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Nature Brights Kitchen: Triple Border Dish Towels

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If you want to jump start a project, start with something off-the-shelf and add your own sewn touches to make it unique. That's what we did with this set of clever dish towels. We started with plain white towels from Crate and Barrel, then added three fabric bands with contrasting topstitching. The color and pattern really pops off the crisp white background. I can't guarantee folks will be fighting to help you dry the dishes, but I can promise the towels will look fabulous hanging on the rack.

Our Nature Brights projects were made using Patty Young's wonderful Flora & Fauna Collection by Michael Miller Fabrics. To learn more about the collection and all the tutorials available, read our article: Nature Brights Kitchen: A Bowlful of Color with a Generous Helping of Style.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

For a set of three towels:

  • 3 solid color, store-bought dish towels: we used a basic white dish towel from Crate and Barrel that measured 20" across the bottom edge
  • ¼ yard of 45" wide fabric for the top and bottom accent bands, we used Patty Young's Flora & Fauna in Black Ta-Dot
  • ¼ yard EACH of three 45" wide fabric for center bands, we used Patty Young's Flora & Fauna in Lime Hive, Lime Daisy Dot and Lime Humming Birds
    NOTE: You actually only need a 4" x 21" piece for each towel's center panel, so if you are doing other projects, you might be able to simply use scraps of fabric. Many online and in-store retailers have ¼ - ½ yard minimum cuts. You really only need an 1/8 yard.
  • All purpose thread in a contrasting color: we used bright green
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pencil
  • Seam gauge
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Straight pins

Getting Started

  1. From your accent band fabric (Black Ta-Dot in our samples) cut one 1½" x WOF (with of fabric) strip per towel, then cut that down to two strips 1½" x 21".
  2. From each of your center band fabrics (Lime Hive, Lime Daisy Dot and Lime Humming Birds in our samples), cut one rectangle 4" x 21". If you have a fabric, like our Flora & Fauna Lime Humming Birds, which has a specific design you'd like to show when the towel is folded, fussy cut the piece, centering the image you want at the 10½" mark along the 21" side of your 4" x 21" rectangle.
    Click to Enlarge
  3. Use your see-through ruler to mark and draw a horizontal line across the front of your towel(s) 2½" up from the bottom hem.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

  1. Take the 1½" accent band strips to your ironing board.
  2. On each strip, fold in each short end ½" and press.
  3. Then, fold up one long side ½" and press. Set both strips aside.
  4. Take your 4" center panel fabric(s) to your ironing board.
  5. On each panel, fold in each 4" side ½" and press.
  6. Take each towel and lay it face up on your work surface so the drawn horizontal line is visible.
  7. Place a center panel strip, right side facing up, on top of a towel. Line up the bottom edge of the center panel strip with the drawn horizontal line. The folded outside edges of your center panel strip should be flush with the hemmed edges of the towel. If they aren't perfect, re-press the folds as needed to make an exact match. It'll look dorky if the fabric border hangs over the edge of the towel.
  8. Take one accent strip and align its flat raw edge with the top raw edge of the center panel, right sides together. This means the opposite folded edge of the accent strip will lay on top of the center panel fabric ... not on top of the towel.
  9. Using an approximate ½" seam allowance, stitch through both fabric layers as well as the towel. Stitch right along the inside edge of the accent strip's folded up raw edge, but do NOT stitch on it. Remember to back tack at the beginning and end of your seam.
    Click to Enlarge
  10. Trim your seam allowance back about 1/8".
  11. Keeping the existing fold to the inside, roll the accent strip up and over to cover the raw seam allowance. Press well and pin.
  12. Topstitch very close to the edge around all four sides of the accent strip.
    Click to Enlarge
  13. Repeat steps 8 - 12 to attach the remaining accent strip to the bottom of the center panel.
  14. When both accent strips are topstitched in place, add an additional line of topstitching down each side of your triple border to close the sides.

Click to Enlarge

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



Comments (55)

Vintage53 said:
Vintage53's picture

i am using kitchen towels from Costco. The length is not 21”. Should the strips be cut to lay flush with the towel or have extra on the sides. I wish you had a picture of the towel at the end of it. I’m extremely visual . Thanks

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Vintage53 - Do you mean 21" in width - we only mention width? The length won't matter; you can still use the distance up from the bottom as shown. If you mean width, you should cut your width to be 1" wider than the actual width of your towel to best match our instructions. This is quite an old tutorial, so it does not include quite as many photos as current projects. Sometimes reading through once or twice to "make it in your head" helps clear things up. Hope that helps 

Vintage53 said:
Vintage53's picture

I am sorry I had to ask about the length of the strips. I don’t have much confidence and was afraid to mess this up. Due to my diabetes my eyes have trouble seeing things. They have a habit of bleeding behind them at most inopertunities. Thank you for your assistance.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Vintage53 - No worries at all - we're happy to help and hope we were able to clarify things for you. Have fun with the project!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Dar - Glad you like it! Let us know if you give it a whirl.

