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Summer Fun: Terry Towel Coverup & Matching Beach Pillow

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Back in the day, your 'beach towel' was simply a ratty bath towel that had seen better days and which Mom allowed you to drag outside. Today's beach towels are colorful terry cloth works of art in jumbo sizes. We used one to make our simple summer beach wrap. A clever cut allows you to make optimum use of the towel's bound edges, and leaves you the perfect scrap to create a matching pillow. To add a splash of summer fun, we braided three colors of polka dot knit to create the wrap's wonderful ties. It's all super quick to make, so you can be lounging by the shore in style before all the good spots are gone.

For the best gathering and drape, we recommend a lightweight beach towel over a super-thick style. I love the look of the plush towel we chose, and it's absorbent and cozy. But for the next one, I'll go with a thinner terry for a little more flow and swirl.

Our coverup is made for a slim adult of average height. We recommend a 39" wide towel so you can make it smaller or larger to best fit your frame. This extra width also allows you to fussy cut the design to center a fun motif on the front of your coverup.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

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  • One beach towel, approximately 39" wide x 70" long
  • ¼ yard EACH of 44-45" wide knit fabric in THREE different colors: we used Michael Miller's Ta-Dot knits in Apple, Pink and Aqua
    NOTE: If you don't want to make the braided knit fabric cord as we did, you can substitute approximately 1¼ yards of heavy cording. You need something substantial enough to hold up as a shoulder strap.
  • All-purpose sewing thread to match towel
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • See-through ruler
  • Straight pins
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • One small (apx. 8" x 13") waterproof bath pillow
    NOTE: You can make your own waterproof pillow by encasing polyester fiber fill within plastic or PUL. Polyester does not absorb moisture, is mildew resistance and non-allergenic. When wet, it does not compact .

Getting Started

  1. From the towel, cut TWO pieces 30" x 25", as shown below. It will look the best if you fussy cut your pieces to center any major motifs on the towel. Leave the center horizontal strip uncut. This is what you'll use for the bag, so you want it to be the full 39" width.
  2. From EACH of the three knit fabrics, cut two strips 4" x the width of the fabric, giving you a total of six 4" x WOF strips.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Make and braid the tie

  1. Using a ¼" seam allowance, stitch each pair of knit strips together end to end to create one long strip of each color.
  2. Fold the strip in half, wrong sides together, and press to create a center crease.
  3. Fold in each side to the center crease line and press.
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  4. Fold in half again to create a folded, finished edge.
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  5. Align all three strips one on top of the other and pin in place. Make sure the single and double-fold sides are facing the same direction for each strip.
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  6. Braid the three strips together, folding and overlapping to keep the strips flat.
    NOTE: It helps to put a few pins down the length of each strip to hold the folds together as you braid. Simply remove the pins as you come upon them.
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  7. Pin the ends of the braid to secure them and set aside.
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Cover up construction

  1. Place the two 30" x 25" towel pieces right sides together. The bound edges will form the bottom 'hem' of the cover up. Pin each side, stopping 10" from the top raw edges.
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  2. Using a ½" to 5/8" seam allowance, stitch both sides together from the bottom hem to the 10" stop point.
  3. Terry cloth tends to ravel up a storm. We recommend finishing your seams with your favorite method. I used a overcast stitch. You need to be able to press your seam open, so stitch each side of the seam allowance independently. And, continue your finishing all the way up to the very top, ie. along the open 10" raw edges.
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  4. Press the finished seam allowance open, again continuing all the way up to the top raw edge, folding back the top 10" on each side to match your sewn seam. Pin in place.
  5. Turn the coverup right side out.
  6. Edgestitch both sides of the top 10" to hold the seam allowance in place. I used a zig zag stitch to give it a little stretch. This creates the coverup's 'armhole'.
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  7. The binding on my towel was pretty thick and didn't want to stay flat at the bottom hem. To get it to conform to my desires, I stitched a long rectangular box across the side seam to hold the seam allowance in place.
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    NOTE: If you have a thinner towel, this may not be necessary. Also, if you want a little more "kick" at the bottom hem, you could leave about 4" open at the bottom and finish this opening in the same manner as the top 10".
  8. Fold down the top raw edge of the front and back of the coverup ½". Pin in place.
    NOTE: This little fold really wanted to roll... it's the nature of the terry cloth. So, it is easier to put in the pins horizontally; simply remove them as you stitch down the fold.
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  9. Fold the newly stitched top edge down again, this time 2½". This creates the casing for the tie.
    NOTE: Our casing measurements are done to accommodate our braided knit tie. If you decide to use an alternative, adjust this width to best accommodate your tie.
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  10. Find your braided tie (or your alternative). Because it is rather thick, trying to use a safety pin to help guide it through the casing is kinda lame. Instead, I wrapped one end with painter's tape so it would be stiff enough to thread, like a giant shoelace.
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  11. Insert and thread the tie through the front and back casings as shown below. Start in one end of the back casing, go through the back casing, come out the side and pull through enough to create the shoulder strap, then thread the tie through the front casing, pulling it out the end to create a long tail.
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  12. Cut about 15"-20" off the tie (you'll use this below for the pillow).
    NOTE: It is best to adjust the coverup on the actual person who will be wearing it in order to get the length of the shoulder strap and the gathers just right. The two ends tie together to form the opposite shoulder strap, so it is easy to adjust.
  13. Make a knot at each end and pink all the raw ends.
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Make a 'beach pillow bag' from your scraps

