Embellished Hand Towels Tutorial

After reading several of the blog posts last week on my trip to Rwanda - like this one on traveling within the country and this one on the gorgeous African fabrics I brought home - a friend of mine emailed with the suggestion that I make something with the fabric to serve as a little gratitude reminder. After commenting on how challenging basic things like getting water are, I had remarked in one of the posts:

I have resolved to be more grateful for the ease with which I can get from place to place and acquire the things I "need." I have resolved to be grateful each time I turn on my faucet and pour myself a glass of water. But, as Hannah and I opined, that will last a few weeks. And then I'll forget, and I'll find myself complaining about having to walk to the little market a couple blocks away to get toilet paper when we run out. And then hopefully a little bell will ding in my head and bring me back to gratitude. 

She suggested that, to help keep gratitude for the ease with which we enjoy clean, potable water, I might make hand towels using the beautiful kitenge fabrics so that each time I dry my hands, I'll remember how lucky I am to have all that water! 

I instantly knew it was a brilliant idea and put it on my crafty to-do list. The fabric isn't soft or absorbent enough to act as a hand towel on its own, but I knew it would make a lovely embellishment to a standard hand towel. After picking up some plain kitchen towels and hand towels at Home Goods, I set to work on making some beautiful reminder towels. 

And because I love you guys, I put together a quick tutorial as well. These towels are a quick, simple way to add some personality to your kitchen or your bathroom. If you know how to sew a straight stitch on your sewing machine, you can make these in no time. 

First, lay the short side of your hand towel down on the wrong side of your (pre-washed and ironed) fabric. 

Using tailor's chalk or a fabric pen, draw a line on either side of the towel to mark how wide your fabric strip will need to be. 

Because you want a little extra fabric to fold onto the back of the towel, you'll measure 1 inch past your line and cut the fabric there. Do this on both sides of the fabric. 

Now that you have the appropriate length of fabric, cut the width that you would like. I wanted my fabric strip to be 2 inches wide, so I cut my fabric 2 1/2 inches wide, leaving myself a quarter inch seam allowance for the top and bottom. I went ahead and cut two strips since I knew I would be making two hand towels from the fish fabric. 

Head over to your ironing board and iron a little 1/4 inch fold all the way around your fabric - wrong side to wrong side. I always use a trick my mom taught me when I was first learning to sew. I draw a line on an index card 1/4 inch away from the edge and then use that as a guide when I'm ironing so that I have an even fold all the way across. 

Once your fabric strip is ironed, place it along the front of the towel just as you'd like it to be when sewn down. (I don't have picture of this part - woops!, but it looks basically like it does at the end). Fold over the two edges onto the back of the fabric and pin them down, making sure that you're the same distance from the bottom of the towel on both sides. 

Here comes the hardest part. You want to sew the folded-over fabric down to the back without stitching through the fabric on the front. It's really just a maneuvering issue, making sure that all the fabric is out of the way when you start the machine. 

Once both sides are sewn down in the back, then pin your front section down both at the top and the bottom. 

Now it's time to sew! Top stitch all the way across your fabric remembering to back stitch slightly at the beginning and end to stabilize the stitches.

I kept very close to the edge to minimize the look of the topstitch, but you can stitch further away if you'd like. Just remember that you want the actual edge of the fabric (that you folded over earlier with your iron) to be inside the topstitching so that you won't have any unraveling. 

Then cut any strands, and you're done!

There were a lot of pictures and steps, but one hand towel only takes about 30 minutes - and I'm a slow crafter. So it might be speedier for you. 

I'm enjoying having these pretty hand towels around, and I love that they serve the bonus function of helping me to remember how darn good I have it. (And sometimes I need the reminder! I've been known to get whiny about the silliest things!)

Is there anything you need help remembering to be grateful for? Even if you don't have African fabrics, you could make some of these towels out of any fabric you'd like with the same intention. Of course, you could also make them just to be pretty! Let me know if you whip any of these up - I'd love to see them.