Finished: reusable unpaper towels tutorial

Have you seen the rolls of reusable unpaper towels on Pinterest or Etsy? They’re a great way to help protect the environment by not using paper, and you can show off some cute fabric. Over time, this eco-friendly version will probably turn out to be cheaper than the tree-made variety with their continued use, as long as you don’t try and scrub a grill grate or other rough surface with them.



Want to make a set of your own? Sure you do! Here’s how:

Supplies: (enough to make 12 towels)

  • 1 1/8 yds. quilting cotton or flannel (If you use flannel, you may need a little more since it shrinks more than quilting cotton.) You can do all the same fabric, use one of each from your favorite collection or mix it up with a patchwork version.
  • 1 1/8 yds. terrycloth* (You can also use the inside part of an old towel; how many you’ll need will depend on how much is still usable.)
  • 48 sets of plastic snaps (24 male, 24 female) I used Kamsnaps, a wonderful company that uses proceeds from their sales to help rescue animals. You can even get the snaps in fun shapes like flowers or hearts.
  • Snap pliers (Again, I used Kamsnaps, but you can also buy these and the snaps at a big-box craft store)
  • Soluble marker (optional)
  • Awl
  • Thread
  • Rotary cutter, mat, ruler
  • Scissors
  • Empty paper towel roll

Start by pre-washing ALL your fabric in hot water with a color-catcher, if necessary. This is absolutely essential if you want your towels to stay flat and nice looking. Quilting cotton and terrycloth shrink at different rates, and pre-washing helps keep them the same size in subsequent washings. It also removes any sizing chemicals used by the manufacturer.

I like to serge the cut edges of my fabric so I don’t wind up with a tangled mess of threads to cut off. I put the blade down first so I don’t cut the fabric by mistake.

Next, iron both sets of fabrics as smoothly as possible. You can use spray starch if you think it helps your cutting accuracy; I didn’t bother. These towels are going to clean up spills and messes, so it’s not a time to worry about perfection.

Starting with the quilting cotton, fold the fabric in half, lining up the selvages; trim them as close to the selvage edge as possible. Then trim the cut-side edges so that you have 1 yard of fabric. Subdivide and cut both sets of fabric into 12 12-inch squares. Be prepared for all the terry fuzz that will go flying all over your cutting surface.

Note: A standard American paper towel is an 11-inch square, and while some quilting cotton is 45 inches, allowing you to get 12 12-inch squares from a yard, a lot of it is only 42 or 43 inches, especially once you cut the selvages. You can either cut 12 equal pieces, which is what I’d recommend, or make scrappy versions with the leftovers. That’s easy to do with the quilting cotton, but the terrycloth? Not so much. (Don’t ask me why I know this.) I say close to size is good enough. The important thing is to have the cotton and the terry match in size, but even with that you can fudge a bit since the terry stretches.

Place one square of the quilting cotton, right-side down, on top of a square of the terrycloth. Pin like crazy to help reduce any shifting while sewing. Mark the spot for an opening on one side that’s large enough for your hand to fit in.


Stitch all the way around the edges using a 1/4-inch seam allowance. Reinforce the starting and stopping points with a few back stitches as shown at the top of the photo below.


Clip the corners and any excess terry that stretched/shifted while stitching.


Turn the fabric right-side out and poke the corners with a chopstick or other pointed item, being careful not to go through the fabric. (Again, don’t ask me how I know this …)


Roll the edges in your fingers to get the seams as straight and close to the edge on each side as possible. Press each side as you do this keeping your fingers out of the way. For the side with the opening, press the fabric down then clip in place, making sure that the edges align evenly. On the cotton side, sew 1/8-inch away from the edge, closing the opening as you go. Here’s a scrappy version I made with some leftover pieces:


After you’ve made all 12 towels, it’s time to install the snaps. The Kamsnaps website has video if you need help, but it’s pretty easy. On the top, using a water-soluble pen, mark a spot in each corner that’s 1-inch from the edge on both sides. If you’ve used different fabrics and care about the order they’ll come off the roll, now is the time to arrange them in the order you prefer.


