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Un-paper towels tutorial

make your own alternative to kitchen towels

My parents would never have bought dusters or kitchen roll - there was a bag under the sink of rags, cut up shirts and t-shirts, there were cloths hanging over the taps. Yet somehow over the past couple of decades kitchen roll became a kitchen essential for me. I felt that - hey it's paper - it can be recycled . . . .

But it seemingly isn't that easy. Advances in manufacturing kitchen roll over the past decade mean that with most brands chemicals are added to stop it shredding when wet (you know those adverts!) - those chemicals stop it from being recycled by councils and they aren't keen on the spray residues or the fact it clogs machinery either. Some councils will allow a small amount of kitchen towel (less than 1% by volume) in your food waste bin, many will not. This why paper towels shouldn't be in your recycling bin and certainly why they shouldn't go down the toilet (paper tissues are the same). Even kitchen towels marketed as 'biodegradable' are not recyclable. I had been putting them into my garden compost bin - but thinking about what I'm introducing into an otherwise organic set up has been making me re-consider.

So I have been working on an alternative for cleaning that will suit everyone in the house *. Like most of my eco-alternatives it is at its core just going back to pre-1970s habits.

Commercially there are a few alternatives available - towelling backed cloths, elaborate popper based contraptions that mimic the traditional roll of kitchen towel - but I feel that they are over engineered, as well as expensive and I just know that I would never re-popper all the cloths into a roll or be able to dry towelling backed cloths.

So here is a step by step tutorial, recycling old fabrics into a good alternative to kitchen roll.

I use kitchen towel primarily for mopping up spills, for a quick wipe down of a surface, for drying my hands between tasks. An alternative doesn't have to be large or fancy but it does need to be absorbent, and, given that we live in Scotland where drying things is often difficult, it has to dry quickly.

My solution is inspired by two things - by those rags under the sink and by the Liz Earle muslin cleaning square. Making the rags two ply - basically joining two together with a stitched edge transforms them, making them sturdier, more absorbent, yet doesn't increase the drying time much.

The tutorial is for a machined version (because you need a lot of squares so it is worth getting a machine out and doing it as a batch) but I've added in hand sewing alternatives. PLEASE don't regard this as an exercise in neatness, we are making cloths to wipe up kitchen spills, not creating a quilt. The important thing is that it gets done, not that it is perfect!

1. Make a template. I used an A4 piece of paper folded into a square (so 21cm x 21 cm) - a good size for most things.

2. Cut out squares from waste fabric. Most of mine are from the same holey sheet that I made the produce bags from, some are from a moth eaten brushed cotton pillowcase. Check that the fabric you have is absorbent. You can use towelling but it will increase drying time and there is absolutely no point in doing this if you are then going to table dry your cloths . . . .

3. Put 2 squares together, right sides out and machine right round the edge with a zig zag stitch - make the stitch as wide as you can and a fairly short length (2-3 on my machine, not button hole kind of stitch but a nice firm zig zag). Trim the edges and also any excess fabric on the outside of the zig zagging.

4. You can also sew the edges by hand - a running stitch is fine. I find it is then worthwhile recutting the edges neatly half a centimetre from the stitching to neaten it all up.

Store your cloths somewhere obvious and easy - mine are currently in this basket along with the knitted dishcloths - and also provide somewhere to toss the dirty ones ready for washing - a bag that can go into the washing machine might work really well. I am beginning with 20 cloths but I suspect that I will need more if I am to have a good system where there is always a good supply.

* we are not a kitchen towel free home, as I still continue to use kitchen towel for absorbing oil from fried food, but I will try to source 100% recycled towel that is not chemically treated and keep it in a cupboard along with the baking parchment of foil!.

Comments: 7 (Add)

Yvonne on July 19 2019 at 09:12

Really useful. I had no idea that kitchen towel isn't recyclable. Thank you.

Gillian Smellie on July 19 2019 at 09:18

We haven't bought kitchen paper in years (although my husband occasionally pops a packet in the basket when on auto pilot). I am like your parents. All old tee-shirts are cut up for rags and I have a box of them where the kitchen paper holder used to stand. Likewise our dusters are the old sweatshirts my daughters wore for primary school (the oldest is about to graduate as a Dr next year!) Even my hoover bag is washable. Once you start ditching the unresuable it becomes habit forming!

Liz Stevens on July 19 2019 at 09:26

great idea Jane.

Sue Adlam on July 19 2019 at 09:55

Another thing that I need to eradicate! I don't use it very much, so can easily get rid of it. Thank you for bringing it to my consciousness Jane. Have loads of cloths that I use for cleaning, so not sure why I still use kitchen towels! S x

Catherine MacDonald on July 20 2019 at 20:26

Goodness me thank you yet again - I had no idea it wasn't recyclable as it was possible to put in food compost bin in Perth (not sure with here in Ayrshire as I have issue with their food recycling full stop). I have recently hemmed a bunch of old towels into suitably sized cloths and I absolutely LOVE my dish cloths I knitted from your pattern (they are so much better than shop ones). My main use of paper towel is to dry/wipe salad type veg any helpful solution gratefully received :)

Liz Stevens on September 20 2019 at 09:17

whogivesacrap do bamboo kitchen towel - and they give money to build toilets

Sally on November 3 2019 at 19:29

Oh this made me chuckle at the memory of using a pair of old knickers to buff up school shoes after polishing!

Snapdragon social

The hazel tree on the back lawn was the only tree when we moved here 16 years ago. 
Over the summer, when Euan was repairing the shed floor, he found thousands and thousands of empty hazel nuts under it, all neatly gnawed open by tiny, tiny teeth. 
Imagine those field mouse parties, the hazelnuts held up between tiny paws.

