Celebrate MOM and TUTORIAL: Dishtowel and Napkin Totes

by Dana on April 8, 2013


Can you believe Mother’s Day is just around the corner?  I can never keep up with the holidays.  But this month I’m trying!  So let’s get the ideas flowing and let’s Celebrate MOM!  This is a series I hosted a few years ago with Disney of Ruffles and Stuff and throughout this week (and maybe part of next)  I’ll share simple Mom-gift projects with you (it might not be every day but I’ll try).

The first Mom gift that comes to my mind is a tote bag….maybe because I never tire of making them or browsing the bag aisle at Target.  I’ve shared a series of tote projects in the past, starting with the Basic Pocket Tote (click a button below for details):

So let’s add another twist.  Let’s make bags from dishtowels and cloth napkins! (because I also can’t resist the kitchen aisle at Target).


Now of course you can always use fabric to make these tote bags but the cool thing about using dishtowels and cloth napkins are:
A. Freaking cute fabric options.  I mean, Orla Kiely dishtowels?!  YES.  The towels look darling with the 5 Orla Kiely soap dispensers I gobbled up too.  Actually….how about gifting the bag WITH a soap dispenser inside?   Done.  (And please note: the Orla Kiely towel is from Target a few years ago. Sorry! I’ve been hanging on to it for the perfect project because it’s just too cute)

B. You don’t have to finish of any of the edges.  Everything looks fancy shmancy inside like you’re the professional that you are.
C. Why not?  It’s just easy.

So grab whatever towels and napkins you can find in your cupboards, the store, or even the thrift shop and let’s get sewing.  We’ll follow the detailed instructions from the Basic Tote and Boxed Out Tote tutorials. If you’ve never made a bag please read through those tutorials first.

Okay.  Use whatever your towel has to offer when making your bag.  If you want a large tote, sew two towels together.  If you want pockets, use fabric from another towel (if they come in a set) or grab fabric scraps, etc.For this bag I folded the towel in half (right sides of the fabric together) and sewed down one side and the bottom.  Sew just to the left of the finished towel edges for a nice clean look and so your machine doesn’t have to work as hard.

OPTION: you could also choose to the sew with the wrong sides of the fabric together and sew right on to the outside of the bag, with the finished seams poking out.  Could be cute.
But NOTE: store-bought towels and napkins are not always perfect and symmetrical so outside seams don’t work unless the edges line-up fairly well.Follow the Boxed-Out tutorial for boxing out the bottom of your tote if that’s what you’re going for. Or just leave it as is!

When I finished sewing the sides and boxing the bottom, the tote was still a bit long, so I folded the top over a good three inches, sewed a chunky top hem, and attached the straps (according to the Basic Tote tutorial)

Simple, cute dishtowel tote:

Now let’s try napkins.  Is there any wonder how these ended up in my cart?  There was a blue/turquoise ombre set too.
But I resisted.
(Pat on the back from Casey.)

Cloth napkins are great because typically they come in a set of 2-4 so you can use them to create fun pocket layers in your tote. Tons ‘o options.I laid these napkins out many different ways trying to visualize the best tote…and asked Casey for his input too…..and wondered if I should do a big pocket on front and a big pocket on back?

And I finally decided to keep the ombre gradient and sewed three napkins together for the bag front and used a single layer for the back.  And it was perfect!

So.  Layer the napkins and fold the excess under the base layer to the back side (this means you’ll have some pockets on the inside of the bag too!)  Pin all the layers together down the middle of the bag, or wherever you’d like the pockets to be.  You could break it into 3 front pockets or 1 big pocket on the yellow layer and 2 pockets on the orange.  Just decide what you want and sew in layers if needed.

For this bag, I used the folded crease that ran right down the middle as my guide (iron your towels down the middle if needed).  I pinned all the layers together making sure the back layers we’re pinned as well, then started at the top of the orange pocket and sewed right down the middle to the bottom of the yellow napkin.

Then I laid the red layer over the top (with right sides of the fabric together) and sewed around the two sides and the bottom, sewing on the inside of the finished napkin edges for less bulky sewing.

Now because you have so many layers sewn together, you inside seams are going to be a bit bulky and it will be harder to push the corners out.   But.  I actually kind of like that.  It gives some weight to the bag and it keep shape nicely.

There you go!  Ombre napkin tote with lots of pockets.
My kind of bag!

