Thursday, December 20, 2012

Home Sewn Kitchen Towels

In the last decade, the new kitchen towels I have purchased have not worn well, nor have they been as absorbent as in the past. In the 1950's, before the dishwasher was common, my mother had dish towels that lasted years and years. Today I cannot get a dish towel to last longer than several months, and I have noticed that they lose their aborbancy quite quickly. I have never used fabric softeners on towels, in the laundry, and yet, the commercial towels break down quite quickly into rags that will not absorb, and will not soak up spills or dry anything. In fact, they just smear the water around as though it were oil.  After buying new towels frequently and finding they do not wear or work well in the kitchen, I have attempted to make my own from high quality terry cloth at the fabric store. I'll show you how I did it and then report later how my test model towels performed in the kitchen. 

About 2 yards of terry cloth on the left, and a scrap of cotton calico on the right, for the trim, will make these four kitchen towels which I'll use to dry my tea cups and various delicate items that will not go in the dishwasher. 

Fold the fabric four times one way and press it with a very hot iron, set on the hottest setting. I like cottons because you can use your highest heat on the iron without ruining the fabric.  Then open the fabric and cut along the creases that you ironed, so that you have four pieces.

Iron the scrap of fabric, accordion style, so that you have creases you can cut for the border trim. It does not matter how narrow or wide you make the trim. It is up to you. I used three inches wide.
This is what the piece looks like from the side, when ironed accordion style. It just means that you fold it over and press and repeat until you have 4  identically wide layers that can be cut into strips.

Open the fabric and cut along the pressed lines to make strips.

Iron the long sides of each strip toward the middle.

It looks like this when you turn the strip over so that the raw edges are underneath.

Place an ironed strip about 3/4ths of the way down the towel toward the end, but not too close to the edge, because you are going to leave room for the hem. Clip off any excess fabric.

Pin the strip on the terry cloth in about four segments, to keep it straight. It does not matter if it is not precisely even. I use a long length stitch and medium pressure (the tension dial). I also back stitch at the start and end of each thing I stitch.

Now stitch close to the folded edge,  keeping your eye on the needle to make sure it is sewing the strip and not just sewing on the terrycloth outside the strip. Remove each pin as it comes close to the presser foot.  Back stitch when you come to the end and turn the piece around to sew the other side of the strip.

This is what it looks like when both sides are sewn on to the towel.  Note: It is not necessary to add this trim. If you opt  to skip this step, your towels will be finished a lot sooner! Plain towels are also quite lovely to look at and to use.

With iron set on highest temperature (cotton), press firmly 1/4th inch or any amount of your choice, on each long side of the towel. Then, repeat, folding over again, using the raw edge as a guide. Press, using your steam, so that the folded edges will lie flat when you are stitching.

Stitch through all layers  (there should be 3), close to the inside edge of the folds, which is the left side of the hem you see here. Repeat on the other long side of the towel. Then iron the short ends a fourth inch, twice, so that the raw edges are not seen, and stitch the same way you stitched the long ends.

Stitch again a row of stitches on the outside edge of the hem, all the way around the towel.
Fold the edges of the towel to the inside, to make it look nice when it hangs in the kitchen.

Here are two of the towels hanging on the handle of the stove in my kitchen.

It could also be used as a hand towel in the bathroom, paired with a pomegranate-mango soap from the dollar store. This would make a nice gift, as well.
You can sew a piece of the trim and make a ribbon to tie up four towels if you need something to give away.

The number of towels you can make with a yard of terry cloth depends on how wide the fabric is. I have made four towels with two yards of fabric, but I like the towels to be large.

The Paula Deen brand of kitchen towels sells for almost $5.00 apiece because it is higher quality than most kitchen towel brands. I made four of these towels for $5.00. I used a coupon, and I like the quality and thickness of these towels so much (even better than the top brands like Paula Deen) that I am going to get a yard of each color of terry cloth in the store and make as many towels as I can. Then I am going to test them to see how long they last, compared to commercial towels. I can already tell by the feel of them that these are more sturdy and absorbent.
This is what the towel looks like with all the edges stitched on the inside of the folded edge and then again on the edge of the towel all around.  I'll be letting you know in due time how these towels are wearing. I have used kitchen towels from the age of my youth, and only this year have found the purchased towels to be inadequate and unable to absorb, even though I never use softeners in my wash.

