Kitchen Dish Towel Experiment

Recently my husband and I decided that we really needed new dish towels. The cotton flour sack towels that we had purchased less that a year ago were no longer absorbent and were basically useless. Since I am unhappy with the quality of merchandise that is currently available to the consumer, I started doing my research on dish towels and decided that I might be able to make quality towels for a fraction of the cost of pre-made ones. So I designed an experiment and here are my results.

During my many web searches I discovered that there are three types of fabric that people tend to recommend making dish towels out of. Linen, of course, ticking, and Osnaburg. So I ordered all three fabrics from and set to work. The first task at hand was measuring the fabric that was shipped to me, then I headed off to the laundry room to wash all the fabric together in warm water then tumble them dry in my clothes dryer. I am well aware that it is not recommended to launder linen this way, but for the sake of my research, I thought it necessary to treat all the fabric the same initially.

Fabrics for Towel Experiment

Osnaburg FabricI began using the Osnaburg fabric first. Historically Osnaburg was made from flax in Osnaburg Germany. Over time it was discovered that it could also be made from the by-products of the linen making process (tow), or with jute, or a combination of the listed fibers. With the emergence and availability of cotton in the New World the fiber content of Osnaburg changed. The new Osnaburg was made with the by-product of the cotton industry instead of flax and it was perfect for fiber projects that did not require fine quality, such as feed sacks, shoe linings, etc, as well as clothing for the enslaved people. It was cheap, easy to produce and fairly durable.

The Osnaburg that I ordered is wonderful. It feels like a combination of fine cotton and burlap. I did loose a about 11% of the fabric during the laundering process, which was a bit disheartening because I purchased the Roc-lon pre-shrunk Osnaburg. The good news is that it laundered beautifully and was a dream to cut, iron and sew. While working with it my mind was coming up with all kinds of projects I could make with this fabric.

Here are my finished Osnaburg towels:

Towels made with osnagurg

Linen FabricThe next on my list was the linen fabric. I ordered the European 100% Washed Linen in Aqua. To say that I love linen is an understatement. There is just something about working with this natural fiber that brings me great joy. It is not easy to work with at all, because you really need to pay attention to your measuring, cutting, pressing and sewing, but the finished products are always magnificent. I purchased 1 yard of this linen and sent me about 1 1/16 yards (56” x 38.25”) Thank you! After laundering I had a piece of fabric that measured 54” x 36”, so I lost about 10% of my fabric, but since the company sent me extra, I didn’t miss my loss.

Here are my completed linen towels:

Towels made with linen

Ticking FabricThe last to be made were the dish towels made from the vertical striped ticking. I ordered a yard and a half and again sent me a few inches extra. After laundering I had a piece of fabric that was 51” W x 55 1/2” L. I lost about 9% of my fabric in the laundering process.

Here are my completed ticking towels:

Towels made with ticking

And here is a photo of my loss:


That is a lot of lint. Since it is a wonderful blend of linen and cotton, I saved it to use as batting in another craft project.

So what was the verdict after all this work? Well see for yourself:

Osnaburg with water dropplets

Osnaburg dish towels. Photo taken about 1 minute after dropping water onto it.

Ticking with water droplets

Ticking dish towel. Photo taken about 1 minute after dropping water onto it.

Linen with water dropplets

Linen dish towel. Photo taken immediately after dropping water onto it.

I tried to dry dishes with the Osnaburg fabric and it simply did not work. It took about 3 minutes to dry an 8 ounce drinking glass. The towel made with ticking took about a minute and the linen dried the glass and subsequent dished without hardly any exertion at all. The linen fabric won without a doubt. Which leads me to the question of, “Why do people mess around with other fabrics when it comes to dish towels?”

Well cost could be one issue.

The Osnaburg towels cost me about $1.33 per towel.
The Ticking towels cost me about $2.24 per towel.
The Linen towels cost me about $ $4.47 per towel.

The average “good” kitchen towel costs between $2.50 & $5.00, but it is still made from cotton which is less absorbent than linen and it doesn’t last nearly as long. An added bonus to using linen for towels is that it is naturally anti-microbial. Yup, those no-see ‘em’s don’t like linen. In fact they are actually repelled by it.

Real linen dish towels are pretty hard to find. I caution anyone looking for them to read the content label carefully, more often then not “linen” towels are actually 100% cotton. Williams-Sonoma however sells a set of real linen dish towels that look very nice, but the price is $49.00 for 2. This makes my $4.47 per towel that I spent look like a real bargain.

Happy creating!



9 thoughts on “Kitchen Dish Towel Experiment

  1. I wonder what has changed, either in the manufacturing of the content to change the absorption so much. I LOVED my mom’s flour sack towels, but the new ones are really a disappointment in comparison. Same with bath towels, and you can’t really tell until you use them. Great report on a subject that frustrates many of us!

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    • It seems that most things are massed produced anymore Kathy. I don’t want to disrespect Walmart, but I have noticed with Walmart craze over the past 20 years, department stores and personal service has gone by the wayside and along with it, the quality of the merchandise that is offered. People want inexpensive merchandise, and as long as the inferior products are selling, quality merchandise is going to loose out. That is why it is up to us as the consumer to do our research and make better choices. Like that beautiful suit you made for your daughters graduation. That is a quietly made garment with quality made fabric. That suit will last you a life time. I think you would be hard pressed to find that type of quality, pre-made and available for sale in any store and if you did, it might cost thousands of dollars $$$

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      • Absolutely, Bella. It is rampant…dry goods, even food. Our coffee is no longer sold by the pound, yet the price remains the same, and the container is the old size! Washing machines and refrigerators used to run for 30 years and now you are lucky to get 10 years out of them! Consumer research is so important these days!

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  3. This is so interesting! I would’ve guessed, even before the scientific experiment, that the linen would win but it’s fascinating to see the actual difference. I sometimes weave with a cotton and linen combo thread called cottolin. I should do a similar experiment with my hand-woven towels!

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