Sue Philippkowski said:
Sue Philippkowski's picture

Thanks for your tutorial. Just made two and hope to make more. I am just a basic sewer the kitchen towels turned out great used white waffel weave  which I had but bit too much stretch in it. But still look nice. Going to try different  material next time. Great for Christmas gifts for family.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Sue - Thank you so much for letting us know about you're success with our pattern! We're always especially excited by folks who are newer to sewing. Congrats - and I'm sure the new ones for Christmas will turn out just as wonderfully.

Denise Southard said:
Denise Southard's picture

Is there any reason you didn't make the entire border first sewing all 3 prints together, pressing them, and then sew it to the tea towel? Seems faster. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Denise Southard - it's really the classic "six of one - half dozen of another" situation. You could certainly do it as you are describing, but would still need to precisely seam and press the strips and then, when attaching to the towel, you'd want to add the additional lines of sttiching to insure the fabric and towel didn't pull apart in the laundry. But -- certainly - either way is acceptable and we always like it when people fins options they prefer.

Linda McNabb said:
Linda McNabb's picture

 I made my daughter an apron and wanted to decorate some towels with the leftover fabric.  This is just the ticket!   Thanks.

Mona Pargee said:
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Hi Linda,

Are you the Linda who lives in Oraange, Ca.? If so, "Hi" and hope you and Chuck are well.



Beth Verchota said:
Beth Verchota's picture

I am making an apron right now for a gift, and will have fabric left to make matching dishtowels.  Perhaps there is an oven mitt pattern to match as well?  I can see the same border along the "cuff" of the mitt.

ir said:
ir's picture

These instructions are great!  However, for the benefit of those very new to sewing, it would be best if the pictures between steps 9 and 13 showed only the first of the two narrower strips being attached so it matches the explanation in the text.  My little "apprentices" stopped working and kept rereading that section because they thought they had missed a step.

Thanks for all the projects---they are darling!  Keep up the great work!

Teariana said:
Teariana's picture
These are so pretty! I don't really like most store bought towels, because the pretty ones are usually terry, which I don't like to use in the kitchen. So I always buy the plain ones, now I can have both. I also loved your selection of fabrics, I like how you can buy fabrics within a line and mix and match them and they look so great together. This is a new trend I have been seeing and I am really liking it.
chickenanyway said:
chickenanyway's picture
Thank you so much for going through all the steps,there are some of us who are just learning( beginners).Greatly appreciated smilies/cool.gif
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ sissy - glad you like the project. We always have super detailed, step-by-step instructions as our goal is to make sure even the most beginning of sewers can use our projects with success. The experienced folks, like you, can skip through smilies/grin.gif
sissy said:
sissy's picture
Your dish towels are very kitchen fancy. It is a good idea for projects to always pre-wash, that is a given, which one of your followers asked about. It seems to me there are so many steps to such a small but decorative dish towel, that I would cut the instructions down, which is what someone who sews a lot usually does. thank you for showing us some pretty dish towels when we could all use some for show and company and others for dirty, stained work.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Rebecca Y -- try clicking on the photo below step #9 so it enlarges - maybe that will help. You are stitching through: the towel, the base fabric and one layer of the accent strip. You are FOLLOWING along the folded-in edge of the other side of the accent strip, using is as your guide, but you are not actually stitching ON that folded-in edge - just right next to it. Then when you fold up the accent strip to cover the raw edges you have a nice straight seamed edge. Again, I think if you blow up the photo, you'll be able to see it just fine. Hope that helps.
Rebecca Y said:
Rebecca Y's picture
I love these! The only step I'm not sure of is #9 ... should I sew just above the folded strip (to me, this would be the outside edge of the folded up strip, not the inside). Meaning, I do not sew on the folded over edge at all?
Thanks for a great website!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Bev S - I am not a Brother expert at all, but it should work just fine. This is a simple project that doesn't require anything fancy. Have fun!
Bev S said:
Bev S's picture

