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Scrappy Patchwork Flour Sack Dish Towels

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If one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to do a better job using up the fabric you have on hand, this project is right up your alley. We collected leftover jelly roll strips from two FreeSpirit True Colors collections: some from Anna Maria Horner’s set and some from Joel Dewberry’s set, proving you can move out of your comfort zone to mix and match across collections and designers! We show you how to make a patchwork panel from which you’ll sub-cut horizontal accent bands to jazz up a store-bought flour sack towel (or two or three). 

If you don’t have any spare jelly roll strips laying about, you can cut your own 2½” strips. You need a minimum of 7½” in vertical height on the finished patchwork panel in order to cut the four horizontal strips needed for each towel. However, it’s best to start with a minimum of at least 10” in order to give yourself enough height to center motifs for a pretty fussy cut.

Most of the flour sack towels we found in stores and online averaged 30” wide x 32” high. We recommend fifteen 2½” strips for this width. When sewn together with the recommended ¼” seams, this will give you a finished patchwork panel that is 30½” wide. 

When you are planning the position of your strips, remember to vary not only color but also motif size and type. Bring in both geometric patterns, like the chevrons in our set; as well as organic patterns, like the floral mandalas we selected. If you’d like to learn a few more basics about mixing and matching, check out our tutorial: Top 10 Designer Tips for Blending Colors and Prints

To add a bit more pizzazz to the patchwork, our center accent band is made from three strips: one wide center strip and two narrow strips. The top and bottom strips are flipped after they’re cut to mix up the prints even more. It makes it look like some very fancy piecing, but you’re really just stitching long horizontal strips. Fooled ya!

As a gift or to freshen up your own kitchen for the New Year, whip up some strips and you'll have a stack of pretty dish towels in no time. 

Our towels finished at approximately 30” wide x 32” high, the size of the purchased towels.  

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

Our design uses 15 coordinating fabrics for EACH towel. You could use fewer fabrics by repeating some within the pattern, but you don’t need more than 15 unless you have an unusually wide towel. As mentioned above, we used jelly roll strips to make the assembly quick and easy. If you don’t have any jelly roll strips, you can cut 2½” strips from your favorite fabrics. You need a minimum of 7½” in height for each towel, but it’s best to start with a minimum of about 10” in order to give yourself enough height to center motifs for a pretty fussy cut

  • For EACH towel, select up to FIFTEEN different fabrics.
  • For EACH twoel, buy ONE apx. 30” x 32” flour sack towel; we purchased ours at a local variety store in a package of three for under $7
    NOTE: You could make your own towel from a super lightweight cotton or linen. Add a narrow hem all around to yield a finished size of approximately 30” x 32”.
  • All-purpose thread to best match the patchwork and the towel; we used white
  • See-through ruler
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins

Getting Started

  1. The illustration above shows you our patchwork pattern and how we made the cuts for each of the two sample towels. 
  2. From EACH fabric, cut one or more 2½” x 10”+ strips so ou end up with 15 strips total. 
    NOTE: We simply cut our jelly roll strips in half, giving us about 22” with which to work. This was more than enough to seam together and create both our sample towels. As noted above, you need a minimum of 7½” of height to cut the four horizontal strips needed for each towel, but 10”+ gives you more flexibility for fussy cutting

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Prepare the patchwork

  1. Collect the 15 strips that make up the patchwork panel. Place them in your preferred order.
  2. Working in order (we worked from right to left), pin the first two strips right sides together along one long edge.
  3. Stitch together, using a ¼” seam allowance. We’re using our Janome Quarter Inch Seam foot.
  4. Continue in this same manner to stitch together all 15 strips.
  5. When the patchwork is complete, press flat, pressing all the seam allowances in the same direction. 

Slice the patchwork into horizontal strips and complete the center band

  1. Take the completed patchwork panel to your cutting surface. For each towel you need TWO 1” strips, ONE 3½” strip, and ONE 2” strip. 
  2. The drawing above in the Getting Started section shows you how we trimmed our strips for two towels. You do not have to cut them in an uninterrupted stack; you can adjust your cut lines up or down in order to best center your fabric’s motif within each horizontal cut. This is why we recommend giving yourself extra height with which to work. 
  3. Set aside the 2” strip, it is for the bottom binding. 
  4. To give your patchwork accent band the most variety, flip the two 1” strips so only the center blocks match up and the remaining blocks line up with different fabrics top and bottom. 
  5. Pin the flipped 1” strips right sides together along the top and bottom of the center 3½” strip.
  6. Stitch together, using a ¼” seam allowance. Be especially careful to make sure the vertical seams line up. 
  7. We’re still using our Janome Quarter Inch Seam foot.
  8. Press flat, pressing the seam allowances toward the narrow strips. 

