The big "canvas" of a beach towel lends itself to big ideas, with room to let designs and colours romp.
For instance, the Los Angeles-based, high-end textile house Fresco has a collection of beach towels reminiscent of antique Southwest-inspired rugs. They have a faux-faded quality that's enhanced by the luminous plushness of the Turkish cotton weave. The Golden Eagle features a dramatic bird image, and Mesa Diamond is another evocation of Native American textile art. www.frescotowels.com
Anthropologie's carrying a luxe line of beach towels crafted in collaboration with Brazilian fine artist Monica Nador. Her Cocovado towel designs speak to her work with acrylic paints and stencils in the poorer neighbourhoods on the edge of Sao Paolo. Vibrant aqua meets hot red in rich motifs on one towel; sapphire and green hues tint a mosaic pattern; a drum motif is rendered in azure or hot pink. www.anthropologie.com
Online retailer One King's Lane has partnered with a number of well-known designers on a beach towel collection that rolls out through the summer. Proceeds support the designers' preferred charities, including Alpha Workshops, which helps HIV-AIDS victims, and Baby2Baby, which assists Los Angeles families in need. Celerie Kemble, Tracy Reese, Nanette Lepore, Rebecca Minkoff, Steven Alan and Robert Verdi are among the designers. Reese's was one of the debut collections, with wave and tropical-plant motifs in Popsicle hues. www.onekingslane.com
Target has some photo-printed beach towels with appeal to both kids and adults: A gentle golden retriever holds a newspaper on one; goldfish swim across the expanse of another. A Ferris wheel, that icon of summer joy, adorns a third.
Find here too Nate Berkus' collection of Newport-worthy preppy beach towels with designs like labyrinths, diagonal stripes and other geometrics rendered in navy, sunny yellow, aqua and red. For the kids, check out Target's whimsical array of beach towel capes, part of a superhero collection of summer toys and accessories. There's a Batman-style cape with hood and ears, a bright red Captain America-esque cape with lightning bolt crest, and a snazzy Wonder Woman-style towel for the fearless little swim gals. www.target.com
For older kids, Pottery Barn Teen has towels with surfer-cool designs like hibiscus flowers, Tiki prints and tie-dye patterns in summery hues, as well as sporty towels for baseball fans, with team logos. www.pbteen.com
If you're the creative type, check out www.marthastewart.com for ideas on how to embellish a towel with a tic tac toe grid to play at the beach, or make a tote bag out of a towel, or add pockets or ripstop nylon to expand the use of a beach towel.
Finally, crafters Sandra Vogt and Jo Dotson of Lexington, Ky., came up with the clever notion of sewing a bunch of towels together to make a true beach blanket.
"Necessity was definitely our inspiration," says Vogt. "After many trips to the beach with towels that weren't big enough, we came up with the idea to sew them together to make a giant one. It's worked marvelously well since then and we've used the blankets dozens of times."
Using six large towels, you end up with a towel large enough for the whole gang. Lining the back of it with an old shower curtain or vinyl picnic tablecloth provides additional protection on wet pool decks or soggy sand. Instructions are on their website. www.chicaandjo.com