s dishcloths-into-stained-paint-rags fills me with visual joy. (I also like the implied progression from housewifely activities to artistic pursuits…)

    It’s good to have you back, Lisa, and all your readers as well. I think 2020 is going to be a rough year, and we’ll be needing your blog and its community as our special place of respite and inspiration.

  27. Growing up in rural Kansas we called them tea towels. It never made sense to me, so I now call them dish towels. Love the linen, so luxe.

  28. Oh so glad you are back although I am slow on pick up. Two things: yes on the tea towel over the shoulder, a useful tip I picked up from my dear ex-husband. And secondly, what happened to JCrew? Will it ever be the same again? I am bereft! Happy New Year to you, dear and stylish Lisa! xoxo

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