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DIY Dish Towels (Beginner Sewing Project)

New to sewing? Learning how to sew your own DIY Dish Towels is a great project to get comfortable with your sewing machine and learn basic hemming skills. This beginner-friendly sewing project is practical too–after all, who wouldn’t love a fresh set of beautiful handmade towels?

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Two cotton-linen handmade dish towels with the words, "How to Sew Kitchen Towels"

While I love sewing, it never really crossed my mind to make my own dish towels until I started getting more into food photography. Suddenly I was trying to source unique linens and fabrics with a beautiful drape…and yet, not wanting to spend hundreds of dollars on my prop collection.

Maybe you aren’t a food photographer, but you are looking for a simple kitchen towel tutorial because you are new to sewing. Towels are a good project for beginners because they are allow you to practice basic sewing skills and come away with something useful too.

A handmade kitchen towel of linen with a gray grid design and a wooden spoon, lavender, and vintage clothespins displayed on top.

I use a cotton-linen (and a linen-rayon) blend for these towels and I just love the softness and drape of these fabrics! Fresh from the bolt it might feel stiff or structured, but once washed it softens and becomes textured in the most beautiful way. The fabric I used also comes in a variety of colors and styles so you can choose what best fits your kitchen.

You also might have stumbled on this tutorial because you were looking for easy gift ideas to sew. In addition to my Drawstring Bag tutorial, I love this project for gifting. Dish towels are endlessly practical (who wouldn’t appreciate a fresh set of dish towels?) and easy to customize. Plus, they can be sewn so quickly it’s easy to make a set or two as a last-minute gift.

If you are gifting these towels, I have a few suggestions for gifting success. First, opt for a larger towel size (I’ll talk about this in the tutorial notes) so the towels will be functional in even the busiest of kitchens. Second, choose a fabric you already know and love (or give it a test run first).

It’s important that towels be absorbent so selecting the right fabric is key. And of course, opt to choose a fabric color/style that fits your recipient’s taste. Try pairing two or three fabrics together into a set of towels (make one or two towels in each fabric) and tie them together for a pretty gift.

Fabric to Use

This project is a very simple one. Basically, cut a rectangle of fabric to an average towel size, hem the edges, and use. The fun comes in customizing the towels.

You’ll want to look for good quality absorbent fabric. Many sewists will use 100% cotton, which is a soft and durable choice. Skip quilting cottons which are too thin for single-layer dish towels. I love these linen blends from Robert Kaufman.

Here I used the following:

If, like me, you plan to use your dish towels for food photography, you could certainly use fabrics that may not be the first choice for a working kitchen towel, but will look great paired next to other props in your collection. In fact, this might yield better results in your photography as you can choose fabrics specifically for their drape and texture rather than durability and absorbency.

Consider sourcing vintage linens, clothing, or other thrifted fabrics for a unique look that also recycles fabric.

You can check for drape by simply grabbing a pinch of the fabric and allowing the rest of the piece to fall free. The more the fabric “drapes” down from point you are holding it, the better it will drape in your photos. For food photography avoid stiff fabrics as they will be hard to manipulate in your final food photos.

Other Supplies You Will Need

Supplies for DIY dish towels labeled: cotton-linen fabric, sewing machine, bias tape, pins or sewing clips, scissors, measuring tape/ruler.

In addition to the cotton-linen fabric (or similar), you’ll need a few other supplies:

While twill tape is a standard choice for a hanging loop on towels, I really love using a bit of pretty bias tape instead. You can make bias tape yourself, you can use scraps from other projects, or you can purchase handmade tape. My favorite shop for bias tape is Bessie Pearl Textiles on Etsy.

In the tutorial I’ll have you stitch the bias tape closed before using it so that it doesn’t fray. And doesn’t it make the prettiest pop of color on this handmade towel?

Close up view of a floral bias tape loop on a blue-gray linen kitchen towel and vintage clothespins.

Can I Hand Sew the Towels?

Maybe you don’t have a sewing machine and are wondering if you can still make this project. If you are up for a lot of hemming, you can for sure hand sew these towels! All that is required is to hem four edges of a large rectangle of fabric and add a hanging loop if desired. While this takes just minutes on a sewing machine, it will of course take a lot longer to do by hand.

How To Sew DIY Dish Towels

Whether you are making these towels to freshen up your kitchen, use as props in food photography, or give as a gift, you will want to sew several of them! Let’s get started.

