The tea cosy (tea cozy in the US), like the tea towel, apparently traces its origins back to 19th century Britain. It is thought likely that the Duchess of Bedford, who established a tradition of ‘afternoon tea’ in 1840 to occupy affluent women, first popularised the tea cosy among the upper classes.
Its primary function was to keep the tea pot warm so that the tea wouldn’t go cold quickly during all the chatter and gossip of an afternoon tea gathering. These were of course the days well before electric kettles and microwaves which can quickly reheat cold water.
The late Victorian era saw tea cosies become popular in the houses of the middle class. They were often embroidered and their function expanded to a decorative piece. This period also saw tea cosies become popular in North America.
British Second World War soldiers spending time in a military hospital in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) were told to knit tea cosies to avoid boredom. Their patterned designs were in stark contrast to the experience of death and destruction around them, and a gentle reminder of life at home. This tea cosy, telling the story of one such soldier, was featured in the BBC’s series ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’.
Tea cosies today can be found in all sorts of designs, patterns and colours, and certainly are used for more than simply keeping the tea pot warm. Loani Prior’s book, ‘How Tea Cosies Changed the World’, suggests a range of styles and designs which can be knitted with wool to suit the preferences of any afternoon tea host.
National ‘Wear A Tea Cosy On Your Head Day’ is on the 27th September each year, to raise money for a range of UK charities. We look forward to celebrating it in the autumn!