Mending Dishtowels

by Kristen on February 27, 2012 · 67 comments

in Fix-It!, Sewing

Mr. FG and I got a LOT of towels when we got married.

Not just bath towels too.

We must give off a couple-in-need-of-towels sort of vibe.

That time in our lives was nearly 15 years ago, though, so some of my kitchen towels are showing a bit of wear.

Ok, a lot of wear.

Some of them were in better shape than those two, though…the main problem was that some of the hems had come undone.

So, while Mr. FG read to me one night (he usually reads out loud to me before we go to bed), I trimmed some frayed edges, and ironed them over so they were ready to be sewed.

And the next night I got my machine out and did some sewing. Nice straight, easy seams.

I did have to hack a corner off of one towel.

I considered giving up on those two really bad towels. But then I realized that they could still be towels…just smaller ones.

So I cut off the offending parts, sewed new hems, and even added a few patches because I felt like it.

I can tell that I’m frugal at heart, because this kind of thing makes me really happy.

I know I could go out and buy a new set of towels for something like $10, so a time-management expert wouldn’t have advised me to do this (though it honestly didn’t take very long).

But I just love squeezing a bit more life out of the things I already own. What can I say? Keeping things in use and out of the landfill blows my hair back.

And I find that when I’m doing something I love, it doesn’t matter that if I could theoretically spend that time earning more money than I saved.

It’s sort of like how I choose to make applesauce even though it’s not necessarily cheaper than store-brand applesauce. I kind of enjoy the process, and I really, really enjoy eating the product. So it doesn’t matter to me that with my time factored in, homemade applesauce is more expensive than cheap grocery store applesauce.

Do you ever find yourself choosing the make-it-yourself/fix-it-yourself option for reasons other than frugality?


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{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ma February 27, 2012 at 7:22 am

I would have never thought to mend towels. What a great idea. I usually use my torn ones for rags, or I’ll save REALLY bad ones to use as disposable clothes in case of a really bad mess since I don’t buy paper towels.


2 Rachella February 27, 2012 at 7:35 am

What a good idea! I also do things that would be cheaper to buy, but it’s worth the pleasure I get doing it– plus consuming it. For example, I like to make my own croutons. They are so delicious that we often eat them alone as snacks in my house.

Back to your tea towels, although it may personally cost you less to buy new ones, the ultimate cost in terms of waste and use of natural resources is much higher to buy new, no matter how cheap they are in the shops.


3 WilliamB February 27, 2012 at 9:08 am

Rachella’s second paragraph is an excellent description of “external costs.” They are costs to a good or service, that are not reflected in the price. The classic example is petroleum – the cost of pollution is not reflected in the price. (Which is why many economists and some politicians, in various places in the world, want to impose a carbon tax – doing so would make the price of carbon-polluting goods (ie, petroleum products) closer to the actual cost.)

Thus endith the lesson of the day.


4 Laura February 27, 2012 at 7:37 am

I did the same thing but I add trim to the bottom and they look like new towels for it!


5 Jo February 27, 2012 at 7:40 am

Very cool. They look great! I tend to downgrade towels because I’m not much good at sewing, but one thing I’m really excited about at the moment is hanging self-watering containers: I use soda bottles from family or found on the street to make self-watering containers for anything from strawberries to cherry tomatoes, then hang them on our burglar guards with the electrical cabling that went throughout our house when we bought. I feel really good about reusing the cabling for something that suits them (it’s strong and ties well, and doesn’t break down over time with water) I’ll write about them (with photos) soon!


6 susanna February 28, 2012 at 1:58 am

how do you make the self watering containers?


7 Terri S. February 27, 2012 at 7:53 am

I thought I was the only one to keep dish towels forever. I have a family member who buys new ones for every season. I actually broke down and bought new washcloths this weekend, my others were thin as tissue.


8 Linda February 27, 2012 at 8:10 am

I have so many dishtowels and I do not throw them out. I recycle for some type of cleaning rag.

I think you never have enough dishtowels. I must have 50 that I have received over the last 24 years of marriage. My mother seems to give me some for holidays, birthdays, etc. I don’t use paper towels, so the dishtowels and rags come in handy. My mother seems to think I need paper towels, so she brings a roll every holiday. My kids are happy because they like paper towels. Once they are gone, I refuse to buy another roll.