Pre-wash the fabric

Before sewing anything, I always pre-wash my fabric. This prevents unintended shrinkage of the finished towels.

Wash fabric using the settings with which you will wash the finished towels. The goal here is to shrink the fabric as much as it will shrink before sewing, so our finished towels stay the size we sewed them.

Iron As Needed

Ironing the fabric after washing is optional. If the fabric was not removed promptly from the dryer, you may have some serious wrinkles to contend with. These will need to be ironed out–likely with a little steam too.

On the other hand, just a bit of character in the linen can be really nice. So long as it doesn’t impede the cutting process, feel free to leave the fabric as is.

Cut Into Rectangles

Next up, cut the fabric into rectangles. If you have a complete yard of fabric, this is easy. Simply square off the edges (see this tutorial for how to square off fabric) and then fold into four. Cut along the folds into four equal rectangles.

What’s handy about this is that it will use a complete yard of fabric–no scraps. The downside is that this method will make smaller towels than may be desired. After shrinkage and hemming, my towels measured about 19.5″x14″. Measure a favorite kitchen towel before starting to get an idea of your preferred size.

Why Do I Need to Square Off My Fabric? If you’ve pre-washed your fabric (or even if you haven’t) we’ll need to square off the edges. This means that your eventual cut lines will follow the grain of fabric which means your project will look neater and be easier to sew. You’ll need this technique for lots of projects–you’ll always be needing to cut rectangles, squares, and strips from your fabric! This video for how to square off fabric is super helpful and includes several tips. I recommend watching!

Folding one yard of fabric and cutting it for dish towels.

How Large to Cut the Towels

If you prefer to cut larger towels, you’ll need to measure your fabric into rectangles. Use a large clear grid ruler to measure (or use a finished dish towel as a template). I like cutting a rectangle about 19″-20″ wide and about 25″-26″ long for my larger (more standard size) towels.

Hem Edges

Now it’s time to hem the edges of the towels. There are ways to make mitered corners, which I of course always forget how to do, so I often just go with this simple method of folding over the edges to hem the towels. It’s easy to do and looks good when finished.

Plus, it’s quick, so you can whip up a whole bunch of these for gifts or your own kitchen.

First, fold over long edges of the rectangle over 1/2″ and 1/2″ again. You can press these edges with an iron or just pin and sew them. For towels I honestly just eyeball this!

Have you tried quilting clips? They are so handy and I love using them instead of pins when I’m sewing with my toddler around!

Pinning the long edge of a dish towel for hemming and the finished hem.

Use a medium length stitch on your sewing machine to edgestitch close to the inside edge of the fold-over as demonstrated. Remove pins/clips as you sew the hem.

Carefully snip just the corners of each seam off (four corners to snip) to reduce bulk.

Two images showing how to trim the corner of a finished seam on a handmade dish towel.

Now, fold over the short edges of the rectangle 1/2″ and 1/2″ again. Press if desired.

If you are adding a hanging loop, wait to sew the top edge of your towel and follow the instructions below for adding a loop.

Pin or use quilting clips to secure the seam as you stitch. Edgestitch with a sewing machine close to the inside edge of the folded hem. Remove pins/clips as you sew the hem.

DIY dish towel with top edge pinned with quilting clips for hemming.

Add a Loop to Hang the Towels

Adding hanging loops to the towels is optional. If you are gifting the towels it’s a nice addition. You can add a loop in several places. Here I show a loop on a corner or in the middle of the short edge. Straight across from corner to corner (not shown) works too.

For a corner loop, cut about 6-9″ of bias tape or twill tape (I used 8″). If using bias tape, sew the open edge closed first. This is to prevent the tape from getting ruined in the wash (more common with handmade tapes).

Fold the piece of tape in half, and add the loop into the corner before hemming the top edge of the towel. Add it in and fold it with the fabric as you fold over the seam so that the edges of the loop are encased. Stitch seam as usual, adding reinforcement around the loop as needed.

Adding a bias tape loop to the edge of a dish towel.

For a middle loop, I cut about a 4″ piece of tape (be sure to stitch closed if using bias tape). Then I tucked it in the middle of the top hem edge after folding everything down and pinning. Then I secured the loop with more clips and stitched the hem, removing clips as the hem is stitched.

Top edge of a DIY dish towel with bias tape hanger.

And that’s all there is to it!

Handmade Towels for Food Photography

Of course, I had to talk about these towels in relation to food photography. If you are a food blogger or food photographer, you know the power that great dishes and linens have in creating the final images of any recipe.