We tend to just pick the easy to reach nuts, tonight I’ll make a carrot and green hazelnut salad and I shall feel nicely smug at eating from the garden! 
I’ll leave the windfalls for the mice and the high ups for the red squirrels. They were here before us. 
Hazel trees fruit at a fairly young age. The ones we planted as tiny whips in the hedge 10 years ago are fruiting this year and I’m sure they would have been faster if they hadn’t been growing in long grass, part of a deliberately neglected wild area. 
I’ll put the recipe up on stories later.
When I was on holiday last month I messaged a number of close friends with a three point 'priority list' that I wanted them to hold me to. ⁠⠀
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It read-⁠⠀
1. Simplify things so that people actually know what the Studio Membership is.⁠⠀
2. Make amazing things for my members.⁠⠀
3. Talk about what I do to lots of people in lots of ways.⁠⠀
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The point was for the to stop me doing other things as a distraction from my main job, a job that is feeling more and more important, helping people being more small joyful things into their lives.⁠⠀
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I've been working on 1 and 2 since getting home - the website now has 1/4 of the categories that it had, the link to the membership is now actually on the home page, I've been finalising new products and working on next month's members e-course (about how to wrap beautiful natural seasonal inspired gifts without the Pinterest fuss).⁠⠀
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The third - the talking - is always a struggle for me and I suspect it may always be. There is too much conditioning there, too much being a nicely quiet, head down, work hard, Scottish girl at heart. ⁠⠀
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But I am trying hard . . . . and have resolved too email some people this afternoon and tell them what I do.⁠⠀
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I love bracken at this fleeting time of year - the burst of bright gold before it blends back into the forest floor. ⁠⠀
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An unusual photo for me perhaps but over in the Snapdragon Studio Bee we have been having a really interesting and honest conversation about what people look for when they are buying things - whether it is eco packaging or organic contents or everything made in the UK.⁠⠀
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It was such an interesting topic that it made me realise that I have really not done enough to show the thought and reasoning behind all the things in our products.  I think I felt it was a bit eco-smug at the time. ⠀
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Anyway . . . I have begun with the calendula balm kit and you can see the result above - making a flat lay of all the contents and a key as to what everything is, where it comes from and whether it can be recycled.⁠⠀
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If you want to join the Facebook group it is completely free and open to all - just google Snapdragon Studio Bee and let me know what makes you smile.⁠⠀
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And the balm kit now has all its info in place and you can see it on the website www.snapdragonlife.com
Natural dyeing.⁠⠀
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I think that the most amazing thing about my little foray into natural dyeing is how adding a modifier, in this case a little bit of rust, can transform a colour.⁠⠀
⁠⠀ Both of these were dyed in the same pot.  I chopped up willow leaves and bark and soaked them in water for two days, before simmering for an hour and leaving to steep overnight. ⁠⠀
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I then removed the willow and simmered my 2 hanks of silk yarn for an hour and let the liquid cool.  One hank was removed - which is the gorgeous pale pink - and I added some rusty metal to the pot and watched the silk turn dark grey as though by magic.⁠⠀
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Natural dyeing has been something that I have meaning to try at home ever since I went on a course with @debbiethedyer years and years ago.  I'm so glad that I actually thought to make it into a little project and actually put it in my diary this year.
Since I got back from holiday the bottles on my bedroom windowsill have been empty.⁠⠀
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They looked pretty - like an art installation - but also sad.  There was so little left in the garden that it felt a shame to pick it and turn all views from the house into a sludge of frosted stems.⁠⠀
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Yesterday I decided enough was enough - that there must be some small things that I could pick and Dixie and I went for a walk along the road with a pair of secateurs.⁠⠀
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This was the result - a windowsill that Euan claims is overstuffed! - berries and leaves and seed heads all tucked under the long grass.⁠⠀
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It was a lesson in remembering to venture out and look.  What have you seen recently?
Sometimes it takes a long time to see things clearly, to actually see what it is that is the heart of what you want to do with that ‘one wild and precious life’. I finally feel I’m getting there and I’m tagging a whole bunch of amazing people who have helped me figure it out and winnow it down over the past couple of years.
Who else is dreaming of planting spring bulbs at the moment? 
I can’t think of another activity that sums up that Audrey Hepburn quote “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” - the tucking up of smooth bulbs in the cold ground, the watching for shoots in spring. It feels miraculous. 
This month’s Studio Members e-course is about Spring bulbs, how to choose, how to plant, what I have learned here over the decades. 
It has been lovely hearing about what people are planting and why.
Overwhelm - I wrote a blog this week about how I fell prey to overwhelm and what I did to get over it - you can read it by clicking through my profile.⁠⠀
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I had actually always thought of myself as someone who didn't get overwhelmed, who had so many tactics in place to stay present, stay slow, stay engaged and take action.⁠⠀
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I thought I was immune to getting caught up, tangled up in overwhelm.⁠⠀
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Until that wasn't the case and I ended up weeping at the sheer difficulty of everything.  All I wanted was someone to breeze in and do all my adulting for me.⁠⠀
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It was a lesson in not taking things for granted and to stop and take stock more often.  To avoid drama, to sit still, to do meaningful things.⁠⠀
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I'd love to know your tips, in a comment here on on the blog, or as a direct message.⁠⠀
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About Snapdragon

At Snapdragon we gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

Through our communities, both free and paid for, through Jane's writing on the blog, through carefully hand crafted gifts and activity kits, and through our online and in-person workshops we aim to bring people back in touch with the rhythms of a seasonal life.

Learn more about why here

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