9 Kristen February 27, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I really do like cloth towels better…paper towels just don’t dry things as well, in my opinion.


10 Susan February 27, 2012 at 8:11 am

The quality of new things does not always match the quality of those you bought (or received as a gift) many years ago so salvaging the old ones is often a wise move.


11 Jessie@Jessie:Improved February 27, 2012 at 8:18 am

I have a dogged sense of independence that makes me do almost everything by myself, even if I probably shouldn’t. I guess I was born to be frugal. That being said, I usually downcycle old kitchen towels into washcloths (can’t ever have enough, don’t use paper towels). I actually found a pair of really nice absorbent kitchen towels the other day at the thrift store. Seems like the new ones never work quite as well anyway!


12 Ellen February 27, 2012 at 8:50 am

Lately I have been looking on clearance for kitchen towels. Never paying more then 1.00! Once in a while you can find them…
We were in bed bath and beyond over the weekend, and I refused to pay the 2.99 for the ones on clearance!


13 Joanne February 27, 2012 at 9:06 am

Yes I do things like this all the time. I mean if it makes you happy to do it why not?
My mom was telling how CHEAP I am the other day lol.
I agreed…she said she was like that at my age ( I am 42 and my “kids” are 17,19 and 21.
I walk to my own beat on a lot of things and doing THAT makes me really happy!!! I am so proud of myself for doing what I believe in.

So more power to you!!! do the things that save you money and make you happy in life. I also love to keep my garbage output low if possible and we are always recycling.


14 Cyn February 27, 2012 at 9:12 am

Wow, you are really impressive! I never would have thought to do that, but it is a really good idea. They look almost brand new and will probably last you a few more years now. Good job ^.^,


15 Alison February 27, 2012 at 9:14 am

I have recently considered doing the same thing with some worn out wash cloths. It is nice to know that others think like I do!

I also want to thank you for the idea to make gift bags out of scrap fabric and old clothes. I made 25 bags for Christmas and have made another 10 for birthdays. Total cost to me was $2 (thrifted Christmas fabric that I just couldn’t pass up!). And, no more more mountain of trash at the end of the holiday/birthday.


16 WilliamB February 27, 2012 at 9:14 am

“Do you ever find yourself choosing the make-it-yourself/fix-it-yourself option for reasons other than frugality?”

Frequently. Although I find that many of these things also save money.


17 Daisy February 27, 2012 at 9:20 am

Love those! I can’t say I’ve ever mended hand towels, but I never throw them out, even when they are ratty.


18 Alicia @ The Humble Foodie February 27, 2012 at 9:30 am

Not only is mending towels frugal, but I think the patches make the towels look pretty cute too! This post is a good reminder for me, as I currently have a few kitchen towels with gaping holes that I have been pretending not to notice for a little too long.


19 Cindy at The Christmas Plan February 27, 2012 at 9:34 am

LOVE THIS. Living frugally isn’t always about your hourly rate, but how to live responsibly with your resources. These towels aren’t ending up in a landfill to make room for new ones. You *should* be thrilled knowing that you squeezed some more life from them!


20 BrokeElizabeth February 27, 2012 at 9:50 am

I do try to think of the environmental impact of my purchases, and often decide to make ‘do’ with what I’ve got, or getting it from a thrift store instead of purchasing something new.


21 Maryhomemama February 27, 2012 at 9:59 am

New life breathed into those towels…well done.
And I love “blows my hair back”. Made me smile.


22 Katy @ Purosely Frugal February 27, 2012 at 10:14 am

They look great! That kind of stuff makes me happy too!
I do this with crocheting baby blankets. Making a baby blanket isn’t tons cheaper than buying one at Wal-Mart and it takes me hours, but I really enjoy it. So I keep making baby blankets as gifts, even though it’s only a small savings, because I enjoy it.


23 WilliamB February 27, 2012 at 3:36 pm

A hand-made gift is a gift of time and consideration.

I’ve found that nothing I knit by hand is cheaper than buying a similar item, but I don’t do it for the financial savings. I do it because I like it.


