Let's begin with the kitchen towel.
I wonder how many hours (days?) of my life in total I've spent pushing water around and around on wet dishes in my attempt to dry them. It seems I've never owned a decent kitchen towel, until lately, although I've always had a stack of pretty towels from shops in Boston and Paris and Maine. I don't buy white bar towels because they get stained and I can't use bleach in my washer. I'm drawn to bright stripes and plaids. I have a French one, printed with a big Metro map that's much easier to consult than the tiny ones in guidebooks. It's too valuable for the kitchen; it comes to Paris with me instead.
Like everyone, we use our towels constantly and wash them often, so they become soft, faded. and ragged. At that point, you'd expect them to be wonderfully absorbent. But no.... As I'm "drying" china or the cooktop with an ancient, broken-in towel, I realize that I am working my arm muscles to push the water into the fabric because the ridiculous, lazy towel won't absorb anything except by brute force. Life is too short to put up with this.
So I went to Williams-Sonoma and whined. First the patient salesperson asked if I used either pure cotton or linen. I said yes. Then she asked if I used fabric softener. I said, "Never!" And then she asked if I'd tried their Pantry All-Purpose Towels ($18 for four).
The set I bought is dark blue, but red is more seasonal:
Finally! They are soft cotton with the double whammy of waffle weave on one side and terry loops on the other. They do exactly what you expect towels to do, a tiny miracle. Dish-drying goes quickly and uses less upper-arm strength. They are thick and oversized, too, so ideal for spills, overflowing soda bottles, knocked-over vases, and other disasters — remember who's writing this. I've tested them thoroughly without trying. They don't get warped, wrinkled, or weird after you wash them; I think they'll last a long time. And they are less expensive than the fancier towels I used to buy. There aren't many bargains at Williams-Sonoma, but here's one. And you can't get them anywhere else.
Perfect kitchen towels: A great little gift for anyone who has better things to do than wash dishes.