Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tutorial: Extending the Life of Old Towels

Towels are so expensive! Has anyone else noticed? I have towels that are years old that look ratty and nasty....strings hanging off the edges that grab at you after you shower....or they're been washed so many times that the selvedge edge (the tight, decorative stitching on the ends) has permanently crumpled up. Here's how to save your towels and extend their lives.

First of all, lay out your towels and trim off anything ugly - strings, frayed ends, selvedges, fuzzies, hems. At this point, you can also slice your towel in half if you have a need for hand/face towels. I've also been known to sew two towels together to make a super long towel.

Now, sort through your donate pile and find an old t-shirt with not too many holes. We're going to chop it up.

Match the shirt hems and fold it so that it fits your cutting surface. Then chop off the hems and slice the shirt into long strips about 2 1/4" wide. Cut to 2 1/2" if you're not confident that you can follow a narrow edge with your sewing machine.

Cut one side of the strip open.. If there are side seams, go ahead and cut one off, but leave the other. Why make more work?

Match the edges of the strips and sew a diagonal line across the ends. Don't worry about using a stretch stitch. It won't matter anyways. If you have trouble getting the first join to sew flat, run a leader through first. Just wing it on this step - accuracy makes no difference in final product. Eyeball it.

Trim the strip and press in half, wrong sides together. You've just made double fold binding. (Google it for a more detailed tute.) When pressing, the edges will curl, so be sure you hit them with some steam. Also, take care to not stretch the knit or you won't have binding; you'll have t-shirt yarn.

Start sewing the binding onto the towel somewhere along an edge and about an inch or two from the end of the binding. Please learn from my mistake and switch to your walking foot before you start this step. If you have no walking foot, just ease the binding under the presser foot using a pin. You'll get tiny pleats, but it's no big deal - they won't show on the right side. And if they do, who cares? It's a towel, not a showpiece.

Miter the corners if you like, or just wing it. When you get back to the start, just trim the end and tuck into the starting piece. Do not try to make the binding continuous (unless you're one of Those people) - it's a knit and won't fray anyways. Just keep it quick and simple.

Now, simply flip the towel and fold the binding to the other side. Sew in a continuous line right around the towel. This a a technique known and "machine binding." You can google that, too, if you need clearer instructions. As long as the folded edge of the binding covers the previously sewn line, you're good to go. Stretch to cover if necessary - another reason to use a soft, comfy old t-shirt.

And this is your final result! We do most of our towels this way and it extends their life sometimes by several years!

You can make mismatched towels into a set by binding them all in the same colour. You can buy new-to-you towels at second hand stores and give them new life for cheap. If you have towels that are worn in the middle, sandwich them together and run random lines down the length and width (especially around the really worn spots or holes) to "quilt" them together before binding (use wider binding for this). These double towels are super absorbent and soft - the men in my family have a preference for these thicker towels.

Today I'm linking up to Frugally Sustainable - they've got many more awesome ideas that you should check out, too.


  1. Hi Michelle. I'm from Kamloops, B.C. I spent a lot of time checking blogs yesterday from Lily's blog. I work today so won't have much time to do that. Glad I found your blog.

  2. Hi Michelle, great idea with the towels.

    I tried to respond to the comment you left on my blog but you are set as a no-reply blogger. Thanks for stopping by and introducing yourself. I was also wondering if you use Flickr, if so, you can put that on your blog it really increases the traffic.

  3. Great idea! I really hate those "fancy" strips in towels that shrink up!

  4. Cute idea! Might have to try it for all the towels we use for the kiddo.

  5. I have found that if I use a zig zag stitch all around the edge of new towels, they last a lot longer than if I dont.


Your encouragement means so much! Thank you for commenting.