Switching to reusable, “unpaper” towels was an easy way for our family to be more eco-friendly.
When I decided to mane the switch from paper to unpaper towels the first thing I did was research online. I found tons of different types of unpaper towels made of a wide variety of fabrics. One by one I eliminated fabrics: flannel pills and fades too much, terrycloth is too thick, wovens are too thin, knits are too stretchy, velour is too plush… finally I found the perfect fabric: cotton birdseye!
If you picture the old-fashioned, white rectangular cloth diapers your grandma may have used you’re probably thinking of birdseye. Birdseye is a thin cotton fabric with a very small diamond pattern woven into it that softer and more absorbent with each wash. Even better, it’s cheap and not ugly, but not so pretty that I’d be devastated if a towel was ruined.
I decided to make my unpaper towels two-layered, and guesstimated that two dozen would be a good number to start with. Since most birdseye fabric is about 27″ wide I planned to cut my unpaper towels about 14×14″. Yes, I realize 14 + 14 = 28, not 27. I hate math so I tend to round things up or down. They’re just for us anyway so it’s not a big deal if they’re not perfectly square. I figured I’d get about two and a half unpaper towels out of each yard so I needed a lot of birdseye!
When the birdseye arrived I skipped prewashing because it was so nice and flat I knew it would be easier to work with than if I washed it. I cut the fabric into squares, then serged two layers together, rounding the corners. The ends of the thread were tied together so they wouldn’t unravel. Voila, they were done!
I decide to fancy some of them up with some decorative stitching around the borders. I have a ton of fun stitches on my machine that I never used so I just started picking some at random. The thread was all leftover from previous projects and doesn’t necessarily match front and back, but I don’t care – they’re just towels for heaven’s sake!
Once I was done with the decorative stitching because I ran out of leftover thread I threw them all in the washer for a quick hot wash to get the fabric sizing out.
Now they live in one of our kitchen drawers, which I can’t show you a photo of because the other half is so messy I’d die of embarrassment if you saw it.
Making unpaper towels was so easy I know you can do it too! Send me a photo when you do – I’ll bet you’ve got some really creative ideas and I can’t wait to see them!
I was surprised at how long it took to do the decorative stitching – the towels aren’t that big but it took forever! Good thing I didn’t do decorative stitching on all of them: I always grab the fancy ones last so I don’t “ruin” them.
Hi Amy Sue,
Why don’t you make some and offer them for sale for folks too lazy to make their own? (Like Me!)
Actually I have thought about it but am not sure how well it would fit into the cloth diaper business. I really don’t want to start another new business/website/etc. I’d consider an emailed request though. 😉
Great ideas! Just found your blog and love it! Thanks for sharing.
Wow what a tongue twister – can you say “panamamama” five times fast? I sure can’t!
Thanks for reading and commenting, I’m glad you’re enjoying my ramblings.
These look awesome! I was googling “unpaper towels” this morning when I stumbled upon your website. What a great idea! I now am following you on FB! 🙂
Thanks! We love them here; they work great, and are pretty but not so pretty I’m upset when I’ve got to throw one into the rag bag.
Let me know if you make any, and be sure to send a photo; I’d love to see them!
Hi, I’ve been wondering if it is necessary to prewash birdseye cotton before making some unpaper towels as I see several etsy sellers mention that their unpaper towels are not prewashed. If you don’t mind, could you tell me if the serged edges ended up wrinkly or otherwise uneven after wash/dry because you didn’t prewash before sewing? That is my concern; I’m not worried about shrinkage as that is no big deal.
Thanks in advance.
I didn’t prewash my birdseye because I didn’t care about shrinkage and knew it’d be a little easier to work with if I didn’t. They did shrink a bit – I don’t remember how much – but the edges didn’t get wrinkly. The whole thing got a bit wrinkly, but the edges weren’t any worse than the rest of the towel. I’m sure if I wanted to iron them out they’d be crisp again but I’m not going to bother, LOL!
I hope that helps!
Where did you purchase your birdseye? And what is a good price per yard? Thanks for sharing this with us!
I bought mine through a co-op, and that was so long ago I don’t remember how much I paid for it. Birdseye is fairly cheap though, which is another good reason to use it. 😉 Try searching online for “birdseye fabric” – hopefully you’ll find some good results!
Thanks for commenting!
Would birdseye flat fold cloth baby diapers work for this? Like the kind made by Gerber?
I think they’d work very nicely! The birdseye diapers I had were a little thinner than the birdseye I had for the unpaper towels, but I think it would still work.
Let me know how yours turn out!
Your paperless towels are just beautiful. I marvel at the pictures. I am thinking about buying a new sewing machine – mine is very very old – yours has beautiful stitches – can you share what type/brand you use? So you like it? Do you have a serge machine too..I am just learning – I used to sew a great deal…
Thanks so much!
I started out with a cheapie Kenmore from Sears and it served me well for many, many years. When it died I got a basic (ie, bottom of the line) Viking. Eventually I traded up to a Platinum, which is what I have now. The next step up has more bells and whistles than I need – I’m happy with the machine I have.
My first serger was a basic Huskylock by Viking which I also traded up. The one I have now isn’t top of the line, but does have overlock stitch – I just need to figure out how to use it, LOL!
