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Sunday
May122013

Corinne's Thread: Vintage Tea Towels

A few years ago Page made a beautiful set of Soft Cotton Knit Dishtowels inspired by the subtle nuance of color in her collection of vintage kitchen textiles. Just like her, I am taken with the simple, utilitarian beauty of these classic fabrics; but where Page was inspired by their variety of hues, I am fascinated by their seemingly endless variety of patterns, most of which are created with the humble stripe. 
With these timeless beauties in mind, I made these Vintage Tea Towels, each machine-stitched in a bright tomato red with its own pattern of stripes and grids. I had so much fun zooming along on my machine that it was impossible to stop at just two or three, so I made six! 
For the fabric itself I used Robert Kaufman’s Essex, a beautiful blend of cotton and linen that makes these towels light, absorbent, and sturdy enough to stand the test of time. Just like the heirlooms that inspired them! -Corinne

The Materials

To make 6 Vintage Tea Towels you’ll need:
1 1/4 yards of Robert Kaufman’s Essex Wide in Natural 
2 yards of Robert Kaufman’s Essex in Bleached White
7 spools of 100% cotton thread (110 yards each) in color 4915 (pattern thread)
1 spool of 100% cotton thread (274 yards) in color 1040 (towel thread)
1 yard of ¼-inch Fettuccia Ribbon in color Natural

Another Option

While I was stitching away, I couldn't resist pairing these classic stitch patterns with the supremely modern Mettler Neon Thread. To make a full set of six towels in the neon, you will need 3 total spools of Mettler Neon Thread (220 yards), shown here in colors Sun and Chrysanthemum. All other materials stay the same. 

The Pattern

Prewash all fabrics before starting. 

Cutting

Cut three 18-inch by 31½-inch pieces out of each color of Essex, 6 pieces total. 
Cut six 4-inch pieces of the ribbon with the edges trimmed at an angle. 

Marking and Stitching the Patterns

Using the fabric marker and a straight edge ruler, mark out the patterns on each towel. 
And using the pattern thread, machine stitch along the marked lines with either a straight or zigzag stitch. 

Our Stitch Patterns

Here's how to make the same stitch patterns we did! 
Zigzag Grid
Mark the first horizontal stripe 2 ¼ inches from the bottom edge. Continue making horizontal lines every 1 ½ inches until 2 ¼ inches from opposite end. Mark the first vertical stripe 2 inches in from one side. Continue making vertical lines every 1 ½ inches until 2 inches from opposite side. Sew along these lines with a zigzag stitch. If your machine allows it, set the stitch at width: 2.5 and length: 1.
Small Check
Mark the first horizontal stripe ½ inch from the bottom edge. Continue making horizontal stripes every ½ inch until you reach the opposite end. Mark the first vertical stripe ½ inch in from one side. Continue making vertical stripes every ½ inch until you reach the opposite side. Sew along these lines with a straight stitch.
Large Check
Mark the first horizontal stripe 2 ¼ inches from the bottom edge. Continue making horizontal lines every 1 ½ inches until 2 ¼ inches from opposite end. Mark the first vertical stripe 2 inches in from one side. Continue making vertical lines every 1 ½ inches until 2 inches from opposite side. Sew along these lines with a straight stitch.  
To create the border, mark 1/8 inch on each side of the first and last horizontal and vertical stripes. Using this line as a starting point, sew a series of three stripes, one right next to the other, to create the illusion if one thick line. 
Pin Stripe
Mark the first stripe 1 ¼ inch from the bottom edge. Continue making horizontal lines every 3/8 inch until 1 ¼ inch from opposite end. Sew along these lines with a straight stitch.
Zigzag Stripe
Mark the first stripe 2 ½ inches from the bottom edge. Continue making horizontal lines every ¾ inch until 2 ½ inches from opposite end. Sew along these lines with a zigzag stitch. If your machine allows it, set the stitch at width: 3 and length: .75.
Three Stripe Border
Mark the first line of the the first stripe 2 1/2 inches from the bottom edge. Mark two more lines 1/8 and 1/4 inch above the first line. Sew along these lines with a straight stitch. Then, sew a line between the first and second stitched lines and another between the second and third stitched lines. There are now five stitched lines, each 1/16 inch apart. 
Start the next stripe 1/4 inch from the top of the first one. And make a third stripe 1/4 inch from the top of the second one. Repeat at the opposite end.

Hemming the Sides

Fold the edges of the long sides of the towel ¼ inch toward the wrong side twice. Press and pin. Repeat with the short sides.
Place the ribbon diagonally in the top right corner on the wrong side of the towel. Tuck the ribbon ends into the folds of the hem and pin into place.
Unfold the short sides’ hems at the corners and edge stitch along the folds on the long sides, from end to end. 
Re-fold the short side hems along crease lines and edge stitch. Backstitch at beginning and end of the seams and you’re all done!

Reader Comments (18)

These are crazy cute. You are ambitious, too! I've made my own tea towels and napkins before, but only managed turned edges, no embellishment.
May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThimblefriend
Wow they are amazing. I am just busy making tea towels and you have certainly put them to shame. Thanks for all the very lovely info which I am sure I will try one day soon xo
May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannapat
You didn't mention whether you washed the linen before you started this project. I have used Essex in the past and found that it shrinks quite a bit.
May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusan
Oh wow, what an absolutely brilliant idea! I love the utilitarian look of them as well, and it never would have occurred to me in a million years to sew lines onto normal fabric! I'm definitely going to have a go myself...
May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWolves in London
Oh my goodness, this is brilliant! Now you have inspired me, and several others I'm sure, to try this!
My favorite combo is red and white, authentic French linens are not in my future, but now I can create my own masterpieces.
THANK YOU!
May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBridgette
Corinne, As a vintage collector of tea towels ...amongst many many other things ... I appreciate these so much. Lovely in every way. Thank you!
May 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterfeathered star
These are amazing! That's how someone who couldn't make crochet or other kind of old embellishment, could make a beautiful tea towel! I love it :) I also like to make it with other types of lines of my machine. Kisses from portugal, sara www.infanta.blog.pt
May 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSara
Hi Susan -

Yes, it's always a good idea to pre-wash your fabrics. Sorry not to have mentioned it at the beginning of the pattern!
I have adjusted the quantities of the linens to make sure there is plenty of fabric post-shrinking.

Thank you for writing in!
-Corinne
May 13, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Wow, great idea!
May 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterilaria
Simply beautiful!
May 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTrine
iyi geceler.blogunuz çok güzel.sevgiler ,,neşe
May 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterneşe
Very nice, thanks for sharing.
May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVico
It says to prewash all fabrics at the very top of the instruction portion. Brilliant and simple.
June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin
I really inspired doing this one, very detailed instruction for ove this
July 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSajid Dogar
They are certainly pretty to look at, but it seems to me that the lines of thread would make the towels feel lumpy and bumpy when using them.
July 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJudy
Call my dumb... but why the diagonal ribbon? I'm a seasoned sewer but I'm not so sure what the ribbon is for.
I've made large loop hooks for big bath towels, sewed it right in the middle so that they can hang on a hook. Made the loop[ from fabric folded over twice, about 8" folded in half.
July 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
Hi Alice-

The addition of the diagonal ribbon is a very clean and simple way to hang the dishtowels. Your way would work as well!

Thanks for writing in!

Molly
July 18, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
What a lovely, thoughtful and creative project. Thank you. This is on my soon to do list.
August 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarlyn

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