Take the awl and poke a hole through all the layers in either the top or bottom mark on the far edge (the one that comes off the roll first), then place the masculine side of the snap through the hole, with the rounded flat side on the quilting cotton side. Place a masculine cap on the terrycloth side and slide the rounded flat side into the plier base. When everything’s aligned, give it a good squeeze to set the snap.

Place another masculine snap in the spot directly above or below the first snap (not diagonally across). If your fabric has a direction, pay attention to which side you place the snaps, since they need to be all in the same direction to work. On the opposite side, place a feminine snap in each of the remaining spots, also with the flat edge on top.

For your second towel, install four more sets, this time putting the rounded flat cap on the terrycloth side in all four places. Make sure your feminine side snaps are on the edge that connects to the masculine side on the first towel, so you’ll be able to snap them together.

How I managed to get all the right snaps on in the correct places on all my towels without a single mistake, I’ll never know. Here’s a look at the masculine side snap all installed.


Note: I only used four snaps per towel, but I have seen sets that use six. The extra snap does make the edges flatter, but I didn’t think it was worth it. (See note about scrubbing spills above.)

Snap your towels together and roll them onto an empty paper towel roll. Then stand back and admire your work!


These towels aren’t as cheap as a roll of paper towels, to be sure, but they are a whole lot cuter. It did take me a few days to work up the nerve to use them, but now I can’t imagine using anything else. I only use the paper version for things like toilets or something that would stain badly.

Speaking of stains, when I wipe up a food spill, I rinse the towel out immediately and then use a little dish soap, rubbing till the stain is as out as I can get it. I then wring it dry with my hands and let it air dry or throw it in the laundry basket, depending on how dirty it was. I know my set won’t stay bright white for long, but I’m OK with that.

I made a jumbo roll of 18 towels, and with rinsing/air drying, I haven’t gotten to the end of the roll yet. When they get too gross to use, out they’ll go and I’ll make new ones.

*A note about terrycloth. I made most of my set using terrycloth yardage. It’s thinner than the terry found on bath towels and a lot easier to cut with a rotary cutter. I did use some less than new hand towels on a few of these and would do so again rather than throw the towel away. However, there is a lot of waste with the regular towel, so bear that in mind before you cut.

Have fun making a set of these. I have a feeling they’ll be pretty addicting.





Tutorial: large reversible tote bag

Before I went to QuiltCon a couple of weeks ago, I decided I would make a bag to carry my class supplies. I had wanted a new one ever since I made a practice bag out of fabric from an old comforter.

I learned a lot by making that bag, including what not to do. After carrying it for the past 18 months, the first thing I knew I would do with a new bag was to make it bigger and with more pockets. I’m really pleased with the end result and am happy to share it with you.

totebagpinThis is an open-style bag that measures 18x24x6 inches when complete. Here’s how to make it:


  • 3/4 yd. solid fabric for exterior (I used Kona Cotton in School Bus — my favorite!)
  • 3/4 yd. muslin or other lightweight cotton. (This will be underneath the lining, so make sure it’s something that won’t show through, like dark fabric against light.)
  • 3/4 yd. print fabric for outside pockets (mine is from Joel Dewberry’s “Notting Hill”)
  • 1 1/2 yds. print fabric for inside pockets (I used two different fabrics, 3/4 yd. each)
  • 1/3 yd. of contrast fabric for binding on all pockets
  • 3/4 yd. of cotton duck or other plain heavyweight fabric. (Make sure it’s a solid color that won’t show through the quilting cotton.)
  • 1/3 yd. print fabric for straps
  • Two pieces of scrap batting, each one measuring 24×30 inches
  • Basic quilting/sewing supplies: thread, rotary cutter and mat, ruler, washable marker
  • Painter’s tape

1. Begin by cutting two main body pieces, 20×26 inches. This will allow you to quilt as desired, then trim to 19×25 inches. I like this method because I find when I straight-line quilt, the top can shift a bit, and not be as straight as it should when it’s time to square up, leaving you with a smaller finished piece. And yes, straight-line quilting can be a time suck, but on a piece this small it wasn’t too bad.

