Food and Garden Dailies started as a way to record my family's favorite recipes. It has come in handy many times when I'm asked for a recipe. I simply email a link to the blog! But I couldn't just stick to recipes. The kitchen is tied to the garden in so many ways...and so I let you into my ever changing garden as well.

If you're interested in my all-time favorite recipes, check out this post first: My Favorite Recipes

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cloth Napkins and Un-Paper Towels

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Inspiration is all around us, and lately I've been finding a lot of inspiration on  When I'm asked to describe Pinterest, I tell friends it's like one big on-line visual bookmark that is shared with others.  You create your own categories (boards) and "pin" images to your board.  When you click on the image, it takes you (hopefully...!) to a blog or website where that image originated.

One of the first things that caught my attention were links to stores, where crafters were making "un-paper" towels out of cloth.  Some were making them the size of the Bounty Select-a-Size towels, adding snaps to them, and attaching them to a plastic roll so they'd go right on your already-in-place paper towel holder.  The idea is that you'd  simply rip off a towel from the roll.

I was intrigued by them.  I use a LOT of paper least 10-20 a day.   If I'm cooking something messy, it's not unusual for me to go through a half a roll of paper towels.  I've tried to break this habit by purchasing flour sack towels, and while they have helped some, it wasn't the right substitute.  What I liked about these towels, is that they were small...a finished size of 6" x 11".  Just the right size to grab and use once or twice and then launder.

While I appreciate the details and design from the etsy crafters, I knew their designs would need some tweaking on my part.   When I wipe down my counters, I don't really want a snap in the way.  And when I'm folding laundry, I sure as heck don't want to have to attach all those snaps each time. 

So, I simplified the project by making mine a 2-ply cloth, with no snaps.  Instead of putting them on a roll, I fold them in half and stack them in a basket.  The basket is placed directly underneath my paper towels (still like them for raw chicken!), so that I will grab a cloth towel instead of a paper towel.

I'm proud to say that I've cut down my paper towel usage tremendously.  I've been using them for a couple months, and in that time, the same roll of paper Bounty is still in place.

Benefits to this project:  I'm creating less waste, saving money, and *gasp!*...I actually like them better!!

I chose to use Birdseye fabric (aka diaper cloth) for both sides because it's an absorbent fabric, and looks just like a little paper towel.  Also, being all white, it's easier to bleach out stains if needed.

So how did I make them?
  1. First I bought 5 yards of Birdseye fabric.  I wasn't able to find it at Joann's but did find it at our local quilting shop.  It was about $3 a yard.  From those 5 yards, I was able to make about 28 2-ply towels, with an end cost being about 50¢ per towel.  That may seem high, but it's a one-time cost.  You may be able to find a better price if you hunt around for sales.
  2. Next, I prewashed the fabric.  I'd never used Birdseye fabric before, so I'll let you in on what I shrinks...a LOT.  In fact, it shrunk even more the second time, even though I washed in hot water, and dried on high.  So, going forward, I'd recommend washing and drying twice before cutting the fabric.  
  3. When the fabric was dry, I ironed it (easier to work with and get more precise cuts), folding it in half length-wise as I ironed.  
  4. Once the fabric was ironed, I kept it folded, cutting using a rotary cutter/mat to cut 11 1/2" x 6 1/2" pieces.  I cut two at a time so I wouldn't have to match them up later.*
  5. Then I stitched all around, using a 1/4" seam.  I left a 2-3" opening on one of the longer sides so I could turn them right side out later.
  6. After stitching, go around again, with a zig-zag stitch to keep the fabric edges from fraying.  Or use a serger for steps 5 &6.  The Birdseye fabric frays easily.
  7. Turn the towel right side out and gently square up the corners, with a point turner/creaser.  Be careful, as it's easy to poke right through the fabric.
  8. Iron flat, making sure to fold in the opening.
  9. Top stitch 1/8" from the outside edge, making sure to close up the opening.  That's're done!
*I'd never sewn with Birdseye fabric before, and I learned that it pulls and stretches easily.  After measuring and cutting two sets of towels, I'd have to square up my fabric again before continuing on.  Otherwise I would've had sets of parallelograms; not rectangles.  Even with the constant squaring, accurate measuring, and consistent seam allowances, I don't have perfect rectangles.  They're good enough...but not perfect.

I took the project a step further and made everyday napkins as well.  For these,  I chose a patterned piece of cotton fabric for one side.  I kept them exactly the same size.  I've wanted to buy/make cloth napkins (and stop the awful paper napkin habit!) but was always put off by the large amounts of fabric used for each napkin.  I don't want all that folding each week, and buying all that fabric is pricey.  I learned that for everyday use, I really like the 6" x 11" size.  On laundry day, I fold them in half and place them in my napkin holder.

For Christmas, I made a napkin set with a holiday print on one side.


Angie said...

Thank you for this post. I'm going to try making some of these unpaper towels! :)

Jessica H. said...

Can I hand sew these?

dg said...

Sorry, I'm just now seeing this comment for the first time...

Yes, you could hand-sew them, but I wouldn't recommend it for a couple reasons. First, the fabric unravels easily so you'd need tight stitches that are reinforced (zig-zag or serged). Second, it took quite some time to a bunch with a machine. I can't imagine the time it would take to do by hand.

Off the subject, but I will add that I've been using these for five months now and just LOVE them! The size and fabric are perfect. Easy to launder and fold.

KH Kellum said...

I followed your Pinterest boards and I have to say I love the idea of "tried this". I do the same with crafty projects on my blog. I have a board called Pins for Possum/that I'll eventually try and write up, linking back to original blog tutorials. Would you mind if I mention you in a blog post for my readers, or better yet would you like to be a guest blogger sometime?
~Kim aka The Posh 'Possum

Lisa Echerd said...

Saw your post on Two Peas. This is a great idea! We already use cloth napkins, but I use a LOT of paper towels when cooking.

Lillie J. Pam said...

Excellent work!!!! Lots of hard work definitely paid off! I appreciate you.I get a great idea from your post.Thank you so much.