Sewing your own DIY dish towels is an easy way to get exactly the look you want with favorite fabrics of your choice. Use the finished towels around your kitchen or keep them with your food photography props to use when shooting new recipes.

If, like me, you plan to use your dish towels for food photography, you could certainly use fabrics that may not be the first choice for a working kitchen towel, but will look great paired next to other props in your collection. In fact, this might yield better results in your photography as you can choose fabrics specifically for their drape and texture (rather than durability/absorbency).

Consider sourcing vintage linens, clothing, or other thrifted fabrics for a unique look that also recycles fabric. Just cut into a rectangle and hem the edges.

You can check for drape by simply grabbing a pinch of the fabric and allowing the rest of the piece to fall free. The more the fabric “drapes” down from point you are holding it, the better it will drape in your photos. For food photography avoid stiff fabrics as they will be hard to manipulate in your final food photos.

A handmade white linen towel with a gray grid design and a handmade blue-gray linen towel.
A blue-gray handmade linen kitchen towel with wooden spoon, lavender, and vintage clothespins.

How To Sew DIY Dish Towels

Whether you are making these towels to freshen up your kitchen, use as props in food photography, or give as a gift, you will want to sew several of them! They are such a relaxing project.
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Prep Time 5 mins
Project Time 20 mins

Supplies
  

  • cotton or cotton-linen blend fabric (see instructions for measurements)
  • sewing machine
  • pins or quilting clips
  • tape measure/ruler
  • bias tape or twill tape (optional, for hanging loops)

Instructions
 

Pre-wash the fabric

  • Wash fabric using the settings with which you will wash the finished towels. This will pre-shrink the fabric, so our finished towels stay the size we sewed them.

Iron As Needed

  • I like the freshly washed texture of this cotton/linen fabric, but if your fabric has severe wrinkles after washing you'll have an easier time sewing it if you iron it first. This can also help with the squaring up process.

Cut Into Rectangles (note: for smaller towels)

  • Next up, cut the fabric into rectangles. If you have a complete yard of fabric, this is easy. Square off the edges (see this tutorial for how to square off fabric) and then fold into four. Cut along the folds into four equal rectangles.
    Note: This method uses a complete yard of fabric–no scraps. The downside is that these are smaller towels than may be desired. After shrinkage and hemming, my towels measured about 19.5"x14".

Cut Larger Towels

  • If you prefer to cut larger towels, you'll need to measure your fabric into rectangles. Use a large ruler to measure or a store-bought dish towel as a template. I opt to cut rectangles about 19"-20" wide and about 25"-26" long for my larger (more standard size) towels.

Hem Edges

  • Fold over long edges of the rectangle over 1/2" and 1/2" again. You can press these edges with an iron or just pin and sew them.
  • Use a medium length stitch on your sewing machine to edgestitch close to the inside edge of the fold-over. Remove pins/clips as you sew the hem.
  • Carefully snip just the corners of each seam off (four corners to snip) to reduce bulk.
  • Now, fold over the short edges of the rectangle 1/2" and 1/2" again. Press if desired.
    Note: If you are adding a hanging loop, wait to sew the top edge of your towel and follow the instructions below for adding a loop.
  • Pin or use quilting clips to secure the seam as you stitch. Edgestitch with a sewing machine close to the inside edge of the folded hem. Remove pins/clips as you sew the hem.

Add a Loop to Hang the Towels

  • For a corner loop, cut about 6-9" of bias tape or twill tape (I used 8"). If using bias tape, sew the open edge closed first to prevent fraying in the wash.
  • Fold the piece of tape in half, and add the loop into the corner before hemming the top edge of the towel. Fold it with the fabric as you fold over the seam to encase the edges of the loop. Stitch seam, adding reinforcement around the loop as needed.
  • For a middle loop, cut about a 4" piece of tape. Again, if using bias tape, stitch the tape closed first.
    Pin short edge of hem and then tuck the ends of the bias tape into the middle of the towel, making a loop. Secure the loop with more clips and stitch the hem, removing clips as you sew. All done!

Notes

Can I Hand Sew the Towels? Hand-sewing these will take much longer, but you can absolutely do that if you don’t have a sewing machine.
What Kind of Fabric Is Best? I love the cotton-linen blend and linen-rayon blend I linked in the tutorial, but 100% cotton will work too. Skip quilting cottons. 

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