2. Baste the layers in your preferred method. If you choose to straight-line quilt as I did, instead of marking the fabric, take a piece of painter’s tape and a ruler to set your first line, as well as the subsequent anchor lines. Before placing the tape for an anchor line, make sure you measure a distance that’s divisible by the amount you use for spacing between your stitching lines.

Mine are 1/2 inch apart, so that means my anchor lines will have to be either inches or half inches away. Anchor lines of stitching help prevent shifting, but over-sizing and trimming guarantees accuracy.

DSC_0021DSC_00103. Once you’ve finished quilting, trim the front and back main pieces to 19×25 inches.

DSC_00114. Exterior pockets: Cut two pieces of your print fabric, 13×25 inches each. Cut two pieces of cotton duck, 13×25 inches each. Attach one of the print pieces to one of the duck pieces, stitching them wrong sides together about 1/8-inch from the top edge.

5. Cut a strip the full width of fabric, 2 1/4-inches wide out of a contrast print for binding. Fold it in half and press. Trim to 25 inches and stitch the strip to the front side of your pocket, 1/4-inch from the top edge. Press the strip toward the top, then flip to the other side and press again. Turn piece back over to the front and stitch in the ditch to secure the binding to the other side. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the back front pocket.

This is fabric from the interior pocket. I wasn’t crazy about this print after I ordered it online, so I used it to line the interior pocket (instead of the duck) where it wouldn’t show.

6. Pin the pocket piece to the front and mark a line with painter’s tape 3 inches from the bottom and stitch the pocket piece to the exterior at that line. Next, stitch around the entire perimeter of the pocket, 1/4-inch away from the edge.

7. For the pockets, Measure 8 1/2 inches from the left-side edge and mark with painter’s tape, using a ruler to make sure it’s straight. Stitch along the edge of the tape, making sure to back-stitch and secure at the top of the pocket. Repeat these steps 8 1/2-inches from the right-side edge. Repeat the above steps for the back of the bag.

DSC_00197. For the lining, cut two pieces of print fabric, 20×25 inches. You want this piece to be taller than the quilted piece in order to make the bag reversible. Make the pockets in the same way as you did for the exterior pieces. including stitching 3 inches from the bottom. If you would like to customize your pockets, e.g., make one smaller for sunglasses, now is the time to do so. Sunglasses generally need a 4-4 1/2-inch wide pocket.

Here are my interior pieces. Do you see a stitched line 3 inches from the bottom? No, you don’t. Learn from my mistakes, people.

8. Take the exterior pieces and pin them right sides together. Wonder clips work really well for this and are much easier to use than pins. Sew around the perimeter, leaving the top open, with a 1/2-inch seam, back-stitching at the ends and using a smaller stitch length. Do the same thing with the lining pieces.

DSC_00229. Fold the corner, lining up the seams as close as possible. Since the exterior is bulky, it will help to have the seams go in opposite directions. Using a ruler with a 45-degree line, line the edge of the bag against that line, leaving 3 inches exposed.

Draw a line with a water-soluble marker at the 3-inch mark as shown below (3 inches is the distance between the arrows); pin in place. Stitch across the line, back-stitching several stitches to reinforce the ends and using a shorter stitch length. Trim 1/2-inch from the seam line.

dsc_0017 copyDSC_001810. Turn the bag right side out and using a blunt object like a chop stick, push the corners of the bottom sides out. Do the preceding steps on the lining pieces, except don’t bother to turn the lining inside out.

11.Take the lining piece and fold a little less than 1/2-in from the right-side of the top over to the wrong side; press in place. Make a second fold 1/2-inch wide and press in place again. Put the lining inside the exterior of the bag and pin or clip the fold over the top of the exterior bag as shown below. Top stitch along bottom edge to secure lining to bag.

