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Tea Time Kitchen Appliqué: Old-Fashioned Tea Towels in a Modern Mode

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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. Our towel set is a perfect match for the other appliquéd members of our Tea Time team. And although quite similar to our napkins project, we show you a slightly different method for hemming and applying the bottom border accent.

The beautiful natural linen was provided by America's Largest Fabric Store: Fabric Depot. We are so lucky to have this incredible resource right here in our hometown or Portland, Oregon, because they have such a wonderful selection of designer fabric, home décor options, traditional prints, specialty options and more. But, lucky for you, Fabric Depot also sells online and ships all over the world. Thanks also to our pals at Moda for providing our Layer Cake and Jelly Roll of Lily & Will by Bunny Hill Designs; it's simply one of the sweetest sets of delicate prints we've seen. Originally heralded as a nursery fabric, as you can see, it works wonderfully in this application as well.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

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Supplies listed below are for TWO tea towels; each are 20" wide x 30" high when finished.

  • Four Layer Cake squares (we used just four of the forty-two 10" x 10" squares in a standard pack; if you choose not to use a Layer Cake, you'll need to cut four 10" x 10" squares from your selected fabric - or at least find four scraps of fabric from which to cut your appliqué pieces): we used Lily & Will by Bunny Hill Designs for Moda Fabrics in the Aqua and Brown colorway
  • One Jelly Roll strip (we used just one of the forty-two 2½" x 42" strips in a standard roll; if you choose not to use a Jelly Roll, you'll need to cut two 2½" x 21" strips from your selected fabric - or at least find scraps of fabric from which to cut the borders): we used Lily & Will by Bunny Hill Designs for Moda Fabrics in the Aqua and Brown colorway
    NOTE: We added a 'second layer' appliqué embellishment to our teapot appliqué, using the the Sugar & Spice fabric (by The Quilted Fish for Riley Blake Designs) that is our accent fabric in the other Tea Time projects. If you are only making the tea towels, you can skip this appliqué accent or simply cut a small flower-like accent from a coordinating fabric in your scrap bin.
  • 1 yard of 44-45" wide linen: we used a medium weight natural linen from Fabric Depot
    NOTE: Linen often comes in very wide widths. The linen now available online from Fabric Depot is 55" wide .
  • Fusible/transfer web: we used Wonder Under from Fabric Depot
  • Pressing cloth
  • All purpose thread to coordinate with fabrics: we used Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP in light blue for apron topstitching
  • All purpose thread to accent fabrics for appliqué: we used Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP in brown
  • Freezer paper (optional)
  • See-through ruler
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Small, sharp scissors for applique cutting
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Straight pins

Getting Started

  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.'
    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 cut fabric pieces) from which you'll create your appliqués. Set aside.
    NOTE: Follow our appliqué design or pick and choose your own unique combination.
  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 Tea Time Apron tutorial.
    NOTE: As in several of our other Tea Time projects, this project includes regular appliqué as well as one small, fussy cut flower motif cut from a coordinating fabric (the Sugar & Spice in our sample) to be used '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 shows you how to prepare and apply it along with the other appliqués.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

  1. Our Tea Towels could be made in exactly the same method as our Tea Time napkins, but we decided to give you another construction method to try. It is just as fast and easy. This means you could also make the napkins using this towel technique. So versatile aren't we?! About the only difference is that the napkin steps will give you a seam line along the bottom edge, and the towel steps will give you two folds back to back secured with edgestiting along the bottom.
  2. 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.
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    NOTE: This technique will make simple square corners (as shown in our photo above). If you prefer the clean-finished mitered corners used on our napkin tutorial, read our tutorial: Quick Tip: 1/4 inch Double-Turn Clean Finished Hem.
  3. Find the two Jelly Roll pieces (or the two fabric strips you cut to 2½" x 21"). Press under all four sides ½".
  4. 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.
  5. Edgestitch around all four sides of the border strip.
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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).
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  2. We positioned the base of our teapot appliqué 1¼" 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" 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.
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  4. For detailed step-by-step instructions, and options, for stitching your appliqués, see our Tea Time Apron tutorial.

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



Comments (9)

Cecilia Thex said:
Cecilia Thex's picture

Cant find the tea time tutorial apron for the applique process.

mymble said:
Really lovely project- looks just right for my Morris Tapestry charm pack and yardage- and I didn't know the reason behind linen as the choice of fabric for tea towels- interesting!smilies/smiley.gif
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@Tan S -- what a nice gal you are to make your boy such a wonderful house warming gift!
Tan S said:
Tan S's picture
Just finished making the pothlders, placemats & tea towels for one of our boys new flat. I did them in an apple green with a modern bright print for trim (they look stunning if I say so mayself) Didn't make him the apron and napkins didn't think he'd know what they where smilies/grin.gif
aiealady said:
aiealady's picture
Just love these. Can't wait to get started. Thanks for all your wonderful projects.
Allison E. (allycat79225) said:
Allison E. (allycat79225)'s picture
Really like this idea. Like the construction as well.
Pearly Girl said:
Pearly Girl's picture
These are so adorable, can't wait to sew up a pair. Thanks for another great project!
Theresa (Miss Charlotte) said:
Theresa (Miss Charlotte)'s picture
Heading straight for my machine today, this is completely doable...must have lovelies, I must! Thanks...cheers!

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