Flea Market Décor
THROW in the TOWEL
A collector of Dry-me-dry dish towels shares her passion with a new book.
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.