Towelled off: Glen Mutel

The next time you stay at a hotel you may well be treated to some towel art. Unless you're Glen Mutel.

By Glen Mutel
Published 19 Mar 2014, 14:56 GMT, Updated 30 Jun 2021, 18:00 BST

Do you ever feel you're missing out? Like everybody else is somewhere having a great time, and you're not bloody well invited? As though the rest of the world has a life-enhancing secret, and they've all made a pact not to tell you about it? Well, me too.

In fact, lately I've felt this quite strongly. The reason? Towel art. Yes, that's right, towel art. Until recently, I'd never heard of it, but it would seem I'm in the minority. For I've just done a quick straw poll of my friends and colleagues, and, if these sample results can be relied upon, it would seem everyone on earth has a towel art story — except me.

As you are all no doubt already aware, many fancy (and even some not-so-fancy) hotels have taken to folding bath towels into the shape of animals, and placing them in their rooms for the pleasure of guests. Now I consider myself a reasonably well-travelled man, but this is something I've never experienced. Why not? Am I not important enough? Am I staying in the wrong places? Do I look too serious or too hard to please? Do I look like the type of man who wouldn't appreciate finding a folded Egyptian cotton rabbit sniffing around the end of my bed?

Needless to say, I've started looking into it, and it's actually quite incredible what can be achieved with a towel, a pair of strong wrists and a spare afternoon. It seems the most popular towel art animal is the swan, or rather pairs of swans, which, when pressed together with their bent necks, make the shape of a heart. How delightful.

But that's just for starters. My friends have between them had towel elephants, cats, dogs and frogs in their rooms. One had a towel monkey hanging from the door of her cruise cabin. Another had a huge, multi-towel monitor lizard sprawled out on his bed. And another had the historic first summit between presidents Gorbachev and Reagan in Geneva recreated in towel form on her bathroom dresser. Apparently it was quite a sight.

Of course, the very existence of towel art raises some interesting questions. Firstly, do hotels have people on their payroll whose sole job is the manipulation of bath towels? In this age of austerity, surely that type of blot on the balance sheet wouldn't make it past the chief financial officer. In an emergency downsize, I reckon these would be the first people for the chop. In which case, I can only assume the task falls to the cleaning staff, which must make for some interesting interviews. "Well, Mrs Smith, I see you've got plenty of cleaning experience and some great references. Just one last question — can you fold this towel into the shape of a marmot?"

As with most forms of garnish, with towel art, I strongly suspect that surprise quickly gives way to inconvenience. I'm told fashioned towels are often too starched to actually use, so you may well find yourself attempting to carefully move your animal from your bed to, say, a chair or table. But very few towel animals ever survive this manoeuvre intact, meaning you're forced to stare at a fluffy swan with a broken neck for the rest of your visit.

So I suppose I shouldn't really moan. After all, surely it's much better to never have enjoyed towel art than to be totally over it. I'd hate to be so jaded that the sight of a pair of towel swans kissing meant nothing to me. And yet… I still want my turn. Any hoteliers reading, you'd better make darn sure that there's something pretty fancy waiting for me next time I visit your establishment.

That goes for you too, mum.

Published in the April 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Follow us on social media 


Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2023 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved