My grandmother, an immigrant from Lithuania, was an unbelievably talented seamstress. She did everything by hand, including free-hand embroidery, tatting, and crocheting. She never needed a pattern; you could just sketch something and she would create it. It was the sewing equivalent of the musician's 'hum a few bars.' Her vividly artistic creations seemed to flow from her fingers like water from a pitcher. In fact, as a young child, I thought everyone had handmade and hand-embroidered sheets and pillowcases and dresser cloths and curtains, and, and, and... I was shocked the first time I slept over at a friend's house and saw her sheets were (gasp!) plain white. My grandmother's influence is likely a big part of why I love the idea of antique linens, and why I steadfastly refuse to give up my dresser cloth.
The idea of a dresser cloth may seem a bit old-fashioned, but it not only helps protect the wood surface from hairbrush dings and perfume spills, it also lends a lovely splash of color. Plus, it's an easy project that can help instantly change the look of a room, just like a new group of throw pillows or a new set of curtains.
We originally used layer cake cuts from the Fresh Cottons collection by Joanna Figueroa for Moda Fabrics. This collection is no longer readily availalbe, but we found several layer cake bundles from our friends at Fat Quarter Shop that would be lovely alternatives. Click a swatch below for more detail.
The sashing between our pretty diamonds and triangles breaks up the multiple colors and patterns, softening the look and allowing you to blend a wider variety of colors and patterns. A slightly off-white solid was best for our fabric choices, you may want to choose a different color, but we do recommend a solid and a lighter color.
Our dresser cloth design is considered to be patchwork, just like you'd use for a standard quilting project. When doing a patchwork, it is very important you are precise and consistent in your cutting and seaming to insure all the pieces fit together nicely. Starting with layer cake squares ia a great shortcut as you can be assured that your starting square is straight with true 90˚ corners.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
Fabric and Other Supplies
- ONE Layer Cake pre-cut bundle (we used just SEVEN 10" x 10" squares from the standard 42-piece pack; if you choose not to use a layer cake bundle, you'll need to cut SEVEN 10" x 10" squares)
- 1½ yards of 44"+ wide quilting weight cotton in a coordinating solid: we used Moda's Bella Solids in Ivory
- 1½ yards of thin cotton batting
- All purpose thread to match fabrics
- See-through ruler
- Iron and ironing board
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- See-through ruler
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Long straight pins
- Tape measure
- Thirteen ¾" buttons: we used vintage-style shell buttons
- Plan the layout of your dresser cloth. You'll use all seven Layer Cake squares, however, three are cut in half; so think about which are going be made into triangles.
- Pull out the three squares you've selected to become the six triangles. Fold and press each one in half on the diagonal.
- Cut along the pressed folds to create the six triangles.
NOTE: If you have a quilt ruler and a rotary cutter, you can line up the ruler's 45° angle on one side of the square and cut on the diagonal perfectly without folding and pressing.
- From the coordinating solid fabric (Bella Solids in Ivory in our sample), cut three strips 2" x the width of the fabric (WOF).
- From these three strips, sub-cut SIX 2" x 10" strips and THREE 2" x 21" strips. These strips will form the dresser cloth lattice sashing – the solid strips in between the diamonds and triangles.
- Also from the coordinating solid fabric (Bella Solids in Ivory in our sample), cut four 2" x WOF strips.
- From these four strips, cut TWO in half, and set the other two aside. These strips will be used for the border.
- Finally, from the coordinating solid fabric (yep... it's still Bella Solids in Ivory in our sample), cut two 18" x WOF pieces for the back of the dresser cloth.
NOTE: If desired, you could purchase extra yardage of the solid fabric so you do not have a seam in the back piece. Another 1¾ yards would be needed to insure you could cut an 18" x 60" piece. We chose to place a seam in the center of our sample, which allowed us a more efficient use of our yardage... and it is the back of the cloth, so it really won't be seen.
- From the thin cotton batting, cut one piece approximately 20" x 63".
NOTE: Some people prefer to work with their batting as an untrimmed roll; not cutting it until the final layering stages. As you'll see in our photos below, this is what we did.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Remember, in patchwork it's important to be consistent when sewing the pieces together. You should think of it like putting together a puzzle. In the end, all the pieces have to fit together perfectly. Don't worry too much though, fabric is very forgiving! We're lucky enough to sew on Janome machines in the Sew4Home studio, which have excellent stitch precision and great machine markings as well as specialty feet to help keep everything more precise.
Since you will be working on the diagonal, it is important to handle the individual pieces (and the eventual sewn piece) carefully. The pieces are on the bias and so can easily stretch out of shape. Stretched out pieces will result in a wavy dresser cloth instead of nice flat one.