To give as a gift, fill it with her favorite magazine, candy, lotion, or favorite yummy treat.


And you’ve got a happy mom!

…and mr. bumble bee.
Thanks for joining the shoot little dude.
Come back during the week for more Celebrate MOM tutorials!

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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hannah Elise April 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm

love your writing style Dana–you make me smile! this idea is way cute and colorful. :)

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2 Jessica @ Running With Scissors April 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm

great idea with the tiered pockets!

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3 Paulina April 8, 2013 at 3:07 pm

I love it!! you are so so so creativ!! :D

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4 katka April 8, 2013 at 3:10 pm

i love both bags! and also the idea of using dishtowels! :)

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5 Melissa April 8, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Thanks for the tutorial. I have a small obsession with tote bags myself ;) I was wondering, do you wash the napkins & dishtowel before you sew them up?

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6 vanessa April 8, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I love a good tote bag – these are fantastic! Yet another reason to stalk Target ;)

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7 Joy April 8, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Whew….a new post! I just figured you were nursing a LOVE hangover!! Just a little teasing for you! Anyway, these totes are sooooo super cute. I absolutely love the flowered dish towel tote. You could hold an auction for that one! It’s so fun to make totes for some reason, I have a sewing room full of them plus I give many away. Another great idea here today. Thank you!

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8 kathy k. April 8, 2013 at 3:19 pm

this is awesome idea for a summer gift! Thank you!

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9 Lynette April 8, 2013 at 3:48 pm

I love the ombre one…I will have to see if my Target has those sets of towels too. I love all those pockets-it would be perfect for my church bag!

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10 Kairi April 8, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Gorgeous hair! :)

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11 anna April 8, 2013 at 4:12 pm

oh fun! Don’t tell me they have orla dishtowels back at target. I would die. hahaha

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12 Rae April 8, 2013 at 6:03 pm

great ideas!!! You are adorbs.

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13 nelda April 8, 2013 at 6:52 pm

How cute! simple and easy. thanks for sharing!

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14 Sarahendipity April 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm

This is so fun and fantastical! Thank you for sharing, Dana! Yay for tote bags! :)

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15 Kim April 8, 2013 at 7:07 pm

That is awesome! I love both of the totes and you can never have too many.
Thanks!

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16 alice s April 8, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Where do you find such cute dish towels???

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17 Emily April 8, 2013 at 8:47 pm

You are beautiful! What fun bags.

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18 Carla April 8, 2013 at 8:53 pm

I love using dish towels for projects, these are great! I made garden harvest apron out of dish towels for Mother’s Day last year: http://www.smallfriendly.com/small-friendly/2012/05/garden-harvest-apron.html

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19 Lis April 8, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Love, love, love, love love! I need to zip over to Target this week and pic up that adorable flower pattern and make me a tote! You read that right – me. I’m always so busy sewing for everyone else that I truly don’t sew anything for myself. Thanks for inspiring me to sew for me. <3

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20 Dana April 9, 2013 at 12:04 pm

sorry! the flower towel is actually from Target a couple years ago :(. I just added that info to the post here. But the ombre napkins are there right now!…along with tons of other cute stuff. Of course :)

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21 Lis April 9, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Ah, Dana, you’re killing me! That’s the second time this spring I was up and ready to zip off to Target. (The last time was after seeing pics of Lucy’s super cute dress that turned out to be one you had owned for awhile.) I’m grateful that I found out both items were not currently available before driving to Target, since the closest location is about 1/2 hour away. Hey, at least I keep discovering that I have great taste, albeit a few years late. :D

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22 Delia April 8, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Oooh. Love the tiered pockets! Such a perfect summer pool bag too. You are adorable. Love this post and that you’re doing Celebrate Mom this year!! :)

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23 Jenn April 8, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Wow! So simple and so incredibly adorable :) I’m so happy you’re doing a Celebrate Mom. I definitely need some ideas.

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24 Rachel April 9, 2013 at 12:43 am

Cute!! I love the celebrate Mom idea.

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25 Lynet Witty April 9, 2013 at 1:24 am

OOOH! I SO wanna make me a tote now!

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26 Leigh Ann April 9, 2013 at 2:47 am

Thank you for this! I don’t have a Target yet but I have Pier 1. Can’t wait to try this!

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27 Upstatemamma April 9, 2013 at 2:56 am

I love that bag idea!

