Embroidery Tips and Decorating Plain White Dish Towels




About: I am married with two children. Spring, summer, and fall are my very favorite times of the year. I enjoy working in the yard, sewing, cooking, quilting, gardening, and creating. I do this to keep my sanity.
This instructable will teach you a few tricks that I have learned from my mother on how to turn an ordinary white dish towel into a beautiful master piece.

I am a very active person.  I can't sit still to watch a movie so I usually have some hand sewing near by so I feel like I am accomplishing something.  I keep a sewing bag in my car as well. Doing this I am able to finish a lot of my projects very quickly.  My mother taught me how to embroider as a child.  It is my way of winding down from the day.  

Step 1: Supplies

  1. Pre-washed  white cotton fabric for the embroidery design; cut several inches larger than your design so it will extend the edges of the hoop.  I used a 8inch circle.
  2. 1 Pre-washed printed fabric 2 inches wide and 24 inches long is what I used for the boarder on a towel or:
  3. 1 Pre-washed printed 8 inch square; folded in half for another towel.
  4. Matching thread
  5. Flour sack towels  Please read bottom note
  6. Embroidery hoop
  7. Embroidery needle
  8. Sewing pins not shown* 
  9. Scissors
  10. Seam ripper optional
  11. Embroidery thread
  12. Thimble optional
  13. Iron on embroidery pattern or iron on pencil for your own pattern
  14. Iron
  15. Ruler for square pattern 
  16. For the circle pattern I used a clear round plate
  17. Chalk or marker

I have not been able to find fabric suitable to make my own dish towels so I purchased  flour sack towels at Sam's but you can find them at a hobby store or Walmart.  They are called flour sack towels because; in the early days dry goods were sold in cotton sacks and women would make clothing and towels from them.  They have a loose weave and can be difficult to embroider;  so instead I embroidered a cotton cloth first and then attached it to the corner of the towel.  I was able to sew the design using smaller stitches which made it look better. 

Step 2: Cutting the Cloth

I cut (circles and squares) from the cotton cloth large enough to fit properly in the hoop with extra cloth to hang over the sides. 
The size of transfer pattern used will determine the size of hoop you will need.   
I used a clear round plate to draw the circle.  It worked very nicely.
For the square I used a ruler to draw the lines and cut it out.   

Step 3:

I suggest using a scrap piece of cloth that you will be stamping; to determine the heat setting.
Preheat a dry iron on cotton setting for heavy weight fabric or the wool setting for light weight fabric; make sure the iron setting will not harm the fabric.
Cut out the printed design removing any unwanted portion.
Place the design printed side down centered on the fabric.
Pin into place. 
Place the iron on the transfer. Move iron slowly back and forth for 5 seconds.
Carefully lift up the edge of pattern to make sure the transfer design is clear. 
If it is not clear repeat the above process.
A transfer pencil is used to trace a design onto paper to make your own iron on transfer.  

Step 4: Place the Cloth Into the Hoop

Here is a link to another members page who did an incredible job explaining the different stitches!  https://www.instructables.com/id/Embroidery-101/ 
Place the cloth into the hoop.
Slightly pull the excess fabric around the hoop so it is tight and secure.

Step 5: Embroidering the Design

Thread the needle using the recommended amount of strands.  I used 2.
Do not knot the end.
Pull the thread through the hoop on the under side leaving a 2 inch tail. 
Make one small stitch and pull the thread tight but be careful not to pull it all the way through.  Leave a 2 inch tail. 
Repeat a second time over the same stitch for securing the stitch.  This method will have a more attractive stitch on the back side. I will show you the back side later.
Proceed stitching across until you need to re-thread your needle.
Be sure to secure the last stitch the same way you began;  sewing the last stitch twice and trimming the thread leaving a two inch tail at the end.
Trim Thread.
Begin a new stitch overlapping the first stitch by sewing the first stitch twice as previously explained and continue sewing until you finish the design changing colors as you need to.
Leave a 2 inch tail before trimming the thread. 


Step 6: The Running Stitch

Secure the beginning of the running stitch by sewing the first stitch twice leaving about a 2 inch tail.
You will need to do this each time you re-thread your needle with new thread and start again.
Continue sewing the design across as shown.
End by securing the last stitch.


Step 7: Finished Look

After the design has been embroidered; trim all the loose threads on the backside (close to the cloth) for a nice finished look.

