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Classic Linen Kitchen Towels with Tea Time Appliqués

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No tea party is complete without tea towels. Ours are made of a beautiful natural linen, keeping true to the tea towel's heritage, which comes to us by way of Great Britain where it originated as a special drying cloth for expensive tea services. Linen was the fabric of choice because its smooth, simple weave was unlikely to scratch fine china or glass. We show you a unique method for hemming and applying the bottom border accent. And, there's a free template download for the sweet tea time appliqué designs.

If you are loving the look of this appliqué, you'll want to check out the other items in this mini Tea Time series: the Four-Pocket Half Apron, the Banded Napkins, the Oven Mitts, and the Quilted Placemats. All these projects use the same cup, saucer, teapot, and spoon templates, which is a free download below.

We used Layer Cake squares and Jelly Roll strips from which to cut the appliqués as well as for the banded bottom borders. But this is also a great ScrapBusters opportunity. Look for a fabric with a petite print that will show off the shapes of the template designs. As you can see above, we also picked motifs that simulated the look of painted tea cups. Our original pre-cuts came from the Lily & Will collection by Bunny Hill for Moda Fabrics, which is no longer readily available. But, keep in mind that it debuted as a nursery design... a good option when you're looking for small, pretty prints. 

For the crispest, cleanest towel, we made our own from quality. mid-weight natural linen, and this is what we recommend for the best finished look. It usually comes in quite wide widths, which means you can easily cut two towels from the one yard specified below. 

Individual steps for the appliqueing process are not detailed below. If you are brand new to working with appliqués, we recommend you check out the Four-Pocket Half Apron project in this series for template-specific instructions, as well as our general step-by-step tutorial on How to Appliqué like a Pro

Our towels finish at approximately 20" wide x 30" high. 

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

Click to Enlarge
NOTE: Supplies listed below are for TWO 20" x 30" tea towels.

  • Four Layer Cake squares for the appliqués; if you choose not to use Layer Cake squares, you'll need to cut four 10" x 10" squares from your selected scraps
  • One Jelly Roll strip; if you choose not to use a Jelly Roll strip for the borders, you'll need to cut two 2½" x 21" strips from your selected scraps
    NOTE: We added a 'second layer' appliqué embellishment to our teapot appliqué, fussy cutting a flower from a coordinating fabric. This is optional.
  • 1 yard of 44"+ wide linen: we used a mid-weight 100% Europeon linen in white
  • Fusible/transfer web: we used Pellon Wonder Under 
  • Pressing cloth
  • All purpose thread to match fabric
  • All purpose thread to accent fabric for appliqué
  • Freezer paper; optional for tracing the templates
  • See-through ruler
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Small, sharp scissors for appliqué cutting
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Seam ripper
  • Seam gauge
  • Straight pins

Getting Started & Appliqué Template

  1. Download and print the Kitchen Tea Time Shapes Template. For this project you'll use the 'Large Teacup,' the 'Large Teapot' and the 'Spoon.' Follow our appliqué design or pick and choose your own unique combination.
    IMPORTANT: This pattern consists of ONE 8½" x 11" sheet. You must print the PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page.
  2. Select your four Layer Cake squares (or scraps) from which you'll create your appliqués. Set aside.
  3. Cut your Jelly Roll strip into two pieces, each measuring 2½" x 21". If you are not using a Jelly Roll strip, simply cut two 2½" x 21" strips from your border fabric.
    NOTE: Because our appliqué designs are different on the two towels, we wanted our borders to match as a coordinating element. Feel free to mix and match your borders.
  4. From your base fabric (natural linen in our samples), cut TWO 21" wide x 31" high rectangles.
  5. For detailed step-by-step instructions, and options, for preparing your appliqués, see our general step-by-step tutorial on How to Appliqué like a Pro or our Four-Pocket Half Apron project.
    NOTE: We also used one small, fussy cut flower motif from a coordinating fabric as a 'second level' appliqué accent on the teapot. If you'd like to use this type of embellishment, prepare the flower accent at the same time as your other appliqués. The Apron tutorial linked above shows you how to prepare and apply it along with the other appliqués.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

  1. Hem all four sides for each 21"x 31" base piece with a double turned ¼" hem. To do this, fold under each raw edge ¼" and press, then fold under another ¼" and press again. Finally, stitch close to the folded edge around four sides, pivoting at each corner.
    Click to Enlarge
    NOTE: This technique will make simple square corners (as shown in our photo above). If you prefer more traditional diagonal point corners, try our tutorial for clean finished corners, which are great for towels as well as napkins. 
  2. Find the two Jelly Roll pieces (or the two fabric strips you cut to 2½" x 21"). Press under all four sides ½".
  3. Place one folded and pressed border strip along the bottom edge of each towel, align the folded edges of the strip with the hemmed edges of the towel.
  4. Thread the machine with thread to best match the border fabric in the top and to best match the linen in the bobbin. Edgestitch around all four sides of the border strip.
    Click to Enlarge

Positioning the appliqués

  1. We wanted our appliqués to be centered at the bottom of each towel. To figure out this positioning, simply fold your towel in half to find your center point or fold in thirds to create a center panel. Finger press the crease(s).
    Click to Enlarge
  2. We positioned the base of our teapot appliqué 1¼" up from the top of the border strip. If you want to add a second level of accent appliqué as we did, center it in the middle of the teapot.
  3. On the second towel, the spoon appliqué (at its widest point) is also 1¼" up from the top of the border strip; the base of the teacup's saucer is 1" above the middle of the spoon and the teacup is nested just behind the saucer.
    Click to Enlarge
  4. Remember, for detailed step-by-step instructions, and options, for stitching your appliqués, see our Tea Time Apron tutorial

Contributors

Project Design: Alicia Thommas 
Sample Creation: Kathy Andrews, What Sew Ever

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