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28 Emilia April 9, 2013 at 3:22 am

Great! I Already Look At Everything With Its Potential For “ICould Use This Fabric For ______” NowEven Towels And Napkins Aren’tSafe! They Look Gorgeous BTW.

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29 Becky Thompson April 9, 2013 at 6:21 am

Super cute and Soooo easy! Thanks for the great idea…and so far ahead too. I’ll have to get mine in the mail so this gives me some time. The napkins are an awesome idea and one of my fave stops for sheets and linens is Tuesday Morning. I bet they have some swanky napkins I can snag for an evening clutch. I’m off to Target today! (You cost me so much money! LOL)

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30 marta April 9, 2013 at 9:41 am

I just love the way you make everything look so easy!
Great project(s)! I have to try it!

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31 Casey April 9, 2013 at 9:46 am

I love the napkins! I hope I can find some cute ones so I can make a tote!

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32 Anna @ annie and m April 9, 2013 at 10:40 am

I love this project! It looks easy enough that my daughters can make one too. Thanks for sharing :)
–Anna

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33 Jennifer Nieland April 9, 2013 at 11:55 am

I totally went to Target last night and bought two sets of napkins, just because of this tutorial. I also bought an awesome placemat and a turquoise towel with forks on it! The fork one is going to be part of my new lunch tote! Thanks for this tutorial!!!!!!!

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34 Dana April 9, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Oh awesome!
Now I need to go back to Target cause I somehow missed the fork towel :)
Have fun sewing!
- Dana

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35 Jennifer Nieland April 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm

It turned out so stinkin’ cute! Thanks again for all of your wonderful tutorials!!!

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36 Karyn April 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm

I stopped by Target today and wandered through the kitchen section. I chose a placemat with a watercolor look that fades from blue to yellow. It’s stiff enough to retain its shape nicely. Fold in half, sew sides, add straps, and its a modern looking tote! What do you recommend for straps? Twill tape? Who has a good selection? PS, I used dish towels to sew Xmas stockings last year. The cutest mod Xmas prints and so quick and inexpensive. Loved ‘em.

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37 Sarah K April 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm

We just recycled a couple of car seats and I saved (and washed – ew!) the straps for handles to make myself a few canvas bags. I love the idea of using the pre-finished fabric. Brilliant!

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38 Lucia April 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I really really want one! Thank you Dana!

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39 Brenda April 9, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Serious so sad that those Orla Kiely towels are from a couple of years ago…I went to Target last night looking for them, and then re-read your blog post and noticed your note that you bought them awhile ago :( I love her stuff! BUT, as always happens when I go to Target, I left the store with plenty of cute items that I did NOT go in for – my husband just rolled his eyes when I got home with three shopping bags, none of which contained what I originally went in for, ha!

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40 Melissa Shultz April 9, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Very cool idea. Thanks for sharing the tutorial!

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41 Debbie April 9, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I just got a. We embroidery sewing machine. Guess what my MIL, and daughters are getting for Mother’s Day. LOL?

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42 ivonne April 10, 2013 at 11:02 am

Love this! <3 Thank You!!!!!

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43 Necole @seriouslysassymama April 10, 2013 at 11:04 am

This is fabulous. I love a good tote.

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44 kendall April 10, 2013 at 1:33 pm

I just picked up some vintage hand stitched napkins at a thrift store. This might be a great project for them!

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45 Torrie @ Fox + Hazel April 10, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Awesome idea! This would be great for any of the momma’s in my life! :)

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46 Annie April 11, 2013 at 11:12 am

You Dana are a fabulous woman to be admired by all. You write in a great friendly way and I LOVE all your ideas and tutorials so thanks so much! X

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47 Theresa April 11, 2013 at 1:55 pm

I seen a item that is called Rollie Pollie do you have the pattern for that?? or direction on how to make one???

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48 Max April 12, 2013 at 2:58 am

Oh dana I don’t even want to make any totes {I have about 395,205 bags} but you make me WANT TO. I love the ombre one with all the pockets!

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49 Debbie J April 14, 2013 at 1:17 pm

We call this Baked Potato Dip, and eat it with Potato Chips. You use anything in it that you’d put on a baked potato. It is so good that I could almost eat my weight of it.

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50 jacquie June 3, 2013 at 8:33 am

thanx fo the inspiration. Luv yo blog.

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51 Kris March 30, 2014 at 7:50 am

You Rock!!! Thank you for all your wonderful instructions…YOUR site is my favorite place to go;)

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