- Following our layout or your own, begin to sew the pieces together starting at one end. Find your first square. Pin this first square right sides together with one 10" x 2" strip.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, sew the first square to the 10" x 2" strip. Fold the strip away from the square. Press the seam allowance towards the square.
- Find your first triangle (you are following your pre-determined layout, so this would be the triangle that will go next to the first square on the diagonal). Pin this triangle right sides together with the previously sewn square/strip along the raw edge of the strip.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, sew this first triangle to the strip.
- Fold the triangle away from the strip. Press the seam allowance towards the square.Set aside.
- Work on the next diagonal row following the same process. As shown, this row (and the next row) will have triangles sewn to both sides of the square.
- Continue in the same manner until all four diagonal rows are sewn.
- Now you're going to sew the rows together.
- Lay all the sewn rows on a flat surface. Place the 2" x 21" strips in between each row.
NOTE: Laying out the pieces as you go will help you keep track of what comes next, helping to make sure you sew things together in the correct order! As we did above, plan to work from one end to the other.
- Pin the first 2" x 21"strip right sides together with the first row. The strip will extend beyond the row at either end. That's okay.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, sew the strip to the first row. Press the seam allowance towards the squares/triangles – away from the strip as above.
- Here's where you need to be extra careful. When you pin the next row to the opposite side of the strip, you need to pay attention to your previously sewn solid lattice sashing strips (that run in the opposite direction) to make sure they line up. Place pins in the seams of the strips, then open up the pinned rows to make sure the strips align.
- Sew the next row onto the opposite side (the remaining raw edge) of the strip. You should be getting the hang of this now, and your dresser cloth should be taking shape!
NOTE: As you sew over the rows, make sure you keep the seam allowance from the previously sewn pieces flat to eliminate bulk at the intersecting seams.
- Continue until all the rows are sewn together.
- Being VERY careful to keep the dresser cloth flat, trim the excess from the sides. If you have a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and quilt ruler, these will help you make the cleanest slice.
- Pin one 2" x WOF strip to each long side of the dresser cloth.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, sew the strips to the long sides. Press the seam allowance towards the border.
- Trim the four corners at the ends of the long strips so they are flush with the angled ends of the dresser cloth. In other words, trim to match the fabric's diagonal line.
- To sew the border at the ends of the dresser cloth, you are going to work in opposites. First, pin one of the 2" x 20" strips along one side of one end point. (This is the WOF strip we cut in half originally, so the exact length may vary).
- Next, pin the second 2" x 20" strip to the opposite end, along the opposite side of the point.
- Using ½" seam allowance, sew these two border strips at the ends. Press the seam allowances towards the center of the dresser cloth. Trim away the excess end strip so it is flush with the raw edge of the long side border strip and the point of the fabric square.
- Repeat to attach the remaining two strips to the remaining two raw edges at each end.
- To create the back, pin the two 18" x WOF pieces right sides together along one short side (the 18" side).
- Using a ½" seam allowance, sew together. Press the seam allowance open.
- On a flat surface, layer the batting, then the backing WRONG side down, and then the dresser cloth RIGHT side down. Your backing and top are then right sides together.
NOTE: The order (batting, backing, top) is important. The idea is to layer the pieces so after you sew around the edges and turn the project right side out, the batting will end up on the inside between the top and the backing.
- Place pins down the center, and around the edges to hold the layers together. This is called 'pin basting.'
- Trim away the excess back fabric and batting around the entire dresser cloth. Cut carefully, you want to trim flush against the border strip but do not trim the border strip itself. As above, a clear ruler and rotary cutter is the best option for this step.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, sew all around the edges of the dresser cloth, pivoting at the points. Leave an approximate 9" opening in one long side of the dresser cloth for turning.
NOTE: You may want to lengthen your stitch a little here to accommodate stitching through all the layers.
- Trim the batting back to ¼" from the stitching line. This removes the bulk of the batting around the edges, and is referred to as grading the seam.
- Turn the dresser cloth right side out through the opening, pushing out corners and end points. A long knitting needle, chopstick or point turner works well for this.
- Press flat, pressing in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam.
- Thread a hand sewing needle and slip stitch the opening closed.
- Using a fabric marking pen, mark the button positions at the intersecting points in the lattice and border.
- Hand sew or machine sew a button at each marked point.
NOTE: We sewed our buttons on by machine. Janome machines have wonderful button sewing feature that we really enjoy using for a project like this one. You can learn more about this in our tutorial.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly