23 ways to use a beautiful tea towel

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They're versatile. They're inexpensive. And they're often handmade, by local artisans to boot. The tea towel is more than a dish rag or an eco-friendly substitute for disposable Bounty or Viva these days. It's a bit of graphic art, available in a plethora of patterns and illustrated amusements. We scoured stores and websites for a range of the designs, then asked designers for these 23 ways to use a tea towel.

• Line a bread basket.

• Cushion the bottom of the fruit bowl.

• Wrap up a handmade design as a hostess gift.

• "They also make cute reusable gift wrapping, using them like we do in Japan as a furoshiki," or wrapping cloth, Lookout & Wonderland designer Niki Livingston said.

• Use stiffer materials such as linen in place of vinyl shelf liner. When the shelves get dusty, just toss the towels into the laundry.

• "Especially during the holidays I love packing up fresh citrus in a tea towel and tying it off with yarn and bakers' twine," Culver City, Calif., textile artist Heather Taylor said. "This makes for a great hostess gift."

• A variation on that theme: Use a tea towel to wrap scented handmade soap and leave it out for house guests, suggested Kara Smith, president of SFA Design in L.A.

• Use large ones as place mats.

• "I love using tea towels as napkins or bibs for those get-your-fingers-dirty meals like crabs and ribs," Studio City, Calif., textile designer Paula Smail said. "They look great on the table, and if they are illustrated, they become conversation starters."

• Use softer materials such as flour sack cloth to blot moisture when washing salad greens. Lay out lettuce on the towel, roll it like a cinnamon roll, then shake gently.

• Lay down a damp towel to prevent the cutting board from slipping when carving meat or rolling out cookie dough.

• "I always use pretty tea towels draped over a tension rod for my bathroom curtains," said Annette Goliti Gutierrez, co-owner of the Los Angeles garden gifts store Potted. "They're super-affordable, easy to clean and even a non-sewer like me can feel like she's 'made' them."

• Put them out as guest hand towels.

• Line your tote bags with them. They're easier to clean than most totes.

• Stretch and staple them over wood frames as textile artworks to hang on the kitchen wall.

• A suggestion from L.A. interior designer Vanessa De Vargas: Have a tea towel sewn with a drawstring. Instant shoe bag.

• Use the towel as a wine bag. Ted Vadakan, co-founder of the L.A. store Poketo, shows how at on his blog.

• Turn your favorite designs into simple aprons with twill tape.

• L.A. interior decorator and art lover Jackie Terrell drapes them on the backs of white-slipcovered dining chairs — yet another way for her to enjoy artists' original work.

• L.A. designer Kishani Perera suggests sewing them into simple toss pillows.

• Or you can sew them into seat cushions.

• Lay one over your computer keyboard as a dust (and cat hair) cover.

• When the designs fade or the material gets ragged, use them outside the home. Car buffs love the super-soft flour sack material to wipe down the dashboard — and as we've proved here, it's so easy to find cool new designs for the kitchen again.