DSC_002412. Make handles: Cut the print fabric you’ve chosen for the handles into two strips, each one should be 5 inches by the width of fabric, approx. 5×44 inches. I trimmed my handles to 5×42-inches. Cut two pieces of the cotton duck the same size. Attach the duck to the wrong side of the printed fabric and stitch along each edge with a 1/4-inch seam.

Fold and press 1/2-inch on both sides as shown below, the fold the strip in half and press again. Open the strap and fold in 1/2-inch on the top and bottom. Re-fold in half, making sure your edges are all nicely tucked in. Pin and stitch 1/4-inch around the entire strip. Repeat these steps for the second strap.

Or you could be lazy like me and only stitch on side, but this is what it will look like when you go to press it.

13. One at a time, line up the strap ends so the middle point of each one is at the same place as the stitching line of your pocket, which should be at the 8-inch line. Place the bottom of the strap 2 inches below the top of the bag and pin in place.

Do the same thing for the remaining three strap ends. Stitch them securely in place with a shorter stitch length all around the 2-inch portion that’s on the exterior bag.

DSC_004414. Now, go out and use your bag and marvel at all the compliments you will receive!

If something doesn’t make sense, or you’d like some help making your bag, either leave a comment below or email me at

Linking up to Link a Finish Friday, Whoop Whoop Friday, Thank Goodness Its Finished Friday, Fabric Frenzy Friday and Show Off Saturday.


WIP: reusable non-paper towels

I’m not sure if it’s the cold weather or all the holiday stitching I did, but the last thing I’ve wanted to do in these past few weeks is take up needle and fiber. Does that ever happen to you? How do you get out of it?

For me, it helps to have small projects that give me a sense of completion quickly and with little chance for error. That’s why I’ve been having fun making these reusable towels.

Well, that, and because they’re pretty stinkin’ cute!

DSC_0001I don’t remember where I originally saw these, but I thought they looked like a great idea and a great way to use fabric scraps and towels with fraying edges that still had plenty of life in them.

To keep shrinkage to a minimum, this is definitely a project where you should pre-wash your fabric. I had several half-yards of black/white print fabric that I edged with my serger before throwing them into the wash.

I sized them to match an actual paper towel, adding a quarter-inch seam allowance on the terry fabric and a half-inch on the cotton.

DSC_0002Then I pin them right sides together and sew a quarter-inch seam around the edges, leaving a hole on one side so I can turn them right side out. After a snip on the corners and a quick press, I stitch a line close to the edge to close the seam.

DSC_0004Each one takes about five minutes. Seriously, five minutes. I need at least 10 for a roll, maybe 12, depending on how many will fit on my current towel holder. For that, I’ve got some special plastic snaps I purchased, which I’ll show you when these are done.

These probably won’t get rid of my paper towel usage entirely, but they will definitely help reduce it. I’ve got a couple of practice attempts I made that I use in the microwave. Those two have already saved me about half a roll.

Linking up with Lee at Freshly Pieced for WIP Wednesday.



Finished: flannel fleece blanket

I haven’t had too much time for sewing this month, but I managed to finish a flannel version of my reversible fleece blanket. Much as I love working with fleece and appreciate its warmth, it can be a little expensive. Flannel is a great alternative when you’re pinching the pennies.

If you need a last minute gift, you can make this in just a couple of hours. Seriously. I’m not fast at this stuff, and I can do it in that amount of time.

It all began with this too adorable fabric I spotted one day in Joanns. What I love is that it’s gender neutral, and since I’m adding this to my charity stash, I like to make things that will work for anyone who receives it.

DSC_0054Because there’s a difference in width between fleece and flannel, i.e., fleece tends to be 54 inches wide and flannel 44-45 inches wide, it’s not the same 1:1 ratio as on the reversible version.

When I make this using fleece on both sides, I buy two yards of each. For the flannel version, I buy 3 yards of the flannel and 1 1/2 yards of the fleece, since I’m making it for a young child. It should finish at approximately 54 inches square. Cost is about $20 or less, with all the sales still going on.

I find the easiest method is to be double the amount of flannel, seam it in the middle and then cut to size with my rotary cutter. I save the leftovers and coordinate them for a simple patchwork version. While piecing the flannel, I hide the selvage by lining up the edge of my presser foot on the white band and sew a one-inch seam.