24 priskill February 27, 2012 at 10:18 am

Okay, a MUCH better use than merely handing to Goodwill or trash! I think we have a blue and white towel from the same series, only instead of coffee cups, there are bunnies stitched in the blue and white trim. Love it — very absorbent, they are. My mom had old, old, old passed down dish towels made from old cloth flour sacks that must have dated from early 20th century. You could see the carefully hand-stitched hems from an early, anonymous recycler, as well as the faded flour company printing. These remind me of them — especially the adorable patches!


25 Kristen February 27, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Yes! That’s a really thick, absorbent towel.


26 Linda February 27, 2012 at 10:52 am

You are truely “Frugal to the Bone”.
I too would have repaired the hems but the other two towels would have gone in my compost pile.


27 Molly February 27, 2012 at 11:06 am

You compost rag towels? Does it work? I’ve never heard of that.


28 Katfish February 27, 2012 at 1:34 pm

I put 100% cotton or linen sewing scraps in my compost pile as well. They break down just like everything else.


29 Molly February 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I had no idea. This is EXCELLENT information.


30 WilliamB February 27, 2012 at 3:38 pm

As long as the fabric is made from natural materials – wool, linen, cotton, rayon, viscose, silk – they’re break down eventually. This is true for rope as well as rags. How long it will take depends on material and scrap size.


31 lindsey February 27, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Lint from the dryer also will decompose.


32 psmflowerlady/Tammy February 27, 2012 at 10:53 am

Canning food is to me probably not worth my time economically but I love to do it and the feeling of knowing what’s in our food and who grew it! Home-made bread is another. Hand-made greeting cards – honestly, I just like making them but with the stash of supplies I have will NEVER make it economical no matter how many cards I make! LOL!


33 Stacey February 27, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Yeah, most of the canning I do probably costs me more time than it saves me money! I spent about ten hours last summer canning tomato chunks and tomato sauce, and once you factor in the cost of actually buying the tomatoes and the cans, it probably didn’t save me any money, but I love being able to control what goes into my food, so I feel better about using my canned sauce than cheaper, store-bought sauce.


34 lindsey February 27, 2012 at 6:38 pm

The only time my canning is cheaper is when I get the vegetables or fruits for free (like leavings from an apple tree) or last summer when I made about 80 pounds of summer squash into sweet relish—tasty store bought relish is expensive so homemade was cheaper. But I’m right there with the folks who like the canning process enough that it doesn’t matter that is not much cheaper. Canning rocks!


35 Elaine in Ark February 27, 2012 at 10:57 am

I like to keep on using older, worn out things like towels because 1) the newer ones that I can afford are inferior quality, and 2) I feel like it respects my parents & my grandparents.

As for towel absorbency, ever since I quit using fabric softener, my towels are very absorbent. I put 1/4 cup of vinegar in the liquid fabic softener compartment of my front load washer, and that gets out all left over detergent. When I dry them in the dryer, they come out soft. When I hang them, they *are* a bit like cardboard, but that doesn’t bother me.


36 Dianne Andrews February 27, 2012 at 10:58 am

That’s way too much work for me for holey dish towels.

I cut them in half and serge the ends with my serger. They are then about the size of a washcloth, or prefold baby diaper, and the perfect size for cleaning rags. (I cut up old bath towels to about the same size as well.) We use them for wiping counters, mirrors, toilets, tables, dusting, etc. We only use paper towels around here for bacon grease.

Once they get really holey, they go into my husbands shop rag bin. He wipes up some nasty stuff at work (he’s in construction) and they often need to be tossed after he uses them so he only gets the really old ones.


37 Kristen February 27, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Ooh, a serger. That must be lovely to have.


38 Jen February 27, 2012 at 11:22 am

Yes, new stuff does not often to be the same quality as old–especially cheap new stuff. Sometimes I like projects like this just for the satisfaction, and sometimes I have more time than money.
Don’t get me started on the crappy small kitchen appliances these days! Designed to be disposable.


39 Sara Tetreault February 27, 2012 at 11:27 am

I, too, mend towels. The serger around the edges finishes them off and mends them in no time. I must say my towels are so thread bare (and smaller because they’ve been serged so many times) that I have to purchase new ones. We’ve had them since we were first married, too. I’ll be making them into double thickness cleaning rags…I think mending items is not just smart financially but it’s also better for the environment as well.


