I don't recall what got me started making tea towels, but it may have been the plain, inexpensive cotton towels sold at my local sewing and craft store (there are colors beyond black). Plus, my deep stash of beloved Kaffe Fassett Collective prints (this print is by Philip Jacobs, I think).
My towels measure 24" x 18" before washing, and though they're not well made, they're soft and absorbent. I dry them partially, spray them with Best Press (your new best friend for this project), then "block" them with a dry iron. I also prewash the prints and press them with BP until they are "crisp." (The fabric should hold a crease when finger-pressed; experiment with BP to see how much it takes.)
I've made three styles: 1) plain, 2) with super-skinny swizzle sticks, and 3) with slightly wider swizzle sticks. Read on to help you choose which one to try first.
* Cotton towel(s), 18" to 20" wide
* ¼ yard of print fabric (makes 2 towels;1/3 yard makes 4 towels)
* Fabric marker that shows on the print. I like the Clover chalk marker, with the little "wheel" at the end.
* Best Press (I prefer unscented.)
* Walking foot (optional; my ¼" patchwork foot works best for me)
Tip: I use the lines on the mat to cut the strips.
For any towel, cut a print strip 5½" wide and 1½" longer than the towel is wide.
For the plain towel, draw a line ¼" from each long edge. It's most accurate to do this right after you cut the strip, and before you move it. (Sorry that the white chalk lines on the print strip are barely visible. Note to self: This would have been a good time for a closeup.)
For the swizzle-stick towel, you'll also need:
Two solid or semi-solid strips, 1" wide and the same length as the print strip. I used orange and violet Grunge fabrics.
Plain Tea Towel
1. Working from the right side, turn under each long edge on the marked lines and press. If you've used enough Best Press, you'll be able to finger-press the edges and lightly iron the crease as you go. Don't turn under the ends yet.
2. Lay a long rotary ruler 3½" from the lower edge of the towel (see photo in next step).
3. Lay the pressed print strip on the towel, aligning the lower edge with the ruler. Center the strip, eyeballing the excess at each end. Pin the strip along both pressed edges, but not too close to the ends.
4. Take the towel to the ironing board and turn under, press, and pin the ends. You can turn under the ends at the very edges of the towel. Or, as shown below, turn the ends under more, so some of the towel shows and the presser foot is next to (not on top of) the side hems as you stitch. This method is easier, and once the towel is folded in thirds, no one will notice.
5. Stitch 1/8" from the pressed edges of the strip, beginning in a spot where the thread matches the print and pivoting at the corners. You may need to hand-turn your needle (even with a walking foot) if you're stitching on top of the towel hems.
Swizzle-Stick Tea Towel (with 1/4"-wide swizzles)
1. With right sides together, pin and stitch a swizzle stick to each long edge of the print strip using a ¼" seam allowance.
2. Press the seam allowances away from the print strip, from the wrong side first and then the right side. Try to keep the strips straight.
3. Working from the right side, fold the swizzle sticks to the back, along the raw edges of the seam allowances, feeling with your fingers as you go, and press. If you used enough Best Press on the fabrics, the raw edges of the seam allowances will be stiff enough to keep the swizzle stick a consistent width on the front.
4. See Steps 2 and 3 of the plain towel (above) to align the strip with a ruler 3½" from the lower edge. For the version shown here, I marked the strip at the edges of the towel, with chalk.
5. Pin the strip to the towel, eyeballing the excess at either end and not pinning too close to the ends. (I see that only my anchor pins show in this shot. . . and the chalk lines don't! Oops.)
6. Turn under the ends along the marked lines, press, and pin.(You'll need to work a bit to keep the raw ends from showing.) Stitch in the ditch of the swizzle sticks and print strip, pivot, then stitch ¼" from the edges of the towel. (The thread is lavender, so it's hard to see.) When the towel is folded, the swizzle sticks really set off the print.
Swizzle-Stick Tea Towel (with super-skinny swizzles)
You can make the swizzle sticks even narrower:
1. After stitching the swizzle sticks to the print strip, trim the seam allowances 1/8"
from the stitching lines (not the raw edges).
2. When you turn the strips to the back, feel with your fingers that you're turning at the very edges of the seam allowances, not more or less. Press as you turn. This version is more difficult, but I love the sleek, skinny accents!
And there you have it: Three custom tea towels that have been described by a friend as "kitchen art." I hope you have as much fun making your own tea towels, and if you use KFC prints, post pics on the Kaffe Fassett Collective Facebook page for everyone (me included) to see.
Next time: Some serious color how-to!