DSC_0063Here’s the backing fleece. I put it right-side down on my bed, and once I’ve got my top piece sewn, pressed and cut to size, I’ll layer to the two pieces together and pin them.

DSC_0061Next it’s onto the serger to sew the pieces together and clean off the edges in one shot. (Note: if you have a label you want to put on the back, don’t be like me and forget every time until after the two pieces are serged together. You can still add it, but it’s easier to do it now.)

DSC_0065OK, I had to show a close-up. I’m not even a dog person, and I can’t stand how cute this is. Love it.

DSC_0067The last step is binding, which is a pretty basic quilt binding that I did with the solid red flannel. You can find the steps on the original tutorial. Since I forgot to add the label on the back, I clipped the edges of the label with pinking shears and sewed it after I attached the the binding to the front, making sure that the binding didn’t cover it when sewing it down on the back.

Here’s the finished product:

DSC_0068And the back:

DSC_0069DSC_0070Here’s hoping this blanket will keep some little boy or girl very warm soon.

Happy holidays, everyone. I hope your season is blessed, merry and bright!


A very inspiring award

Just when you least expect it, the nicest thing can happen to you. I was minding my own business last night, watching “The Bachelorette” (try not to judge, even if you really want to) in between bursts of finishing the quilting on my Atomic Apps quilt.

I decide to take a quick look at my mail and saw a message from Erin at Crosstitchery telling me that she’s nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award!

very-inspiring-bloggerTo say I’m gobsmacked by this doesn’t begin to do my feelings justice. Erin, thank you so much. I am truly humbled by this honor.

There are a few requirements that go along with this nomination:

  1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  2. List the rules and display the award.
  3. Share seven facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know that they are nominated.
  5. Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger that nominated you.

Having had to come up with 25 things for Stephanie and our Supernova Friendship Block Swap, finding seven is easy:

  1. My favorite place on earth is the beach.
  2. On a rainy afternoon, there’s nothing I like better than stretching out on my couch under a blanket with a cuppa and a good book.
  3. My three favorite animals are cats, elephants and whales. Unfortunately, I can only keep one of them.
  4. I love all kinds of music and have sung semi-professionally.
  5. I love old movies. One of my favorites is “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” with Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney.
  6. I am seriously addicted to oatmeal and eat it for breakfast every morning. Sometimes even for a late night snack as well.
  7. I love the adventure of going to new places. I hope to cross Australia off my bucket list one day.

Here are my blogging nominations (in no particular order):

  1. Tallgrass Prairie Studio
  2. Late Night Quilter
  3. House on Hill Road
  4. Buzy Day
  5. Christa Quilts
  6. From the Blue Chair
  7. Wasn’t Quilt in a Day
  8. Wombat Quilts
  9. Cross Stitch Bobobitch Mononitch
  10. Simplify
  11. Lollyquiltz
  12. CraftyPod
  13. Don’t Call Me Betsy
  14. Freshly Pieced
  15. Film in the Fridge

I hope you’ll check out these other great blogs. They are definitely where I get daily inspiration!


Last-minute DIY gifts: dryer balls and a Nook cover

If you’re looking for a last-minute DIY gift ideas, look no further than these wool dryer balls, complete with their own carrying case.

DSC_0006These are totally doable before the big day next week and don’t take much fabric. A fat quarter and some scraps will do it.

DSC_0007If you’d like to learn more about how useful the balls are, you can check out my first post about them here. You can find the tutorial I used at The Seasoned Homemaker.

I’ve used my set for about a year now and am ready to make another one (their fabric-softening properties only last that long). The one you see above is for one of my hippie-granola friends who I hope will appreciate something he can use without any excess chemicals. If nothing else, I hope he gets a laugh.

For the carrying bag, I used my favorite drawstring bag tutorial from Jeni Baker at In Color Order found here. Because I only had one fat quarter to work with, I made the bag a little narrower and taller, and added some scrap fabric inside to complete the lining. This time I used ribbon for the drawstrings and it was really nice to have one less sewing step.