40 Glory Lennon February 27, 2012 at 11:32 am

My goodness you sound just like me. If I can fix it and keep it working for me, I’ll do it regardless of time or practicality…it does indeed make me happy and isn’t happiness what we all seek? Well, we’ve obviously found it. Yay for us!


41 Jo@simplybeingmum February 27, 2012 at 11:37 am

Direct answer to your question -”without a doubt”. I’ve recently become addicted to recycling shoe-boxes by decoupaging them as shown here. It can take quite a while (including drying time) but I get such a huge amount of satisfaction from doing it. I feel as though I have literally breathed life into a redundant item. And saved it from landfill (okay so in theory it gets recycled in the UK, and I sincerely hope it does – but you always wonder?). Regardless the item has a new long and happy life.
Your dishcloths have character – and history! Both very amiable traits!


42 Kim C February 27, 2012 at 11:41 am

Hmmm…If you saw my bath towels you’d laugh. Most of ours were wedding presents too and our wedding was almost 25 years ago! LOL I tend to use my serger on the ragged edges and for the ones with holes in the middle, I cut them up to make hand towels and/or washcloths. Once they’ve passed this point I cut them up for rags and/or covers for my Swiffer. I can’t seem to
throw anything away. Glad to see I’m not the only one.


43 erin February 27, 2012 at 11:49 am

A lot of times there is just so much beauty in handmade stuff. I cut a bunch of scrap fabric yesterday. Random designs, styles for some new cloth napkins. For me it felt SO good to look at less fabric in my wooden crate and also think of which napkin would be Camille’s favorite or Noah’s favorite. I do like the frugality and especially non-waste of it, but I also like the beauty of it. :)


44 Kristin M February 27, 2012 at 12:07 pm

i’ll admit i did kinda giggle @ this post, i usually just use worn towels for cleaning up messes i don’t want to use a good towel on, or cleaning up something which will stain good towels etc. Good job @ keeping your waste down, it is something to envy and be proud of!


45 Malisa February 27, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I have never sewn dishtowels to make them last longer. But I make my own applesauce at home because it tastes better! I realized a few weeks ago that it costs more to make it at home, but I always like the taste so much more than store bought.


46 Karen February 27, 2012 at 12:22 pm

There are oh, so many things that are worthwhile doing even if they are not the cheapest alternative! Homemade applesauce tastes so much better than store bought – there truly is no comparison.


47 Heather :) :) :) February 27, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Oh, I’m definitely going to remember the tip on mending towels. That’s fabulous. Sometimes I choose the expedient over DIY…but that’s only in a situation where I want to save myself some stress. For the most part, I try to be frugal as much as possible :) Love and hugs from the ocean shore of California, Heather ;)


48 {Adventuresindinner} February 27, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Adorable. We must be two of a kind because that sort of refurbishment just gives me the warm glow too.

I tend to make something from scratch rather than going to a store to pick it up-does that count?


49 Melissa February 27, 2012 at 1:53 pm

I like to make applesauce myself as well, not so much to save money, but because the process always makes the house smell delicious. Plus, I get the satisfaction of eating something delicious that I made myself.


50 Stef February 27, 2012 at 2:49 pm

I did mend my bath towels just last spring, seems that I need to do that again, yes they are OLD! I recieved them from an Aunt 15 years ago on our honeymoon! How FUNNY! Anyway, We did buy newer bath towels but I refuse to use those since they are heavy and bulky!!! HahhhaSooo I am waiting for my grand Ol towels fall apart! My dish towels though, are still holding up……….hmmm Strange…How does one find dish towels that are absorbant???? I really am at a loss because whatever I bought kinda smears everything around… :(


51 Kristen February 27, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Are yours 100% cotton? Towels made with some kind of synthetic blend will generally not be as absorbent.


52 Leola Thurman February 27, 2012 at 3:22 pm



53 EngineerMom February 27, 2012 at 4:21 pm

I haven’t owned any towels long enough for them to become threadbare! I bought really good bathroom towels after college, and they’re still just as thick and fluffy as they were 8 years ago.

My kitchen towels are doing fine, though the washcloths I use for wiping counters, the table, and sticky fingers are getting a little ratty around the edges. But we switched to cloth only two years ago. I’m still waiting for them to get hole-y enough to use as rags!