Thanks for commenting, and for the compliments!
In an effort to go green and save money, I bought a 12pk of regular Gerber clother diapers, rolled them up and stuck them in a doller tree bucket by the sink! I’m re-learning how to sew, so this was a quick,easy,(lazy) solution. We no longer buy paper towels, at all(even thought sometimes our guests are a lil confused)! Total cost was $17 for cloth diapers and $1 for the bucket.
What a fantastic idea! It is much easier and quicker than sewing, and I’ll bet the absorbency is great too.
Thanks for sharing your great idea!
I didn’t read through all the posts so Idk if someone said this already. I saw somewhere that someone made an unpaper towel roll, like a paper towel roll but made of pvc pipe. It’s worth looking up!
I’m curious at how much your unpaper towels shrunk?
I’m actually commissioning my friends mother who does crazy good embroidery to start off my first set 😀
as far as unpaper towels go, how many would you recommend for a well running household?
To be honest, I made them so long ago I really don’t remember. Since you’re having embroidery put on I’d shrink them first, so the embroidery isn’t messed up when they shrink. I didn’t shrink mine first because I really didn’t care if they puckered, but if I were making them to sell I’d pre-shrink them before making them. After shrinking you’ll probably want to iron the fabric so it’ll be easier to work with.
I just counted and we currently have 30 in our drawer. We generally only run out if I’m behind on washing kitchen towels, or if the daycare runs out of towels and I have to give them the unpaper ones. We tend to use the dishcloth for wiping things up more than the unpaper towels though.
Have fun, and I’d love to see your finished unpaper towels!
Ok, first love your site. I so want to have a blog but I will just read yours:) Ok next silly question, can you put them in the microwave? I have made the switch and we just use washcloths as napkins. But I need paper towles to use in the microwave? thanks
I’ve never tried putting them in the microwave, but since paper towels are somewhat OK in the microwave I’d assume that fabric ones would be too. Both materials are flammable so you’d have to keep a close eye on them in any case.
Thanks for commenting!
Have you seen where some put snaps on them so they can roll up on a stand like paper towels? we are making some as gifts this Christmas…. and where do you find the best price on Birdseye?
I have seen the snapping ones – they’re really cute! I know myself enough to know that I’d never snap them all together, so I made the flat ones. I got my birdseye through a co-op years and years ago; I don’t even know if that co-op is operating anymore, sorry.
Good luck, and be sure to send me photos of your unpaper towels!
I love these! Another reason why I need an upgrade on my sewing machine!
If you don’t have a serger or an overcast stitch on your sewing machine you could make them “turned and topstitched” style – sew the two layers together right sides together, turn right side out, then topstitch around the edges to close the opening. Or if you’re less concerned about how they look, you could simply zig-zag the edges. It won’t be as pretty but it would be quicker and still functional.
Thanks for taking time to comment,
This is the cleverest idea I have seen in a long time and so inexpensive to make!!!! Now I have got to make me a batch of these! Thanks so much for sharing.
Thanks for your kind words. I’d love to see your unpaper towels when they’re done – send me a photo pretty-please!
And thanks for taking time to comment. 🙂
These are cute! I have wanted to make these for some time now, 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 good way to make kitchen laundry smell sweet again?? Thanks for any tips!!
I haven’t had a problem with any of mine smelling like grease, but some are really stained. To be honest, when they get yucky I use them as rags for even yuckier stuff, then throw them out. I figure that we’re still ahead in the long run, and since they’re natural fiber they’ll decompose eventually.
I assume you’ve tried washing in really, really hot water? What about bleach? I don’t use it often, but do keep some around for last-ditch efforts, like when our bath towels get that funky smell that you can’t get out with anything else.
I hope this helped – thanks for commenting!
Abbey, I use cloths for all kitchen cleaning and most drying. I do all my laundry in cold water and hang it on the line. The sun cures 99% of odor problems, but if it doesn’t work I rewash with vinegar in the rinse water and hang in the sun again. I’ve never had that fail. The problem with the dryer is it sets stains and odors, and they’re nearly impossible to remove after that.
Hi Amy Sue, Thanks for explaining what birdseye is, I thought that was it. It’s great for diapers!
Has anyone tried Huck toweling http://www.onlinefabricstore.net/toweling-fabric/huck-toweling-fabric/huck-toweling-.htm or waffle cloth http://www.onlinefabricstore.net/toweling-fabric/waffle-cloth/natural-waffle-cloth-.htm ? I was wondering if they might do some jobs better because of the texture. I just got a steam cleaner and need towels for it, and I want to replace my old hand towels too. I hadn’t thought of making unpaper towels but I like the idea. Yours look great!
I haven’t tried Huck toweling or waffle weave fabric but I’ll bet they would both work very well. Thanks for bringing those fabrics to my attention; I want to get some to try now!
Have a great day,
I don’t have a serger, but am getting one. Can you please tell me: did you cut these out as squares and then round on the machine, or did you cut the corners rounded? I love the way the rounded corners look!
I’ve done it both ways. When I first got my serger I cut the corners rounded but as I got better with the serger I started rounding them on the machine. The secret is to rotate the fabric and let the machine pull it through instead of trying to push it through.
Good luck, and please share a photo of yours!
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