If one of your goals is to do a better job using up the fabric you have on hand, this project is right up your alley. We collected a few 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.Most of the flour sack towels we found in stores and online averaged 30” wide x 32” high. We recommend a minimum of 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.
In addition, 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. At either height, that means you don’t necessarily have to start with a full 44″ long strip; you can use up some of your shorter strips as well.
When you’re 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. It makes it look like some very fancy piecing, but you’re really just stitching three horizontal strips. Fooled ya!
As a gift or to freshen up your own kitchen, 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
- Sewing machine and standard presser foot
- Quarter Inch Seam foot; optional, but helpful since all the seams are ¼”
- Edge Guide foot; optional, but great for precise topstitching
Fabric and Other Supplies
NOTE: 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 towel, 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 also 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
- The illustration above shows you our patchwork pattern and how we made the cuts for each of the two sample towels.
- From EACH fabric, cut one or more 2½” x 10”+ strips so you end up with 15 strips total.
NOTE: We simply cut our jelly roll strips in half, giving us about 22” in height 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
- Collect the 15 strips that make up the patchwork panel. Place them in your preferred order.
- Working in order (we worked from right to left), pin the first two strips right sides together along one long edge.
- Stitch together, using a ¼” seam allowance. We’re using our Janome Quarter Inch Seam foot.
- Continue in this same manner to stitch together all 15 strips.
- 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
- Take the completed patchwork panel to your cutting surface. For each towel you need TWO 1” strips, ONE 3½” strip, and ONE 2” strip.
- 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.
- Set aside the 2” strip; it is for the bottom binding.
- Align a narrow strip top and bottom with the wide strip. To give your patchwork accent band even more variety, you can flip the two 1” strips so only the center blocks match up and the remaining blocks line up with different fabrics top and bottom. This is indicated in the drawing above. We opted to leave our narrow strips matching along the top and bottom.
- Pin the 1” strips right sides together along the top and bottom of the center 3½” strip.
- Stitch together, using a ¼” seam allowance. Be especially careful to make sure the vertical seams line up.
- We’re still using our Janome Quarter Inch Seam foot.
- Press flat, pressing the seam allowances toward the narrow strips.
Attach the center accent band to the towel
- Press your purchased towel so it is as 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.
- 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.
- Along the bottom of the towel measure and mark a horizontal line 4” up from the bottom hem of the towel.
- Align the BOTTOM fold of the accent band along this drawn guide line. The band should be right sides together with the towel.
- The crease line of band’s ends should sit slightly inside the side hem of the towel.
- Open up the fold and pin in place across the towel.
- 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).
- 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.
- Pin in place along the top as well.
- 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.
- We used our Janome Edge Guide foot, which allowed us to maintain a perfect ⅛” line of edgestitching. Remember to pivot at each corner.
- Press well.
Attach the bottom binding
- Find the remaining 2” strip.
- Fold the strip in half, wrong sides together, press well to set a visible crease.
- 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 strip that is finished on all sides.
- Slip the binding over the bottom hem of the towel, adjusting as necessary so the folded ends come together flush just outside the edge of the towel.
- Pin in place across the bottom of the towel through all the layers.
- Check from both sides to make sure the ¾” reveal of the binding is even from front to back.
- 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.
- Pivot at the beginning and the end to edgestitch along each end.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild