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Monday, August 4, 2014

How to Be Awesome at Making Unpaper Towels

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I've seen this idea floating around Pinterest for a while, and it's always been on my "Maybe Do List."  They are paper towels that you don't have to keep buying!  All the convenience of having something you can grab off a roll in a hurry, but without all the waste of paper or money!   Sounds great!

I looked at just buying some, and there are some cute ones on Etsy, but they were pretty pricey, and rightly so for all the work it takes, but just not something I wanted to spend money on.  For a while, we just mainly used dish towels, because I have approximately seventy-three of them, and they work just as well.  And that's fine, but that means that my towel drawer is always jammed full, I never have enough places to hang towels, and it's still not as convenient as just tearing something off a roll.  Plus, it would be super cute to have a roll of unpaper towels that matched my kitchen colors!  Let's just be honest here.  That was the selling point.

Ok, so here's my walk-through on making unpaper towels.  For a much more professional and easy to follow tutorial, go to this blog, which is what I used.

Step 1:  Find your Fabric

You will need two yards of regular cotton fabric and two yards of terry cloth.  My kitchen colors are black and red, so I was excited to find two yards of an awesome black and red material in my stash!  I think I got it on sale at a craft store.

Finding the terry cloth was a little harder.  I really wanted black because it went really well with my colors, but also because I figured it would hide stains and messes the best.  This proved easier said than found, and I ended up ordering it online.

Step 2:  Prepare your Fabric

You have to wash and dry your fabrics, especially your terry cloth, or this will all end in disaster.

Trust. Me.

Step 3:  Assemble Your Supplies

In addition to your fabrics, you will also need scissors and/or a rotary cutter and mat (not necessary but very handy), a ruler or template for your squares, thread to match your fabric, and something to sew with.  (The tutorial I used just said to hand sew them, but I used my machine.)


You will also need snaps.  That's what makes these unpaper towels so cool.  They snap together to form a roll!  I thought about using velcro because it would be cheaper and easier, but it would be a mess in the washer/dryer and would probably ruin your terry cloth.  So snaps it is.  I went ahead and got a big pack of different colors so I'll have options for future projects.  You'll need something to put the snaps on with, too.  I got my stuff online.


Step 4:  Cut Your Fabric

If you've ever read my series about making my quilt, you know that I am the certified worst at cutting fabric.  Like, I have an actual certificate of worstness.

I'm terrible.

Anyway, so this was difficult for me.  I decided early on that the super easy "use a 12 inch square to draw on your fabric" idea in the tutorial was not ok.  I can't even remember why.  Maybe I thought it would mess up my fabric, or maybe I was afraid I wouldn't be able to see it well.  For whatever reason, though, I decided that I was going to very carefully measure each 12 inch square with a ruler and cut it with my rotary cutter.  

This was not at all easy.  The fabric kept moving, and I was on the floor so I was crawling all around trying to cut it from different angles.  I tried folding it so I could cut out several at once, but I couldn't ever get it just right, and it was taking forever, so finally I just gave up and cut out fifteen squares individually.  

All of this took about two hours.  I'm sure there is a better, much faster way, but like I said.  I'm terrible.

Then I had to cut out the terry cloth, which took another bajillion hours, and made a huge mess, because that stuff sheds like a tiny black dog and makes it look like your house is infested with really lazy ants.

Step 5:  Sew Them Together

The sewing part isn't hard at all.  Just sew one square of fabric to one square of terry cloth, right sides together, and leave a 4 inch gap so you can turn it right side out.  Then sew around the whole thing again.

You will probably forget to leave that gap at least once, so have the seam ripper handy.

Since there were fifteen unpaper towels, this just took forever.  I would get three or four done on a good day, and then I'd get busy and put everything away for a week before taking it all out again.  

My kingdom for a sound-proof crafting room.

Step 6:  Add Snaps

I was terrified of this part.  I was convinced it would be super hard and I would make a mess of it.

Much to my surprise, it was actually really easy!  You just stab the sharp end through the back of the fabric and then put the other end over it, pinch really hard with the special pliers, and that's it!  It's like magic!  They said to make a hole in the fabric first with the awl in the kit, but I only did that once and decided it was more trouble than it was worth.  The snaps are plenty sharp enough to go through terry cloth.

I did have a little trouble lining them up, and I ended up doing better just eyeballing it instead of trying to measure.  I just kept telling myself it didn't have to be perfect.  These are just for me, and they will be all rolled up, so no one will  know if they are a little imperfect.

You can barely see the black snaps in the corners.

Step 7:  Make Your Center

You need something at the core of your roll of unpaper towels, or it won't come off the dispenser easily.  (Ask me how I know.)  You can use a cardboard tube from an empty paper towel roll, or for something more permanent, you can get a piece of PVC pipe.  Eventually I might get Brian to make me a PVC one, but for now, I just used a leftover cardboard tube and poked the snaps right through without a problem.

Here's the finished product!

As a whole, I give this project a C+.  It took just really forever to do from start to finish.  Like, to the point where I kept giving up and putting it away for months at a time, and then coming back and trying it again and then giving up again in a horrible cycle for an entire year.  In the end, it took a motivational seminar to give me the resolve I needed to suck it up and finish these stupid things.  Also, because I am (see certificate above) terrible at the measuring and cutting aspect of this, the pieces don't line up perfectly when you snap them together, which bothers me as a perfectionist.

Oh, and I made way too many.  If you decide to make these, start with like, ten.  Or maybe like, five.  See how it goes first before committing to so many.

So the moral of the story is, if you find yourself wanting to make something like this, BUY THEM OFF ETSY, or stick some snaps on your dish towels and save yourself literally a year of having this project hanging over your head.

But, yay unpaper towels!


  1. They're adorable. Way to persevere!
    I also think your certificate should be rescinded. You did just fine.
    and this blog post is hliarous. Eveyone at work is asking waht I'm giggling about.:)

  2. I loved your blog. I'm terrible at cutting fabric too. I'm the one at the store saying, "Can you use your special table and cut this for me? It usually works. I think I might hire my sister to cut this project for me.