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Journal

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

If you don't like pinky purples, then I'm afraid that there isn't much at all in my garden for you at the moment.⁠⠀it’s a froth of cow parsley with bobbing purples flowers amongst the white. 
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The first growth of the bleeding hearts (dicentra) was all frosted to a mush at the beginning of last month and I thought that there would be no flowers this year.⁠⠀
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But here we are . . . . . a little late but like festoons of pink hearts strung out to celebrate. ⁠⠀
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Turn them upside down and tweak the petals and you definitely have 'nudie lady in a bath tub'
Before the 1950s there was no flower foam.⁠⠀
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Every single flower arrangement was held together behind the scenes with metal and wood and glass and rope and wire.  The towering pillars of flowers in Tudor pageants had complex hidden frames, the pared back displays of the high value specimen flowers of the same time were equally underpinned. Nothing is new.⁠⠀
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We have been clearing my in-laws house, going through cupboards and sorting out what to keep, what to pass on. On one of the wardrobe shelves I found all my Mother-in-law's floristry underpinnings - a selection of flower frogs in metal, plastic and glass along with balled up chicken wire, scrumpled to fit into specific bowls and vases.  There was a dried out, used and reused, piece of flower foam too - crumbling nastily and now in the bin.⁠⠀
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I mainly use metal pin holders - a type best known from the Japanese tradition Ikebana, where they are called Kenzans.  They were very popular in the UK in 1920s and 30s - giving a solid base to the fashionable top heavy arrangements and stopping the flowers from toppling out of their bowls. ⁠⠀
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Many were kept and passed down in a 'it'll come in useful' kind of way so they are easy to get second hand. I have a great collection picked up in charity shops for less than 50p each, each slightly different. ⁠⠀
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I especially love the way they allow cut flowers to look as though they are still growing. I used to make meadowy arrangements with them for weddings - lines of different sized pin holders arranged in a long shallow tray, tall grasses and cow parsley impaled upright on the pins, all the underpinnings hidden by a froth of ladies mantle and tiarella.
Poppies are beginning to permeate everything in the garden.⁠⠀
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They are, I think, my favourite cut flowers. ⁠⠀
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Cut and condition them properly and they will last a week, changing hour to hour as they unfurl themselves from their seed cases and spread their petals wide.⁠⠀
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I have a blog on the website front page showing you exactly how to get the best vase life.
Camassia and ribwort plantain.⁠⠀
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I would never think of it as a planting combination.⁠⠀
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And yet . . . .⁠⠀
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Nature knows best
Cow parsley and columbine.⁠⠀
The dark columbines fell over onto the studio path a week ago. I always seemed to have my arms full as I stepped over them, and kept forgetting to return and prop them back up. ⁠⠀
Their rest on the gravel has given them a wonderful crick and crinkle to their stems - much more interesting than straight stems.⁠⠀
This is one tiny corner of the Studio.⁠⠀
Piles of linen and sample of old cotton all neat.⁠⠀
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I decided to move all the furniture around in the rest of the room yesterday to make it easier to store things and see them at the same time.⁠⠀
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There are lots of piles.  But no neatness.
On Saturday - packing up the plant tables at our local Crop Swap - I met a woman mailing a postcard.⁠⠀
She was walking the West Highland Way.⁠⠀
The walking was partly as a memorial to her Mum who had died a couple of years ago, partly to prove friends wrong who had said that, at 76, she was too old to walk 90 miles.⁠⠀
We chatted about gardening and how it really is the BEST thing for making us happy and went on our ways, me carrying a table, her heading for a sit down and a cup of tea. ⁠⠀
I wish her a midge free walk across the moors, I have no doubt she will get there.
I love birds.⁠⠀
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Having the bedroom window feeder is one of the absolute joys of my life.⁠⠀
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Being surrounded by fluttering life outside the Studio is amazing.  Increasing the number of birds who live here is one of the garden's best achievements.⁠⠀
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However - out of the 18 apple trees I have planted here this is the only one with any blossom.  The rest have been picked off pre-bloom by the very bullfinches that I so admired in March.  I fear they will regret their greed when there are no windfalls come September.⁠⠀
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I have also taken to wearing earplugs in bed so that I can have the windows open without being woken up before 3 am by the first blackbird trilling out his territory
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About Snapdragon Life

At Snapdragon Life I 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.

 

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