The secret to making the design look pretty is closely following the design making very small even stitches and keeping your thread tight but not puckered.   If you are cross stitching you simply make a stitch like an X. It takes practice and patience.  I like using a short thin needle with a large eye to embroider. Another tip is not to try and make your thread reach across to make a stitch if it will make a larger stitch than you were sewing.  This will make the wrong side look ugly and it could show through on the right side.  It is best to secure the end and restart fresh with a beginning stitch. Doing it this way will reduce excess thread on the back of the cloth. I am sorry I did not take pictures of the back of the orange.

Step 8: Hemming the Edges

With right sides together (embroidered circle and the lining circle)  pin the liner to the design.
Sew around the outside edge making a narrow 1/4 inch seam allowance.
Clip the outside circle edges with the scissors to the seam carefully.  This allows the curve to lay flat.
Pull the lining of the fabric away from the design so you can carefully cut a slit  allowing you to turn the fabric right side out as shown.  Be careful not to cut the design side of the fabric.
Turn the fabric right side out and press.


Step 9: The Boarder

My mother would have sewn the border differently than I did here, but unfortunately I never saw her do this part.

I folded the square in half on an angle,  pressed it and then turned under the raw edges to fit the corner and pinned it to the towel.
I turned down a 1/4 inch single hem on three sides of the white embroidered cloth leaving the bottom edge alone.  It will get tucked under the border and sewn.  
Then I pinned  the embroidered square to the towel placing the bottom of the square under the border.
I stitched the border and square to the towel.
For the circle I pinned and stitched the border to the towel first;  pinned the finished circle to the towel, and stitched both the border and the circle to the towel.

Step 10: Sunshiine's Final Thoughts

Flour sack towels are great to use to dry glassware and they are lint free. They are thin enough to get into small places to dry water spots. The downside is they wrinkle until they are washed a few times. Embroidered dish towels,  pot holders, and pillowcases  bring a comfy feel to the home. I hope you are inspired to embroider a set for yourself or for someone you love.  

In closing I would like to thank our instructables company, sponsors,  authors, readers, and members; for making this community a great success!  Many hours and hard work has been put into making this place the best DIY on the Internet. Have a splendorous day!   



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    19 Discussions


    Reply 3 years ago

    Hello Blogmarsha,
    Thank you so much for stopping by and taking a peek. Have a beautiful day~


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I loved the link by the way! Denim is so pretty worked into embroidery. I have embroidered a shirt with a horse on it for my husband but he never really liked it much. He does not like to wear anything flashy. His wardrobe is jeans and flannel or modest western shirts. I am glad to hear you are practicing. Dish towels are a great way and cross stitch is pretty easy. I n my old age I have learned to take stitches out and rework a project if I am not happy with it. I also make small stitches. It takes longer but the extra effort makes a stunning piece. Here is a link to a video that shows a lot of stitches. Videos are most helpful with embroidery!  http://www.needlenthread.com/videos

    Thanks for commenting and have a splendorous day!



    6 years ago on Introduction

    Great timing and wonderful tutorial! I recently returned to embroidery after 40+ years of setting it aside (due to being an inpatient kid that didn't like threading needles) and recently finished my 1st embroidery project (ever!) and find it soooo enjoyable these days.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I had to chuckle about your comment! I was the same way. My mom used to tell me my stitches were not small enough. I guess patience comes with age. I would love to see your project if your interested in sharing. I find this craft very relaxing. I do not have a TV because we spend more time on the Internet than watching TV. I do have Netflix and will tune in to a documentary that I don't have to keep my eyes on the screen and sew away! I am finished with a project in no time. So I had fun 2 ways! Thanks so much for sharing your thought and have a splendorous night!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    You made my Day. I Love this Project of yours. Sewing is my Passion.is this Cross Stich embroidery?

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for commenting! Yes it is cross stitch and the leaf section is a running stitch. It is really not difficult to do. Have a great day!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Wonderful tutorial, Sunshiine. You do beautiful work! I used to embroider a lot... before the age of the www. It's a fun, almost mindless hobby.

    I even have a project going now, but I misplaced my one-and-only embroidery needle.

    Got a spare you can mail me? lol...crazy request, but I really am serious because I won't get to town for a couple of weeks.

    3 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks bajablue for commenting and for your compliment! I would be happy to mail you one. Send me your information. Have a beautiful day!


    6 years ago on Step 10

    You do such nice work. Thanks for sharing and passing on this wonderful craft.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the compliment! This is one of my favorite past times! Have a super super day!


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Whomever you give those to will be very impressed. Again very nice job. :)

    I hope many others get to reading this ible.