Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Unpaper Towels

It's a been a rough couple of weeks for me as my brain injury is causing some problems. So instead of doing fun things like blogging, I've been doing a lot of sleeping and resting. But I am happy to report that I finished the first of my 2013 Pinterest Challenges: The Un Paper Towel

What are Unpaper Towels? Unpaper towels are cloths designed to look like disposable paper towels. It wasn't that long ago that I'd go through a roll of paper towels every month or so. Then I discovered Lysol wipes and used them everywhere. As I started turning green, I realized that not were those wipes wasteful, but also full of chemicals. 

It wasn't an overnight switch. I started by putting out cloth towels and hiding the paper towels in the pantry. Soon it became more convenient to grab the cloth. Then we started using cloth napkins at the table instead of paper towels or napkins. Around this time, my son was old enough to learn where the clothes were stored and he naturally began looking for them when he had a mess to clean up. 

We've been using cloth in our kitchen with homemade cleaners for quite a while now, but I liked the idea of having pretty matching clothes. I was also looking for an easy project to learn to sew. These fit the bill perfectly.

This was my very first sewing project since my high school class over (cough) 20 (cough) years ago. I picked up a $39 sewing machine at Big Lots a few months ago and it has been sitting patiently in my linen closet waiting for me to open the box. 

I'm not sure if it's because I'm older or because of my brain injury, but I don't learn new things as easily as I used to. I used to be able to read a manual and I'd understand how to operate something. Now, I learn best when someone can walk me through the steps. My new appliances, driving to a new place, figuring out my sewing machine, it doesn't matter. Enter my new best friend: Nicole, who generosity offered to make the unpaper towels with me. 

First step: we went to Joann to pick out supplies. For this project, our instructions said we needed 1/2 yard each of terry and flannel fabrics to make ten 10" x 10" towels. (As it turned out, we made 12" x 12" towels, because Nicole had a 12" square template. The slightly larger towels meant that we were only able to make six towels with this amount of fabric, with a long narrow piece left over. If you want 10-12 12" towels, I'd suggest getting the full yard). There wasn't a great variety of fabric to choose from that matched the grayish green of our kitchen, especially with the terry, so I went with the same lime green that seems to be so popular in kitchen supplies these days. For the flannel, I found a cute bike pattern that seemed fitting for our Dutch family.

There was a much wider selection of thread, so it was easy to find a matching spool. We also bought a strip of (way too much) velcro. 

Because I was brand spanking new to sewing, I also bought some pins and a fabric cutter. Back when I was in high school, we cut with a scissors, but this cutter was $10 well spent!

We spent some time looking at quilting squares to make cutting the squares easier. But I balked a paying $25+ for something I might not use again. (I later found one for much less on Amazon). I decided to look around at a few other craft stores, and I came up with a great solution when a worker at another store gave a piece of cardboard from their scrapbook paper stacks. Perfect!

Two weeks later, Nicole and I were able to get together to work on our project! We had each washed our fabric and were ready to go.

Step one. Use the template and rotary cutter to cut out 6 squares each of terry and flannel fabric. The cutter was super easy to use, and my free template was (no) money well spent. I used our photo mat so I wouldn't scratch our table (more). Nicole had a bigger mat, which I think would be a great investment for future projects.

My cuts were not always as nice as the photo above, but this really was the perfect first project. After all, I'm just making pretty rags! Here's the stack of squares when I was done. And you can get a peek at my cute little machine. I should have taken a picture of it!

I think this is why the instructions from A Blossoming Life said to make 10" squares. I'm not sure what I'll do with this extra fabric. 

Step two: pin together one piece of flannel and one piece of flannel. Make sure the print side of the flannel is on the inside. 

This is the point at which I realized that I didn't cut my pieces exactly even. 

Step 3: Thread the machine. Nicole was kind enough to do this for me the first time. My machine has numbers to show the whole process, which made it easy for me to thread the machine later. My son was very interested in this process. 

Step 4: Sew the two pieces together, but leave about a 3" gap so you can pull the fabric right side out. Yes, I forgot a couple of times and had to use my seam ripper to cut out a few inches. (Fun fact: I already had a seam ripper in my kitchen. It works great for opening up plastic around bottles, CD cases (remember those), and anything else with a tightly wrapped seal. 

It took me a little bit to get a feel for my machine so I could sew in a straight line. 

Step 5: Turn out fabric. It took a bit of tugging, but by the last one, I was able to work with a 2" hole. I followed A Blossoming Life's tip to trim the corners to make this step easier. 

One down, five to go. Some people might iron at this point, but I just smoothed down the seam with my fingers.

It almost looks like I know what I'm doing!

Step 6: Sew over the whole thing again to make it pretty. My corners are not so pretty. I had a hard time figuring out how far to go before turning my fabric. 

Step 7: Sew a line diagonally across the towel. This will keep the towel flat after washing. 

Step 8: Repeat for the rest of the towels.

This was our finishing point of the day. All that we had left was the velcro. Nicole and I decided that would be a good job to do in our homes while watching a movie.

Two weeks later, I got back to it. I put the fuzzy half on the flannel side, and the scratchy half on the terry side. I found that hand sewing the velcro on was much harder than the cutting and sewing part. 

Another option is to use snaps instead of velcro, like Thrifty Nifty Mommy did in this post. I think I like the snap idea better than the velcro because it makes a neater finished product, but it required snap pliers, another purchase I wasn't willing to make until I knew if I like sewing or not. 

