Lately I have been challenging myself to find spots in the house where we can eliminate waste and swap out a reusable item where we would normally do a disposable option, and I’ve decided to tackle my kitchen first! One item that most of us use a lot without even thinking about it would be paper towels! Got a spill? Paper towel. Need to dry something? Paper towel. Clean a baby’s face after dinner? Paper towel. You can really go through a lot in an average day without thinking about it. I’d been trying to use a giant rag pile under my sink more and more, and while it does help the paper towel usage, I don’t always want to dry my hands or clean off Lola with them since they can be rather stained and rough, as I tend to use them for the dirtier kitchen jobs. That’s where a roll of "unpaper" towels come in! The first time I saw a roll of these I thought it was the most genius thing I had ever seen. Reusable paper towels are basically mini cloth towels that attach together (I used the snap method on mine) so you can still have them in a roll on your counter and keep them accessible. But when you are done, you wash and reuse them instead of throwing them away. It’s less waste in your trash can and you’ll save money buying paper towels in the long run, too! I’ll show you how I made mine and then give you a "cheat" to make a set faster at the end …
-2 yards of cotton terrycloth fabric
-2 yards of cotton flannel
–mesh canvas sheet
–snaps and snap setter
–rotary cutter, cutting mat, and ruler
Let’s get started! Wash your fabric pieces in hot water so that any shrinking will occur before you sew and dry them. Place your two fabrics on top of each other on top of your cutting mat and smooth out both layers so there are no wrinkles. You are going to cut 12″ x 12″ squares and it’s really helpful if you have a template that you can use to cut each one so you don’t have to measure out each square every time. I happened to have a smaller cutting mat that was the perfect size to use as my template, but you could also cut a piece of cardboard to be your template instead. Use your template and ruler to cut through both layers of fabric with your rotary cutter. Continue to move the fabric sections onto the cutting mat, smoothing the layers each time, and cutting with your template until you have 12 squares of two-layered fabric.
Use your straight pins to pin each set of squares together.
Sew around your squares with a 1/2″ seam allowance, leaving a 3″ opening so you can turn your fabric through the hole when you are done. Clip the corners of your square with scissors and then turn your fabric through the hole. You can press your seams flat by ironing each square if you like, but I found they flattened very well just by smoothing them with my hands, so I skipped that step.
Once they are all turned right sides out, make sure your 3″ openings are folded in and even with the rest of the towel edge and sew all the way around each square again with a 1/4″ seam allowance this time. (This will close your opening for you and help keep the towels lying flat.)
Once you have all your towels ready (yay!), get out your snaps and snap setter. Snaps have a stud side and a socket side (the stud part sticks out and the socket part goes in), so you’ll want to arrange all your towels with the flannel side up and set two socket side snaps facing downwards on the right side of the square and two stud snaps facing up on the left side of the square. I cut a piece of mesh canvas the height of my towel and marked two squares (the same height and depth from the edge) with a marker so I could just line that up with the edges and mark where to place the two snaps so I didn’t have to measure every time. Repeat by setting four snaps in this same manner on each towel.
To make your unpaper towel roll, there are a few different methods out there, but this is the one I used. Cut a piece of canvas 6 1/2″ wide and as tall as your towels (should be about 11″ tall). Attach stud and socket snaps (three on each side) with one set facing down and the others facing up as you see in the first photo above so that your grid will overlap about 3/4″ on each end when you snap it into a roll. It can be helpful to use clips of some sort to help keep your roll rolled up while you are marking the spots for your snap locations. Once your end snaps are attached, you’ll want to attach two stud snaps that face outward when the roll is snapped together in the middle of your canvas the same distance apart as the snaps on your towels. (You can use your grid template from the last step for this measurement, too.)
NOTE: If your plastic canvas is too thick, your snaps won’t be very strong and may snap when you go to unsnap them from each other. If that happens, try a lighter weight canvas and that should solve the problem. You can also attach two snaps the right distance onto a cardboard roll leftover from a regular paper towel, so that’s always an option, too!
Once your snaps are all set, you can snap your roll together and start assembling your unpaper towel roll until all your towels are added!
Not a bad way to keep towels right on your counter within reach, right?! To do the "cheat" version of this DIY, you can just buy towels like these to start with instead of making your own, and then finish out the steps to connect the towels and make a holder. I keep dirty rags and towels under my sink in something like this until I have a load of laundry that I can throw them in with. I usually wash rags on hot, but if you worry that may continue to shrink the fabric you chose, then try warm and see if that does the job just fine. Once your towels are clean and dry, you can snap them back together and start over again!
There are different thoughts on the paper vs. fabric towel debate as to which uses more energy since you have to wash the towels, but I definitely use my fabric towels and rags for several jobs per towel as I can shake them out or give them a quick rinse and use all over again (I always found that harder to do efficiently with paper towels when I would try). Also, it’s a good idea to wash your towels and rags in with other items that use the same water temperature so you always have a full load and are making the most use of your washing cycle too (especially if you don’t have an energy efficient washer) and you can use the power of the sun or a drying rack to dry your towels and save some energy there as well.
You can also make a double batch of towels so that you always have one clean roll while the other one is waiting to be washed. There are also lots of fun patterns and colors of fabric that you can use for your towels, but I did white thinking then I could bleach them as needed or lay them in the sun to help with staining if that bothers me. Your unpaper towels will probably fit onto your current towel holder just fine, but it can be handy to have a holder like this to keep the towels from unrolling very far since they are heavier than the paper version. I’ve only been using my new roll few weeks, but I love it so far! xo. Laura
Credits // Author and Photography: Laura Gummerman. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.