The threads that bind us

Wendy Brownie salutes the universal tea towel

Wendy Brownie of / Photo by Toque & Canoe

Editor’s note: We’re excited to bring you this story created in collaboration with Inspirati, a small Calgary-based shop that features luxurious home decor with goods from around the world. — T&C


With travel ground to a halt, our homes have never been more central to our health and well-being.

As difficult as times are, it’s the small, uncomplicated things at home that bring us comfort: That early morning cup of coffee. A lengthy phone chat with an old friend. Baking your family’s favourite cookies.

For Wendy Brownie, the owner of Inspirati, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, beautiful tea towels are also among those simple pleasures.

“They’re the sunshine in our kitchens,” says Brownie, who’s spent a lifetime collecting tea towels on her travels around the planet. “They’re also the threads that bind us. Every culture in the world has their own version.”

We asked Brownie how tea towels, which she describes as the unsung “workhorses of the kitchen,” have become her life’s obsession.


Q: Where does your passion for tea towels come from?

A: I’m the granddaughter of a woman who owned a linen shop in England many years ago. She had bolts of Irish linen, did her own lace work, created her own tea towels, sewed her own tablecloths and made her own bedding.

My grandmother’s work made us feel loved. There was humanity, identity and pride in what she did. I have a deep admiration for people who work with their hands and their hearts.

My later travels to Europe hooked me even further. I’d visit fine linen shops to buy gifts for my family and friends: sometimes, I had to buy new suitcases to bring these treasures home.


Tea towels by Le Jacquard Français / / Photo by Toque & Canoe


Q: Tell us about the tea towels you sell.

A: We carry a dynamic line by Le Jacquard Français, with 1,400 thread colours to choose from. When people come to our shop or buy online, they have a lot of “personalities” to choose from — almost like choosing a flavour at an Italian gelato store.

We use long staple cotton and linen threads of the highest quality. There’s no shrinkage or colour fade or slubbing — those blobby little pills you find on so many of today’s cottons. Our tea towels don’t stain either and they last a long time. We have towels that, 20 years later, are still in use.

Q. Who buys your tea towels?

A. Everyone. People from all backgrounds come to our shop. We’ve been at this business for 10 years now, and we’ve sold gazillions. Clients buy them as gifts for friends, wives, mothers, aunts, sisters and daughters. Men love them, too. Kevin Kent from Knifewear uses them to dry his Japanese knives. They’re that hardy and they don’t shred.

There’s a lot to consider when you’re buying a tea towel. Do you want bold or neutral? Traditional or modern? Is it a birthday, wedding or corporate gift?

They can be used for everything from drying dishes to cleaning mirrors to washing floors. All we ask is that our clients never bleach them or put them in a dryer with fabric softener because it makes them less absorbent and dulls the colours.


Styled by Tyler di Napoli of Inspirati / Photo by Toque & Canoe


Q: We understand you’re now doing custom orders.

A: Yes, for our tap-s-tri collection, we’re working with Le Jacquard Français to create custom tea towels for businesses and organizations who want to give them to patrons or employees or use them for charity fundraising.

We created one for The Post Hotel & Spa, which they used to raise funds for Alberta’s Kids Cancer Care and which they gift to loyal guests.

People are looking for unique, quality projects to invest in, and the idea of creating something custom — a handwoven tea towel from a Canadian company created on the looms of Europe — is resonating given the times.

Q: What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

A: My linens are being used as a backdrop in photographs for a new cookbook by Chef Lisa Ahier of SoBo, a well-known restaurant in Tofino, B.C. It’s an honour and I can’t wait to see it!

As an aside, I was visiting Lisa before Canada’s 150th birthday when I found a magnificent maple leaf on the ground just in front of her restaurant. I took the leaf back to my hotel room at The Wickaninnish Inn and sketched a picture of it. I used this sketch as inspiration for a Canada 150 tea towel, which completely sold out.

I’ve since designed a Bunchberry tea towel. The Bunchberry was voted Canada’s most popular choice in a nationwide effort to recognize it as our national flower, but nobody knows that.

Q: Just how much do you love tea towels?

A: My goal is to see an International Tea Towel Day, where the world unites every year over this universal piece of cloth. I’m working on it. I promise to keep you posted.


Wendy Brownie of Inspirati / Photo by Toque & Canoe


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Founded by two Canucks on the loose in a big country, Toque & Canoe is an award-winning Canadian travel blog. Feel free to follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook


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