I am very new to this site and find it very interesting. I recently received a Brother Sewing Machine as a gift and I was wondering if these dish cloths etc., can be made on the Brother machine? Looking for something easy to make as I start to get use to my sewing machine. I haven't used a sewing machine in about 40 years, so I need to start with something easy and interesting. Thank you.
e oatesthree said:
e oatesthree's picture
I was so excited by the bright colors you chose, and I have been looking for a good idea to embelish a dish towel, I recently made a custom chicken pattern apron for my pastors wife and gave her handmade dish cloths, I have leftover chicken fabric and wanted to add dish towels to her set, now I can and will, thank you for posting your pattern! Eoatesthree
luv sewing said:
luv sewing's picture
This is a great project to start kids out sewing. They learn many skills and have a project that is quick and cute to make. I used to start kids out with a pillow case when I taught at an afterschool program I taught in the upper peninsula of Michigan, but would definitely change to this project. It's wonderful when they have a finished project to take home with them.
Thanks for this and the great instructions.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Peggy F. -- I should probably say "pre wash" at the start of every project, but sometimes I forget. My rule is to always pre-wash everything - fabric, trim and any purchased pre-made items, such as the towels in this article. Treat everything as you plan on treating the project when done -- wash and dry, hand wash or dry clean. Thanks for clarifying - it's always good to remind.
Peggy F. said:
Peggy F.'s picture
Do you prewash the towels? Otherwise won't they pucker under the fabric once they are washed or do you expect folks not to wash them? My hubby will grab 'anything' in the kitchen to dry hands or wipe up spills.
Marjorie Taylor said:
Marjorie Taylor's picture
These are really nice. I am just beginning to sew and these are way too pretty. I'll be checking back here often. smilies/smiley.gif
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi tal -- no cutting. You sew the border strips directly on top of the towel. The pictures and diagrams above show how the stitching works. Have fun!
tal said:
tal's picture
i didn't understand if you cut the towel and than sew it again or you sew the fabric on the towel....???
Leta J said:
Leta J's picture
Just what I wanted to do for my "girls" for Christmas.
I always give them dish towels and pot holders bought.
I think tghey will like home made one this year.
Audrey G. said:
Audrey G.'s picture
I love these! Thanks for the tutorial!!!! These will make great gifts!!!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi KariG29 - your towels are super great! Love them. I like how you mixed and matched the yellow and green patterns. Thanks for sharing; and thanks for passing along sew4home to your friends. smilies/grin.gif
peggyann said:
peggyann's picture
going to make this, and the potholder mit for a bridal shower sew fun!
DanaS said:
DanaS's picture
I'm going to try this type of technique with cloth diapers to make burp cloths. I've made a few already using my own made-up way, but I like the way this looks also! The contrating top-stitching is a nice touch.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi, hinerlori, it's so great to hear that our tutorials are working for you! Pass along the news about Sew4Home; we love to make new friends.
pinkpixie said:
pinkpixie's picture
I just finished making two sets along with placemats and napkins, for, house warming gifts. I would love to make some for myself, but I want to make the sewing machine cover next. Very easy directions!! I am an average sewer who tries to finish several projects a month. I recently came across your web page. I love your projects!!! Way to keep the sparks flying.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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Hi Diana ... perfect wedding shower trio. What a great idea. So glad you're going to give these projects a try... especially with a Janome smilies/cheesy.gif. Have fun!
Diana said:
Diana's picture
WOW!!!! I am so excited!!! I was just at my Janome dealer last night at a serger class..and we were talking about what a great site you all have here, for projects. I get an email today from Janome, and looked over here at possible wedding shower ideas.....I wanted to make a brides’s apron, towel set and matching hot pads.....and here they are!!!! Woohooo!!!
Thanks, Liz!!smilies/grin.gif

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Thanks for the note, christy! Easy to make and a success ... that's what we LOVE to hear! smilies/grin.gif I would agree with you on the "nap issue" -- this project would work best on a low or no-nap fabric. Thanks again.
christy said:
christy's picture
I made these in one night and I'm not a real experienced sewer. The directions were accurate and complete and they came out just perfectly. I'm learning how important it is to iron as you go. I used white pique towels which were plush on the opposite side to the trimmed side. I didn't care for the nap of the plush side; even though they were washed and dried before I sewed on the border, they were still very nappy. Not being a big sewer, I had no stash of fabric to go to so I bought pique florals for the wide band and a polka dot for the narrow trip. I'm going to do this again. I've already purchased more towels--bamboo this time. Thank you. This is a great web site. Small projects like this help me to learn and practice sewing techniques.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi bonniedoo ... great to know we've given you a new idea! Also great to know you'll come back often .... let your friends know about us.smilies/smiley.gif