With time spent to stop and take photographs, these towels took a little over an hour to cut and sew.


Anonymous said...

These are pretty! You mentioned that some of the towels you buy seem to lose their too! I've wondered if it could be that the terry loop, or the weft of the fabric if plain, is made of cheaper (short fiber) cotton, & that breaks down quickly, leaving a polyester warp fiber, which is stronger, but not absorbant.

Anyway, I'm sewing for Christmas too....making one of my daughters a two-sided apron, in her favorite colors. I think she'll like it! :o)


Lydia said...

I had not thought of that, Brenda, but it makes sense. My towels feel slimy. The only time they really work are when they have been on the line in the summer but once water touched them, they quickly wilted into a wimpy mess. Though the label says cotton, I think there are some additives to it and that it may be a cheap, recycled fabric or something of rag-quality, like the inside of commercial potholders. I don't know if you have ever seen what is inside of them, but it feels like our kitchen towels feel today.

Housewife59 said...

I have added a fabric border to some of my older towels, but here in the UK it is the same. We just can't get good quality any more. Even 'Egyptian cotton' is of a different type than in the past. It is quite frustrating, but I will keep looking. Your towels are so pretty.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent idea. I made my curtains and matching placemats.By doing this, I can make matching towels as well. I have always found terry cloth difficult to work with, so I might just add a fabric band to a pre-made dishtowel or tea towel.

I remember that you wrote how when others see our work around the home, they may ask us to make things for them. A relative was so impressed with my simple curtains, she asked me to make some for her kitchen. She said that buying them would cost a small fortune and they would not be exactly what she wants. I can make what she is looking for for about 1/10 the cost!

Anonymous said...

At what store did you purchase the fabric?? Dee

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean about towels not being absorbent. I get so angry when I need to wipe up a spill and the towel only moves the water around and leaves a sticky residue. I never use fabric softener, buy higher quality towels, line dry the towels and still they don't absorb moisture.

Anonymous said...

I have made towels for the kitchen in the same way that I make burp cloths, I use a high-quality quilting cotton on one side and coordinating cotton flannel on the other. After they are washed a time or two, the cotton fabrics get "fluffy" and are quite absorbent. Using holiday fabrics and the like, you can change for all seasons and holidays. I love sewing for the home!

Anonymous said...

Your towels look great! I can't believe how poorly towels last. I decided not to get any at Walmart, because those seem to wear out the fastest. So I got a big package from Kohl's- thinking they would be a better quality. The first time washing them (and I hadn't even used them yet) there was a big hole in it at the seem. I think I'll have to make my own! Thanks for the great idea.

SharonR said...

How pretty! Home sewn is always better quality than store bought.

My mother has the same problem with her towels losing their absorbancy. I don't. The difference is, she uses fabric softener in her towels and I don't. I just can't convince her to stop using it on towels so they will absorb. It feel like I just wipe the water off after a shower at her house. At my house - although not as perfect as hers - the water when drying after a shower or drying dishes, goes right into the towel, no matter how old. Could this be an answer to your problem of towels losing absorbancy?

Lydia said...

No. I've never used dryer sheets or softener on them. I've been familiar with the characteristics of kitchen towels from a very young age when I used to hang my mothers towels on the line. The towels of the last few years have something wrong with them. other homemakers say the say. I'm talking about the dish towels.

Lydia said...

I ordered a bulk bag of kitchen towels from what appeared to be a high quality catalog, and those towels were even worse in quality.

Lydia said...

To the one who noticed a residue on the cabinet top after wiping a spill with the current towels that are on the market: I have a glass top stove and when I use a kitchen towel, even after it has been washed several times after purchase, it just looks like it is spreading grease around.

This morning I have used my new hand sewn towel once to dry my hands on and I can see the difference. I will make some more and give them a good work out before I draw any conclusions. If you do not sew, or do not care to fold over the edges and sew, you can always just cut a piece of towelling and use your zig zag stitch to finish off the edges. Making a towel without the trim takes just a few minutes.

