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Tutorial: unpaper towels!

Getting Rid of Paper Towels…

We haven’t had paper towels in our house for a couple of years now. Besides the environmental downsides to disposable towels (which really, probably isn’t all that bad when compared to take-out containers, excessive packaging in shipping and the oodles of other wasteful things us Americans do)… I just couldn’t bear paying money to wipe up an orange juice spill.

I have a stash of cotton crocheted dishcloths that do the job and have held up incredibly well. But I was looking to diversify.

Bring on the Cloth Towels!

I was chatting with my friend Ellen, who was experimenting with sewing unpaper towels. Ellen is extremely crafty, I usually wait until she’s done all of the hard work perfecting something brilliant, and then I jump in and give it a try (since she already knows it will work). Perfect arrangement, if you ask me!

Ellen’s unpaper towels work fabulously, so I’m going to show you what she showed me!

The Materials

The towels are made using one layer of cloth diaper fabric (makes sense, right? Absorbent and washable!) and one layer of flannel (the more fun the print, the better!). Diaper fabric is apparently called Birdseye… news to me.

The amount of fabric you need will depend on what size you want your towels to be, and how many you make. Mine are 9″ square, and I used 2 yards of the birdseye and 2 yards of flannel. I ended up with 24 towels. Ellen opted to make hers 12″ square… I think it’s just personal preference.

I recommend pre-washing the fabric (to make sure any shrinking gets out of the way) before you begin.

You’ll also need some standard sewing supplies: thread and scissors, a sewing machine (technically optional, but makes the process much quicker) and perhaps some pins and an iron if you’re the tidy type.

How to Make Unpaper Towels

I’m not a genius at sewing… so believe me when I say that these are pretty easy!

Step 1: cut your fabric

Cut your fabric into the size you want your towels to be. Remember that a little bit will get used up as seam allowance, so account for that in your cutting.

Here’s my shortcut for cutting: fold your fabric in half. Cut along the fold line. Repeat until you have squares that are the size you want! Easy!

Cut both the fabric and birdseye into squares (or rectangles if you want) of the same size.

Step 2: sew squares together

Pair up one square of birdseye with one square of flannel, right sides together. Ideally, they’ll line up perfectly… but mine didn’t. No big deal, you can trim them, later!

You need to leave a 3″ or so space unsewn, so that you can turn the towel inside-out.

Once you’ve sewn around (most of) the edges, trim any excess fabric and clip the corners.

Step 3: turn! (and maybe iron)

Turn your towels inside out. They’ll look a little puffy:

I ironed mine before top-stitching… because I’m picky like that. (I find that the ironing makes the top-stitching easier) Ellen didn’t iron… and her’s turned out great, too!

Step 4: top-stitch

The top-stitching is how you’ll close up the hole that’s left from turning the towels inside-out. It also adds a tidy, finished look. I top-stitched around, about a 1/4″ from the edge:

So pretty!


Step 5: use and enjoy!


I’ve been using my unpaper towels all week long, and I love them! They’re lightweight and absorbent, and the birdseye is very slightly abrasive, which is good for wiping up stuck-on stuff.

Give it a try!

If you sew some of your own, you’ll have to report back and tell me how it went!

26 Responses to “Tutorial: unpaper towels!”

  1. Nancy T says:

    Wow! Now I find that your site is not only good for tips on crocheting/knitting, but also how to reduce my use of paper towels (among other things!) Just recently I’ve been thinking how to do this. Your idea (and your friend Ellen’s) have definitely helped me! Thanks so much!

  2. Cool! Thanks for sharing. My special guy is addicted to paper towels so maybe I can find some manly flannel to help cure the habit.

  3. Pumpkin says:

    This is such a fantastic idea! I’m definitely going to give it a try when I have the time to get the sewing machine out again. Great tutorial!

  4. Ana says:

    They look great! I am ashamed I still use paper towels :( I should definitely try to make some too. Thanks for sharing :)

  5. Melanie says:

    These are amazing. I’m always looking for easy ways to cut back on waste. Thanks!

  6. Robin says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve used cloth diapers as “rags” for years, but never thought to dress them up and give them some extra umph! I also didn’t realize the fabric had a special name and could be purchased by the yard. Cool

  7. Ellen says:

    :) You’re totally on the ball with documenting your projects… the pressure is on! Glad to hear you’ve been using them. I can vouch for the fact that they work, even with a rambunctious 4-year-old in the house. I haven’t used a paper towel in nearly 2 weeks!!

  8. DeeAnna says:

    I followed your tutorial and made some of these unpaper towels! Super easy and way cool!! :-D Thank you!

  9. Amy says:

    I FINALLY got around to making these! I love them! I see these on my Christmas gift horizon with some knitted dish cloths and maybe some Earth friendly cleaners/soaps. Thanks for sharing this.

  10. sandra says:

    lovely project & great fabrics ! I make similar ones in various sizes with micro fleece and and flannelette which are used as wipes/towels for baby /toddler hands and as kitchen/highchair wipes ..a ready made face cloth backed with fleece works too .I cut out flannelette pieces ,with seam allowance etc , and pin and sew onto uncut fleece then cut between each one .I find this method works well with bibs too .

  11. Abbey says:

    These are cute! I added this project to my sewing list a while ago, but I have a question about them. I use other cloth items in place of paper/disposable (diapers, when DS was little, mama pads, wipes, kleenex, etc.), but I wonder about these because of the grease factor in the kitchen. The dish towels & rags I currently use always smell like grease, even after soaking & washing with dish soap, detergent, vinegar–anything. Has anyone found a way to make kitchen laundry smell sweet again?? Thanks for any tips!!

    • Stacey says:

      I use mine on pretty greasy stuff, and I just toss them in the wash with detergent and hot water. They come out pretty clean smelling… although they do become discolored after the worst of it.

  12. Brittany says:

    Where did you get the Birdseye? This is exactly how I planned to make mine, but flats are expensive….

  13. Aliciw says:

    JoAnn Fabrics, or any other similar store should have bird’s-eye or terrycloth by the yard. Flannel too, so you get whatever print on the other side that you adore.

  14. Hev says:

    Hmm…sounds like dish towels to me. Sorry, but been using those for the last 32 years.

  15. Joanna says:

    I am SO glad I found this site! “Unpaper towels” looked pretty easy to make but I wasn’t crazy about the prices I was seeing various places online. EXCITED NOW! Thank you!

  16. Kristin says:

    I can’t wait to make these! I have six kids and go through a lot of paper towels!! I also love the crocheted cloths at the top of the post. I love to make these, especially for gifts, and I’ve never seen a pattern quite like that one in the round. I’ll be making one of those soon too! I wanted to mention that I adore your site!! You’ve done a splendid job – it’s lovely to look at, helpful, encouraging, and definitely fun. But I must say that I really, really miss your podcast!!! Do you have plans to start up again? Many blessings to you, Stacey!

  17. Sweety says:

    hi! do you think these would work well if i used cotton fabric instead of flannel? thank you!

  18. Dorothy Bergstrom says:

    Brillant idea, as I was reading the directions, I was thinking of all the possibilities, I can make unpaper towels for everyday use and some for all the holidays as I decorate everything anyway. This is a tip I can use and will save money in the long term. Would like to see if someone has actually made any using cotton instead of flannel, not to many prints in flannel are kitchen complimentary. Thinking tho to double the birdseye for absorbency if I use regular cotton, flannel would be more absorbent for wet spills.

  19. Sue says:

    I love these!!! What an awesome idea. I can’t wait to get the fabric!!!!

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