THROW in the TOWEL

A col­lec­tor of Dry-me-dry dish tow­els shares her pas­sion with a new book.

Flea Market Décor - - Collectibles - BY KATHRYN DRURY WAG­NER

JUNE MARKS THE 80TH AN­NIVER­SARY OF A PATENT FOR A KITCHEN TOWEL FAB­RIC. That’s nice, dear, you’re think­ing. But the cot­ton/rayon/ linen blend was man­u­fac­tured into punchy, cheer­ful “Dry-me-dry” tow­els from 1935 to 1974, that to­day are sought af­ter by col­lec­tors. Con­nois­seurs adore the tow­els’ graphic, col­or­ful pat­terns— es­pe­cially the mid­cen­tury spec­i­mens fea­tur­ing the work of home fur­nish­ings de­sign­ers John and Ear­line Brice.

Sarah Horowitz, as far as she knows, has the big­gest col­lec­tion of Mar­tex Dry-me-dry tow­els: 186 at the time of our interview. She is the au­thor of the new book, Dry-me-dry: The Un­told Story of the “Amaz­ing 3 Fi­bre Towel”. Sarah didn’t set out to be­come an au­thor­ity on the sub­ject, but be­came in­trigued about two years ago, af­ter read­ing Fun & Col­lectible Kitchen Tow­els: 1930s to 1960s by Michelle Hayes.

“It made me look up the patent for Dryme-dry, and the whole thing spi­raled from there,” says Sarah, who has a master’s de­gree in jour­nal­ism and has spent much of her ca­reer as an edi­tor. “I don’t hap­pen to have any in­ter­est in kitchen tow­els—or the kitchen for that mat­ter. My hus­band is the chef in the fam­ily. But I do love graphic de­sign, and I fell in love with the story. I felt like the Dry-me-dry tow­els were calling out to me, ‘Some­body re­mem­ber me, please.’”

The fab­ric blend was “a big deal in the 1930s,” says Sarah. It con­tained

cot­ton for ab­sorbency, linen for strength and rayon for quick evap­o­ra­tion. “Dry-me-dry tow­els were mar­keted as ‘A re­li­able and speedy drier,’ and it’s true; they look great and they work great,” says Sarah. She re­searched vin­tage magazine and news­pa­per ads tout­ing the tow­els, in publi­ca­tions such as The New Yorker and House Beau­ti­ful. “No one knew what the pat­tern names were un­til I started dig­ging into this,” she says. The ads not only pushed the tow­els, but also en­cour­aged home­mak­ers to turn them into place­mats, café cur­tains, aprons and nap­kins. “You could even buy some pop­u­lar pat­terns as ready­made cur­tains or by the yard,” says Sarah.

As part of her re­search, Sarah

“I do love graphic de­sign , and I fell in love with the story. I felt like the Dryme-dry tow­els were calling out to me, ‘ Some­body re­mem­ber me, please.’”

tracked down a man who had been a man­ager at the tex­tile mill pro­duc­ing the tow­els. The tow­els peaked from 1953 to 1958 with the de­sign­ers who made them so at­trac­tive and pop­u­lar. By about 1974, the mill that made them de­cided not to con­tinue with pro­duc­tion, and Mar­tex went through sev­eral merg­ers and changes. Mar­tex is still around, but Dryme-dry is not.

Sarah keeps track of her col­lec­tion via a spread­sheet. “Where I got it, pat­tern name, color, when it was ac­quired, who the seller was….” She’s spent as lit­tle as $3.59 and as much as $61 for a towel but says they av­er­age around $16. The most com­mon pat­terns she comes across are “Ital­ian Kitchen” and “Forks,” while “Chop­sticks” is so rare—if it even went into pro­duc­tion—that she’s only seen it in ads, never in real life.

Mar­tex Dry-me-dry dish tow­els can be found at es­tate sales and flea mar­kets, or can be bought on ebay or Etsy, says Sarah, who notes that they are eas­ier to find in Mid­west­ern and East Coast states. “I try not to buy more than one of a pat­tern, though I do have a few mul­ti­ples. I have ex­am­ples of about 50 pat­terns. I try to get the best qual­ity I can.”

The tow­els tend to be in fairly good shape, of­ten com­ing from dead stock. “About a quar­ter of the time they still have their la­bels, and that means they may have stor­age stains,” she notes. “Depend­ing on if I want to take the tags off, I store them in a 24" by 36" box with acid-free tis­sue.” She does have some tow­els out that she ac­tu­ally uses.

As for the 186 num­ber, it’s likely to go up. “I am al­ways on the hunt,” Sarah says. “There are pat­terns that I do not have, and it drives me nuts!” Sounds like some­thing any col­lec­tor can re­late to.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY DON TUT­TLE

HAND “SUB­UR­BIA was the last PRINTS” It col­lec­tion. Dry-me-dry 1964. The came out in came in plain tow­els stripes with stripes, and on top. images printed

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