The Making of Fine Linen Dish Towels

Some people shy away from sewing with linen because they believe that it requires special handling or tools to create with it. Uncertainty tends to keep textile artists from utilizing this fabric. So I thought I would show how easy it is to sew with 100% linen and what a rewarding experience it really is.

Before we begin, I would like to explain the difference between pressing and ironing, because there is a difference. Pressing is when you place your iron down on the fabric for a few seconds, then you lift it up and place it down again on a new area. You never slide the iron during pressing, because that stretches the fibers and slightly separates the weft and the warp causing a slight distortion in the fabric itself. Ironing is the act of sliding a hot iron back and forth laterally, horizontally and/or diagonally. When working with linen, there is a time for pressing and a time for ironing and the two should not be confused especially prior to cutting out the fabric. So please take note.

Linen is know for its legendary wrinkles. You can starch them out temporarily and gradually, with wear and washing, the wrinkles get smaller and less notable, but when cutting out the fabric for your sewing project you really do want untreated fabric to work with. So what’s to be done about the wrinkles? World renowned seamstress and pattern designer Sandra Betzina, recommends that new, unwashed fabric, be steam pressed or ironed on the hottest setting that your iron has. Get out as many wrinkles as you possibly can then put the fabric in your clothes washer and launder with hot water, then put it in the dryer on the highest setting. Do this 2x. When it is finished press the fabric with the hot linen setting on your steam iron. Now you fabric is ready to work with.

1. Pressing:Ironing

I am using a medium weigh linen that I purchased from and they generalize by saying that the weight is between 6 – 7.9 oz/yd². I think it is actually closer to a 5.3 oz/yd2.

What does that mean exactly? It means that 1 square yard of fabric weighs 5.3oz. The higher the weight, the thicker the fabric.


You can make your seams any width you want, but for dish towels, I like something with a little bit of hem to it. So I turned my seams over first a 1/4″ than 1/2″.

2. Pressing in the hem

3. Pressing in the hem

4. Pressing in the hem

Once the pressing is done, open up the fabric to view the pressing lines.

5. Pressing in the hem

Fold the 1/4″ hem back over into place and make a note where your second pressing crease is.

6. Pressing in the corners

One the right side of the fabric mark the pressing lines with a water soluble marking pen. This just makes it easier to see the lines. Then fold the corner in, so that the marked lines on the right side of the fabric are aligned with the pressing lines on the wrong side of the fabric.

7. Pressing the corners

Steam press really well, being mindful not to scorch the fabric.

8. Corner Crease

8a. Corner crease

Open your seam up and see the nice crisp crease you have made.

9. Marking the corner crease

On the wrong side of the fabric, make your crease with the water soluble pen. Again, you don’t have to do this, but it really does make seeing the fold line much easier.

10. Folding over the corner crease

11. Folding over the corner crease

With the wrong side out, fold the corner so that your pressing lines are touching. Pin this in place.

Let me stop here to make suggestions on needle size and thread weight. For a medium weight linen like this a size Universal 12 needle with a 50 weight thread is recommended. I forgot to change out my needle though and I used a Universal 14 needle with  the light weight 50 thread and it sewed beautifully. I was extremely impressed with the finished stitches. So I recommend that you play around with your needle sizes. I would not however change my thread weight.

12. Sewing the mitered corner

Stitch using a very short stitch length (2 or lower depending on your fabric).   Using short stitches ensures that there will be no un-raveling of the fibers at a later date.

13. Sewing the mitered corner

14. Trimming the mitered corner

Trim your seam allowance to 1/4″ then snip off each corner point.

Repeat on all 4 corners.

15. Completed sewn corner

Turn the corner right side out using a dull pointed object to form your corner point. (I like to use an old chopstick.)

Repeat on all 4 corners,

16. The pressure foot

Here is the pressure foot that I like to use. It is a guide foot that allows me to position my needle wherever I would like it to be. This pressure foot is a very valuable tool for me.

17. Sewing with the guide foot

If you have a guide foot, align the guide bar on the edge of your inner hem fold, then position your needle accordingly. Don’t forget to position your needle or you will break it.

If you do not have a guide foot, then use the markings on your sewing machine as a guide.

16a. Using the machine guides

18. Hem stitch in place

Stitch using short stitch lengths. I think mine was set at 2.

19. Second line of stitching

Once your hem is sewn securely in place, flip the towel over, reposition the guide bar and your sewing needle position and top stitch on the right side of the fabric.

20. Sewing corners

When you come to the end on one side, you can utilize your seam ripper to help you successfully navigate the corners.

With your needle in the down position, lift your pressure foot and rotate your fabric to the side that needs to be stitched. Place your foot back down and into position, then gently poke the tip of your seam into the corner, behind your needle. Slowly start your machine moving again while simultaneously gently encouraging the fabric to move using the tip of your seam ripper. Do not insert your seam ripper all the way in or you risk cutting your fabric and never force the fabric. It is always better to stop and reposition the fabric, then it is to force it and risk damaging your machine or your project.

21. Completed hem

That’s it, the dish towel (or napkin) is complete!

22. Completed dish towels

Happy Creating!!!

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