Don't these look nice?
UnPaper Towels by Thifty Nifty Mommy
I opted to put squares of velcro only at the top and bottom of each towel because by this point, I was pretty sure that I would be storing these in my cloth drawer instead of cluttering up my counter. But for the sake of this post, I plugged away.

Halfway done!

Completely done! Most directions say to wrap the towels around an empty paper towel holder. Since we haven't bought paper towels for at least two years, I skipped the tube. 

Flip side.

For now, the towels are sitting on my baking counter, but as they are used and washed, I'm definitely putting them in my cloth drawer. 

With the exception of the velcro or snaps, these unpaper towels are very easy to make, even for a beginner. Without the fasteners, the whole project could easily be done in one afternoon. It's a pretty way to go paperless in your kitchen. They've quickly become my son's favorite napkin.

Of course, if you don't want to take the trouble to make these yourself, you can find over a thousand options on Etsy!

I decided I really don't like to have towels on the counter so we bought this Umbra paper towel holder and installed it on the cabinet door under the prep sink.

This works much better for us!

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  1. I've had this project on my Pinterest boards for so long but haven't gone through with it yet... We have gone green with paper towels and are only using cloth napkins and towels, but I really do want pretty ones!

    1. I think it was on my board for over a year! First I had to buy a sewing machine... :-)

  2. THIS? is nothing short of brilliant.

    I have thought of replacements for virtually everything else...but not the paper towels. Love it!

    1. aw thanks. I'm just borrowing from all the brilliant people who thought of this first.

  3. What a fantastic "green" idea! I use flannel cloths in our bathroom for the children to dry their hands after washing. That way we don't share the same damp towel over and over and spread germs. My towels aren't fancy like yours though! The fabric you chose is cool!

    1. I think it would be a lot of fun to make ones for my son's room. I'll have to keep an eye out for train flannel!

  4. I am slowly working my way to a paper towel free home. I just made cloth napkins out of an old terry robe. I am working on switching to all natural homemade cleaning products. It is a slow transition to not to reach for a paper towel!

    1. It is definitely a transition, but every little bit helps! What a smart idea to use an old terry robe. Nicole and I were thinking that it would have been much cheaper to buy a stack of inexpensive wash clothes. Next time...

  5. Newest follower here! I found you though the blog hop! Cute blog, I can't wait to read more. You can visit me at meandmr.com

    -Melanie @ meandmr.com

  6. Awesome idea! We, too, have kicked the paper towels and use oh-so-classy-rags instead. I don't know if I have the patience to make such cute "paper" towels but maybe on a snow-day when I'm going batty inside. What a great first sewing project!

    1. I should take a picture of our rag drawers. The nice ones (that I pull out if someone is coming over!) are in the top drawer, the sort of nice ones are in the middle. And the stained ones are in the bottom drawer. My son knows that that is HIS drawer! :)

  7. I've seen these before. Great job on the tutorial you did. Now, I know I could make them myself. I need to do this someday. We don't use that many paper towels, but I love the idea of using none.
    I would love if you would share this at my link party going on now until Saturday. http://www.realcoake.blogspot.com/2013/02/real-family-fun-2.html
    Have a great week.

    1. Thanks so much for coming by and linking up!

    2. I can assure you that if I can do it, anyone can!

  8. These are amazing! We don't use paper towels in our house, but we usually just use cloth napkins that I get on clearance. These are so much cuter! I'm pinning this for later.

    1. I had them pinned forever. Once I learned to sew, they only took a few hours!

  9. This is absolutely WONDERFUL!!

    Thanks so much for sharing this at The DIY Dreamer... From Dream To Reality! Can't wait to see what you link up tomorrow!

  10. Thanks for sharing at Fluster's Creative Muster. I'm looking forward to seeing what you link up next week.

  11. This is an absolutely brilliant idea! I've been looking for a way to get back into sewing, and think maybe this is the one.

    As for learning things after a brain injury... my husband had brain surgery in July, and even after his occupational and physical therapy he's found that his learning-style has changed. He's able to learn by watching and doing now, rather than reading instructions or listening as he used to do. It's difficult to get used to feeling like a different person, he says, but every new task he takes on helps him regain some of his cognitive skills. Best wishes to you in your recovery, too!

    Oh, and if you haven't already, I'd love if you'd come join my How To Tuesday link party, too.


    1. It was very easy, and low stress for me because I wouldn't get to stressed about messing up rags!

      It's always nice to hear from others living with brain injury (and as the spouse of someone with a brain injury, of course, you live with it just as much as your husband, of course).

      Here are a couple of other posts that might interest you:



      I'm off to check out your link party now...

  12. Stopping by from Not Just a Housewife, thank you for your step by step tutorial. This is definitely on my to do list!

  13. SMART! We go through 2 rolls a month and over time this could really save some money. I think I might go for a darker color though since we tend to be messy!

    1. lol...Nicole did brown ones for that very reason! So far, we're doing well with our green ones, but I definitely did not want white!

  14. These are so fab - I have featured them as one of my favourites at this week's Empty Your Archive party, Alice x

  15. Very pretty. They look like they'd make a nice gift for a baby shower maybe? Thanks for sharing over at my Facebook page, Hall of Fame Moms. You said you were near me? Are you in the same town? I sent you a message on Facebook.

  16. Pinning this because I really SHOULD do it one day. I would happily not have any paper towels but my fiancé loves them!


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