Attach the center accent band to the towel

  1. Press your purchased towel so it is a flat as possible. 
    NOTE: The very thin flour sack towels we’ve purchased have not always been perfectly square. If, after pressing, there is one end of the towel that seems more even, use this end to apply the accent band. 
  2. Press back all four sides of the accent band ¼”: the long top and bottom sides as well as the ends. We used our Clover Hot Ruler to help keep our narrow folds precise. Press well to set a visible crease.
  3. Along the bottom of the towel measure and mark a horizontal line 4” up from the bottom hem of the towel. 
  4. Align the BOTTOM fold of the accent band along this drawn guide line. The band should be right sides together with the towel. 
  5. The crease line of band’s ends should sit slightly inside the side hem of the towel. 
  6. Open up the fold and pin in place across the towel.
  7. Stitch along the crease line, removing the pins as you go. Start and stop your seam at the crease line of each end (in other words, ¼” in from each end of the band).
  8. Fold the accent band up along the seam line so it is now right side up on the right side on the towel. Fold in the ends and the top along their original ¼” crease lines. Press well and pin in place along both ends. As noted above, the folded ends will sit slightly in (ours were ⅛”) from the side hem of the towel. 

  9. Pin in place along the top as well. 
  10. Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best match the patchworked fabrics in the top and to best match the towel in the bobbin (with so many colors in our patchwork, we used white in both the top and bobbin). Lengthen the stitch. Edgestitch around all four sides, securing the ends and the top and adding an accent line of matching edgestitching to the bottom seam. 
  11. We used our Janome Edge Guide foot, which allowed us to maintain a perfect ⅛” line of edgestitching. Remember to pivot at each corner. 
  12. Press well. 

Attach the bottom binding

  1. Find the remaining 2” strip. 
  2. Fold the strip in half, wrong sides together, press well to set a visible crease.
  3. Unfold wrong side up so the crease line is visible. Fold back all sides (the long sides and the ends) ¼”. Then re-fold wrong sides together along the original crease line. This results in a ¾” wide binding that is finished on all sides. 
  4. Slip the binding over the bottom hem of the towel, adjusting as necessary so the ends come together flush just outside the edge of the towel. 
  5. Pin in place across the bottom of the towel through all the layers.
  6. Check from both sides to make sure the ¾” reveal of the binding is even from front to back. 
  7. Edgestitch the binding in place along the top. Go slowly to insure you are catching both the front and the back of the binding in this one seam.
  8. Pivot at the beginning and the end to edgestitch along each end. 


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild


Comments (18)

Barb Shook said:
Barb Shook's picture

i have the best luck finding floursack towels at our Rural King (Illinois). I would think Farm and Fleet or similar stores would also be good. They are cheaper there and offer at least 2 sizes. I can get them at craft stores but I find them to be more expensive and only in the smaller sizes.

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

@ Barb - Thanks for updating us on where to find them in Illinois!

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

Thanks for the great tutorial I love adding deco to tea towels, but haven,t yet done the flour sack towels. 

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

Thanks! These are such a popular project - fast, easy and cute!

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

In most instances, it is always best to pre-treat the elements in the same way the final item will be laundered. In this case, because dish towels are meant to be washed and dried often, we would recommend washing both the towels themselves as well as the scraps. Press everything well when dried, then rock and roll! Below is our full tutorial on pre-shrinking tips.

Betty Nelson said:
Betty Nelson's picture

Thank you for such a great tutorial.  I look forward to using up scraps of some of my special fabrics.  (have no jelly rolls).  Is it easy to find the towels?  I know my mom used to use flour sack towels and they were so absorbent.

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

@Betty - You're welcome! And yes, these flour sack towels are quite easy to find in-store or online. 

Dianna Loftis said:
Dianna Loftis's picture

I can't wait to get started on these. I made tea towels for my friends and daughters for Christmas and they were a hit. This will get me started out for next Christmas. 

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

@Dianna - Oh my... you win the most organized award to getting started already on 2017!

Diane Beavers said:
Diane Beavers's picture

At first glance the strip sets remind me of small Aurifil thread spools.

Great tutorial and I should have no reason not to use my 2 1/2 strips that I've been hanging onto.

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

@Diane - they certainly have beautiful colors like Aurifil spools! Thanks so much and we hope you'll give the project a try.

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

@Janiem - Thank you for such a lovely compliment. 

G.LaVonne said:
G.LaVonne's picture

This is awesome. Im movinginto a new to me house. I was looking for that something that would combined the colors. You gave me that answer. Thank you. Patchwork from scraps makes so many nice things. Im starting with this project and then branching out to the potholders and maybe an apron. Then the rest of the house.

You guys are awesome. Thank you.

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

@ G.LaVonne - Congratulations on your new house - these would be so pretty for your new kitchen. Let us know how they turn out for you -- especially if you make matching potholders and an apron!

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