Lydia said...

The towels that are labelled 100 percent cotton also break down easily and do not clean well with detergent. Cotton, I have heard, has a derivative called rayon, which is more silky and I wonder if there are rayon products in the cotton towels, which reduce absorbancy. Rayon is used in dress fabric to make it more drapey and soft. This is just a hunch.

Lydia said...

The only place I could find terry cloth was at Joann fabrics. It can be ordered online but one place I found it would did not list the ingredients or the width. If you decide to make one, just get half a yard and make only one, and try it out before you invest too much time and money. Also Joanns has 50 percent off coupons you can use.

Anonymous said...

I do not use terry towels to dry my antique china. I use terry towels for drying hands and linen towels for drying dishes (less confusion with the children that way, also less chance of any germs or soap left on hastily washed hands ending up on the clean dishes). Usually I try to find vintage linen towels. They were made in the 1940's or 50's and are still in excellent usable condition, very absorbent and often quite pretty. I like your idea of buying terrycloth and making towels. I have resorted to buying bathroom (hand) towels and found that the absorbency is greatly improved; of course, they are more expensive. Pamela in Oklahoma. (You probably should remind readers to pre-wash any fabrics before cutting or sewing.)

Lydia said...

I use the dish towels to dry everything from pots and pans to the knives, forks and spoons, so they have to be strong and absorbent. The new towels break down quickly until they will not hold water but just smears it around. This is why I think they are sprayed with something before they are sold, or they are made with rag quality products that are generally used for potholder. There is something wrong with them, compared to towels that were sold years ago. Others are complaining about it too.

Anonymous said...

The towels you made are far more lovely than any I've seen in the store. I'm going to try to make my own, too.

Lydia said...

I never use softener on towels, and as I understand it, the other homemakers that have noticed the slickness and wimpiness of the latest kitchen towels, do not use softeners either.

Anonymous said...

I have never liked the terry towels for drying dishes. I prefer the flour sack towels. My daughter and I put rick rack or edge them like you do, or embroider on them. Most of ours are huge and we have had them for years. We do wash the fabric ahead of sewing to avoid shrinkage, especially of the boarder fabric. I will try out the terry though as I definitely need hand towels! :) Also as you said, they will make great gifts. After Christmas I will be about out of presents in my present box so it is time to start sewing again! :-) I really appreciate all the home sewing ideas you have presented here over the years. I do so love making our home pretty for us. These ideas are not expensive and made much better than store bought goods. Also they are made so individual we can have exactly what we like. Another excellent post Lady Lydia. :) Sarah

Anonymous said...

I never use softener on either my bath towels or my kitchen towels & cloths. During the rinse cycle I add some vinegar. No dryer sheets in the dryer, either. But it's really annoying to have the water simply bead up on the fabric. Good grief! wonder people use paper towels.


Lydia said...

There is a fabric made for kitchen towels, that is not a terry cloth. I remember when the terry cloth towels were first sold for the kitchen and felt quite uncomfortable using them in the kitchen. They did not seem to dry the dishes as well. After many years of using the terry, I'm ready to go back to the original kitchen towelling fabric.

Anonymous said...

Lydia, I see everyone is complaining about the kitchen towels that are made of terry cloth. However the same problem arises with the other kind of dish towels. They seem to have a water proof slickness to them, even after many washings (and no fabric softeners used). They wear out quickly and they are not absorbant enough to wipe up a spill, nor do they dry the dishes but just rub the water around.

Lillibeth said...

I have a few thoughts on the towels; not sure if it any of it proves true!
When you buy new bath towels, it takes a few washings and dryings to get them to absorb water. Perhaps whatever chemical they have on them to keep them "fresh" in the store takes a while to wear off, but perhaps it never really leaves all the way. Maybe, as the towel gets old, the chemicals or weird fibers or what have you break down when heated in the dryer, and we actually are using melting towels? Perhaps there is a petroleum product chemical comes out more when heated in the dryer? Or maybe the dryer gets coated with something that never goes away? Because the line dried towels were better for absorbing water this summer, though they did not feel quite like they ought to.