Cotton bath towel history

Until the early nineteenth century, when the textile industry mechanized, bath toweling could be relatively expensive to purchase or time-consuming to create. There is some question how important these sanitary linens were for the average person—after all, bathing was not nearly as universally popular 200 years ago as it is today! Most nine-teenth century toweling that survives is, indeed, toweling probably used behind or on top of the washstand, the piece of furniture that held the wash basin and pitcher with water in the days before indoor plumbing. Much of this toweling was hand-woven, plain-woven natural linen. Fancy ladies' magazines and mail order catalogs feature fancier jacquard-woven colored linen patterns (particularly red and white) but these were more likely to be hand and face cloths. It wasn't until the 1890s that the more soft and absorbent terry cloth replaced the plain linen toweling.

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As the cotton industry mechanized in this country, toweling material could be purchased by the yard as well as in finished goods. By the 1890s, an American house-wife could go to the general store or order through the mail either woven, sewn, and hemmed Turkish toweling (terry cloth) or could purchase terry cloth by the 'y'ard, cut it to the appropriate bath towel size her family liked, and hem it herself. A variety of toweling was available—diaper weaves, huck-abacks, "crash" toweling—primarily in cotton as linen was not commercially woven in this country in great quantity by the 1890s. Weaving factories began mass production of terry cloth towels by the end of the nine-teenth century and have been producing them in similar fashion ever since.


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