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Turn Your Special Textiles into Something Special to Wear

Hand embroidered dishtowels are special textiles used to create a fun summer jacket.

A few years ago when my mother passed away I came across a bunch of dishtowels that she had embroidered in her later years. All her life she sewed and did some kind of needlework – especially knitting and crochet – but as she got older, simple embroidery suited her best. She would stamp the designs on feed sack dishtowels, or on pillowcases, embroider them and give them away as gifts. I decided that the best way to preserve and enjoy them was not to use them in my kitchen or store them in a box, but to transform them into a wearable garment. My mother, my grandmother, and my aunt started me on this sewing journey and this project just seemed an appropriate way to keep them all in my heart. Sewing, after all, is more than a useful skill. It connects us to the past in many ways. And I think we should all be encouraged, and even obligated, to pass on those traditions and techniques that we have been so fortunate to learn and master (more or less). So I want to share my little preservation project with you and, of course, give you a few sewing tips in the process.

I balanced the embroidered motifs throughout the piece to give the look of printed fabric.

First I cut away the embroidered motifs and roughly laid them on the pattern in a way that would create a balanced design throughout the jacket.

To fill in the spaces between the designs, I “crazy pieced” larger pieces of the toweling fabric.

Random seaming or crazy piecing connects the embroidered pieces. The seams are somewhat hidden under the quilting using variegated thread to match the embroidered motifs.

I quilted the jacket, of course, to give it some soft structure. The batting is a bamboo blend from Quilters Dream and the backing fabric is Liberty of London cotton lawn. The variegated thread of primary colors, that I used for the machine quilting, connects the motifs throughout the piece.

To give the jacket a little shape, I sewed a casing to the inside at the center back waist and inserted a short piece of elastic.

A small piece of elastic, hidden in an inside casing, nips in the waist for a little shape.

A soft colorful fabric is a good choice for the backing, or lining, of the jacket and a fabric casing hides the shaping elastic.

The narrow bias binding and loop buttonholes are cut from a piece of colorful quilter’s cotton fabric.

A narrow bias binding, loop buttonholes, and toggle buttons complete the edges.

I use a slippery lining to back the sleeves, but I piece a bit of the outer fabric to the lower edge so I can turn it back and form a cuff.

Face the inside of the sleeve to create the cuff.

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  1. Carly_Sue | | #1

    This so clever...what talent! I have a lot of linens from my mother and my husband's mother. You have enthused me to use some of these wonderful linen and cotton fabrics. I LOVE wearable art and wish more was shown on Threads...which I also LOVE! Thank you so much, Mary Ray...show more of your work.

  2. ApronMaven | | #2

    I'm so glad to see interest in repurposing vintage linens! I've been making aprons from vintage linens this year and I'm having so much fun! I take dish towels, table cloths, placemats or pillow cases that haven't survived the test of time in pristeen condition and use the embroidery or print to make full and 1/2 aprons. I'm planning to try selling them during the holidays.
    Anyone got any tips for me regarding the marketing side?

  3. Ikebana152 | | #3

    I love the sentiment, love the embroidery and the technique but frankly the jacket looks like the wearer is in a potholder.

  4. CherylTebo | | #4

    I have a cutwork linen table cloth that my Mom made when she was 16 years old, for her hope chest. That was in 1930. I would like to make a garment out of it but do not what to deal with the ironing every time I wear it. Anyone have any others ideas on how to repurpose it. I have no one to leave it to in my family.

  5. KharminJ | | #5

    @ Mary ~ This is a lovely "up-cycled" project, which will as you said, keep the work in view and in use! Thank you for sharing, and for the tips.
    @ CherylTebo ~ You could concede to the "laundered linen look" and simply *not* iron it. Use sew-in interfacing where needed, and after a couple of washings, the fabric will soften considerably, and be lovely in the right style of garment.

  6. LucyJane | | #6

    I have a cut work tablecloth that belonged to my mother as well. What I did was take a spring loaded tension rod and
    inserted in the open cutwork on one end and it makes a lovely curtain. No damage to the fabric.

  7. MizWoody | | #7

    ApronMaven writes: "I'm planning to try selling them during the holidays.Anyone got any tips for me regarding the marketing side?" Start a blog (free on Blogger or WordPress.org; Blogger is MUCH easier.) Call it Vintage Aprons or something equally obvious, so people will find it when they search for aprons or vintage fabric. Make a Facebook fan page with the same name. Start posting at least once a week. Doesn't have to be long. Just a photo & description or a little factoid about vintage fabrics. Post on other people's blogs. Try to build a fan base before the holidays. Suggest you sell on Etsy or similar site since it's much easier than trying to set up your own online store.

  8. MizWoody | | #8

    @Cheryl Tebo - Or, you could use it to embellish a denim jacket, or make some beautiful clutch handbags for special friends.

  9. user-1131749 | | #9

    this tutorial is splendid,this jacket looks gorgeous and actually it doen't even look like it's made from kitchen towels,it's definitely a thing to be gifted in any occasion.thanx n continue to give us more of your talent pls.sr

  10. Ikebana152 | | #10

    Cheryl, I took my grandmother's hand embroidered tablecloth and had it stretched and framed. I included information about her, name , dob, etc. inside the back of the frame, so that it has provenance, and she is acknowledged for her work. I have no one to leave it to either, so I will sell it at one point or donate it as artwork to some organization such as a craft's museum. If your cloth is too large to frame, consider dowels at either end as a wall hanging.

  11. SandyGal | | #11

    I love this project. I had a collection of vintage dresser scarves, embroidered by my grandmother and great-grandmother. They had a few holes and stains, some of the embroidery was gone. I used a jean jacket pattern and salvaged the pretty parts of 6 old linens that would not have been used otherwise. I also added a mixture of vintage buttons from thier stashes. Wearing the jacket is like a hug from the past.

  12. Josefly | | #12

    I just love this. What a wonderful way to treasure your mother's hand-sewn things, and your stitching and the lining are beautiful additions. I'd like to try something like this with my table linens.

  13. user-2117859 | | #13

    Love the jacket because it makes me think of my grandma who was a master at handwork especially embroidery. she learned this art in Denmark when she was in second grade. I am curious as to what jacket pattern you used as it shows off the wonderful handwork.
    Jessie Kaisand

  14. user-2117859 | | #14

    Love the jacket because it makes me think of my grandma who was a master at handwork especially embroidery. she learned this art in Denmark when she was in second grade. I am curious as to what jacket pattern you used as it shows off the wonderful handwork.
    Jessie Kaisand

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