Wishing they knew how to keep their tea warmer, no doubt.
After reading a recent article in Australia's Age about the demand for unique handcrafted tea cosies made by volunteers in Pascoe Vale, Australia, I became curious about the past and present status of the cosy.
According to Richard Rutt in A History of Hand Knitting, the first documented use of a tea cosy was in 1867. Tea cosies flourished during the Victorian era, a period in which homemakers were obsessed with the decoration or covering of any and all available objects.
Tea cosies had their heyday on this side of the Atlantic as well, as the newspapers of the late nineteenth century reveal. An Oct. 20, 1892 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that "cosies are enjoying a sudden and unexpected rise in public favor" among women who hosted afternoon teas in their reception rooms. In Boston, a town with quite a reputation when it comes to tea parties, an issue of the Boston Journal (Nov. 25, 1879) included in its women's advice column an explanation of just what a tea cosy is--"simply a wadded covering for your teapot"-- and hints on making one: "Some very handsome ones are made of remnants of heavy brocade, but linen is generally used, embroidered or not, according to taste, as these covers are washable. Make the covering large enough for your teapot and provide a ring at the top to lift it off with." I read these articles in America's Historical Newspapers, an excellent database which enables you to find what you want fast in old American newspapers--it's available at all Library locations.
What is happening in the world of contemporary tea cosies? Teapotmania: The Story of the British Craft Teapot and Teacosy provides some answers. This exhibition catalog for a 1995 show at the Norfolk Museums and Archeology Service on contemporary British artists' and artisans' embrace of the teapot and teacosy as artistic forms provides both historical context as well as plenty of illustrations of the objects included in this exhibition. Artists of both pottery and needlework will find inspiration in the work of the artists represented here. Additionally, this museum's teapot collection now numbers almost three thousand teapots that can be browsed at their website. And if etsy is any guide, then there is both an interest and a market for handmade cosies today--search tea cozy AND tea cosy to be sure that you don't miss out.
It turns out that you need not drink tea in a cold drafty home to appreciate a fine cosy, after all.