We use disposable diaper boxes as toy boxes, grocery boxes at Aldi, donation boxes, and boxes to collect electronic waste (like batteries, computer parts, cables, etc., that shouldn’t go to landfills) until our township electronic waste drop off day twice a year.


54 Jill E February 27, 2012 at 4:43 pm

I don’t know why I have never thought of mending kitchen towels since my mom mended everything! I put them in the rag box (like my mom eventually did) and with two dogs, something always needs to be mopped up so they do get a slightly extended life.


55 Beka February 27, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Wow, that’s just weird! Not that you mend your dishtowels, but that I mended some just yesterday! I also thoroughly enjoyed the process, and hope to work on it some more today. I had some bathroom hand towels that had holes in them. So I cut them into 8ths, since that’s about the size of a good washcloth, and sewed the edges. Now I have 7 washcloths and one garage rag. Other things we do with old towels are to make garage rags, or if they are REALLY thin, we use it like we would cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer.


56 Frugal(er) February 27, 2012 at 8:31 pm

I agree! Sometimes, even if it takes a bit more time, the ingenuity and pride of ownership at re-purposing something makes me like it more. It’s that “I did this” kind of thing.


57 Laura Vanderkam February 27, 2012 at 10:08 pm

At least you’re considering the opportunity cost of time! It’s like gardening or raising chickens. Do it if you love it, if you like the taste of the food, if you find it relaxing. Don’t do it to save money because unless you value your time at nothing, it’s hard to come out ahead.


58 Kristen February 27, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Right. This is why I will mend my kitchen towels but I won’t run around town playing the drugstore coupon game. One brings me joy, and the other…doesn’t.


59 Katy Wolk-Stanley February 28, 2012 at 1:05 am

And this is why I love you so much!

I totally get your satisfaction on this project. It *is*

Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without!




60 Carol February 28, 2012 at 8:56 am

Good for you! I’ve been known to mend kitchen towells, along wiht anything else if possible, to extends it’s life, to save pennies in some cases. Eventually my old towels become cleaning rags, something that I use 99% of the time over paper towels. If a roll of P towels lasts more than a month here, I wouldn’t be surprised. :)


61 Kristis TeaRoom February 28, 2012 at 11:47 am

: D I love mending, actually, and it Does make me happy when I get “New” items from old gear. I also know a great way to make sheets last longer. You simply cut them in half, flip the worn edges to the outside and the surprisingly still very good edges to meet in the middle. Stitch the new centers together and hem the new outsides. Et Viola!- New Sheets


62 Maddie February 28, 2012 at 5:06 pm

I’m thinking you saved money even taking into account of your time. You trimmed and ironed while Mr FG read and sewing doesn’t really take much time at all. It seems like you probably spent less time than driving to the store , picking out new towels then driving home. I love that you seem to always be abl wring more life out of your possesions.


63 meg February 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Yes! And usually it’s for stuff that doesn’t cost a lot to replace, much like the dishtowels. In fact, very much like the dishtowels: One of my current faves is turning my daughter’s old flannel pj pants into facecloths. I just stitch a square on the legs (so that they’re double-sided), cut around the stitching with pinking shears, and — voila! — facecloths! Truth be told, I couldn’t stand throwing out the jammies, but they’re really beyond passing along.


64 Pam February 28, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Yes, I love making things last and last and last.


65 Jennifer February 29, 2012 at 8:07 am

This post made me really happy! I have some towels that are fraying to and could use a new hem.
A few months ago we went through my husbands closet and dresser drawers and he found about a dozen or so undershirts that he didn’t use anymore and some polo shirts. I cut them up and hemmed up the sides and we have a *ton* of cloth wipes for the boys. I use them for everything-to wipe noses, bottoms, clean counters and tables, and any other use that I can think of. You can never have to many cloths!


66 Julie @ Outtakes on the Outskirts February 29, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Yes! I love to re-purpose things for the very same reasons. I always feel like a smart woman when I can give old things new life or a new purpose. My favorite trick has been to take old fleece pants or remnants and sewing them into reusable cloths for my Swiffer!


67 FrugalLivingTips March 2, 2012 at 11:18 am

I never throw my old dish cloths away. they get used until they totally disintegrate into nothing. I find they are so useful for those emergency spills.


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