  1. If you used a towel as long and wide as ours, you should end up with a nice scrap from the middle approximately 10" x 39". It's the perfect size for a little matching beach pillow.
    NOTE: I purchased my bath pillow at a bedding outlet store. But it would be SO easy to make one. Simply sandwich polyester fiberfill between two layers of plastic, vinyl or PUL. Stitch together around all four sides. No need to turn or finish the edges, just leave them raw.
  2. Fold the strip in half, right sides together, matching the bound ends. Pin each side, starting from the fold, and stopping 5" from the bound ends.
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  3. Stitch both sides, using a ½" to 5/8" seam allowance.
  4. Finish the seam allowance, using your favorite method. Because you are just turning this right side out as a pillow, you can stitch the seam allowance together and finish it in one pass.
  5. As you did with the cover up above, finish and then turn back the top raw edges of each side and stitch in place.
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  6. Again as you did above, fold down 2½" to create a casing. However, because you are working with the bound edge of the towel, there is no raw edge and so no need to an initial fold, just the main fold.
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  7. Edgestitch all around the top of the 'bag'. If you have a free arm on your machine, now is a great time to use it.
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  8. Insert the bath pillow.
  9. Insert the remaining braided knit tie in the casing in the same manner as the coverup. Knot and pink the ends. Cinch and knot to close the 'bag,' which has now become a sweet beach pillow.
    NOTE: Remove the pillow and you can use this as a small beach tote.
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Project Design: Alicia Thommas   
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Liz Johnson



Comments (8)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ knowingnada - yes - you could do this hem with a serger. As you may have noticed, one of our sponsors is Janome. We use their machines exclusively in our studios and it is the brand with which we are the most familiar... and the one we love the most. That said, I would not consider myself to be an expert on the full line of Janome sergers, but I have seen their 100CPX CoverPro machine in action and it is very cool. You can see that model here:

I would recommend looking at all of their serger options. The Janome site also has a good dealer locator so you could see if there is a dealer near you where you could "test drive" a few models.
knowingnada said:
knowingnada's picture
Hi , I am in the process of buying a serger , but with too many brands , need advice for a good serger that does also coverstitch. Can this stich be used as the hem on beach towels. thank you!!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Thanks, Francine! We are working on adding a PDF option to the projects... as soon as the lines of time, expertise and money converge smilies/cheesy.gif
Francine said:
Francine's picture
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your site, patterns and ideas. Keep them coming. Also, is it possibl to have a PDF button to make downloading a bit easier?
alicia.thommas said:
Hi fethiye! Beach towels don't come in standard sizes, but we easily found both larger and smaller towels. This one came from Target, but we also found this exact size at PBTeen.com, Pottery Barn, Bed, Bath & Beyond and more. Even if you find a smaller towel that you like, you can most likely make the coverup and just omit the pillow. The coverup alone requires a towel 25" x 60" so you could make it from nearly any beach towel! smilies/smiley.gif
fethiye said:
fethiye's picture
This is really a good idea. Where do you find that dimensions though? They are usually smaller than what is suggested.
alicia.thommas said:
It is a fun & easy gift idea, saffiertje! Beach towels are on sale everywhere you look right now, so great time to pick up a few. smilies/smiley.gif
saffiertje said:
saffiertje's picture
this is such a great idea! Great for the girls to give as a present to their friends!