DSC_0008I also made a cover for the Nook Color my friend’s daughter uses. I’m not 100 percent happy with how it turned out — next time I think I’ll make it a little wider. In fact, I’m a little worried it’s too small, but if I’m lucky it’ll just be a snug fit.

nook coverI used a combination of posts: the Nook Cover from Sara at Sew Sweetness found here and the iPad cover from One Shabby Chick found here, plus my own idea for a closure.

If I were to make one again, in addition to making it wider, I think I’d skip the interfacing and just quilt it. I don’t think it really needs the extra stiffness. At least I’m happy with the fabric choice — red is her favorite color and a text print is the perfect accent.

Now I have just one more gift to make, and then I’m home free for this year — wish me luck!







Holiday stitching begins …

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, we are full on into the holiday season. For me, that meant instead of dealing with the massive Black Friday crowds, I put up some Christmas decorations and got a start on my holiday sewing.

In addition to the blankets I’ve made for gifts from my tutorial here, I focused on making these cute gift bags from a tutorial by Jeni at In Color Order.

Here’s the first one:

DSC_0087Then this one:

DSC_0089And another one:

DSC_0091The two pale blue ones with snowmen have white fabric linings, but the dark blue bag uses the accent fabric:

DSC_0090These were incredibly easy to make, especially with Jeni’s terrific instructions, even with making the strings rather than buying ribbon. Much like the blankets, I loved coming up with the fabric combinations.

Best of all, the fabrics were from gifts from quilting friends, along with some stuff that’s been in my stash for more than a decade. Great to clean it out and put it to good use.

DSC_0093Here are all three, ready for stuffing with homemade goodies. They’ll be a perfect gift for neighbors and other friends. I’m sure I’ll make a few more before the season is over!


Don’t you hate it when …

this happens?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn addition to it being a lousy, overexposed photo, I had the ends twisted when I sewed them together and cut. Believe it or not, I even checked and still made this mistake.

You would think that given this is my 11th or 12th one of these blankets, not to mention all the quilt binding I’ve done, that I wouldn’t need to follow the diagram in my beginning quilting class binder.

You’d be wrong.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA better photo (a little, anyway), and now the mistake is on the way to mending. Thankfully, I have enough leftover from the cut strip to fix this.

Happy Sunday, everyone!





Holiday gift sewing: two fleece blankets

It’s here! Can you believe it? I know I can’t, but it’s true. I finally had time to do some sewing this weekend, and with the holidays approaching, I thought I’d get started on my gift list.

One of my favorite things to make are double-sided fleece blankets; they’re perfect for the chilly months ahead. (You can find my tutorial here; if you’ve seen it before and haven’t made a blanket yet, I added a few helpful tips today.)

The first one is for one of the not-so-little girls I take care of from time to time. Well, actually, she’s not so little anymore, which is why she’s getting a blanket. The one I made for her when she was five just doesn’t quite keep her nine-year-old body warm enough. Here’s what this Santa will bring her in a few weeks:

chloe_blanketThe fabric choice needed to be something young enough for a nine-year-old, but sophisticated enough to last her through high school. I hope this fits the bill!

I’m almost done with another one I made for a basketball fan. Here it is (apologies for the bad indoor iPhone photo) at the machine, waiting for me to stitch the back side of the binding:

bball blanket

Tip: If you’ve forgotten to put whatever label you want to use on the back (like I do) and have serged all the edges together, instead of taking one side apart, you can attach your label in this first seam.

I have tape labels, so I fold them in half and pin them with the cut side to the edge, leaving enough room when I fold the binding over so my name still shows. That’s what I did on these two blankets:

label photoIt’s machine stitched inside the binding and then again on the outside. You could also just fold the raw edges under and stitch them, or use pinking shears on the raw edges, then sew the long side in the seam. Remember to make sure you can still see your label name when you fold the binding over and stitch.

Thanks so much for stopping by. I’ll have more inspirational quilts to share from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center later this week.