DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS

DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS
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7 September 2016

Household linens, cleaning cloths, dish cloths and rags

There are many things we can all do to save money in our homes. Some of them are so easy and commonplace we rarely think of them, or think they'll save us money. One of these is the humble cleaning cloth - those cloths that are used in the kitchen to wash up, wipe down benches and clean up spills, as well as dusting and cleaning cloths for general household cleaning. Click here to go to a 2011 post about cloths. As you can see in that post I was cutting up an old flannel nightie to use as cleaning rags. Well, I'm still at it, last week I was cutting up old tea towels and hemming them to be used as drying cloths. Cleaning is much more effective is everything is dried after it is cleaned.

Here you can see that I've cut the elastic bands from the edges of an old fitted sheet and then used the fabric as super absorbent, soft cleaning cloths.

In Australia the most popular brand of cleaning and washing up cloth is Chux. Way back when I gave no thought to grocery shopping or wasting money, I used to buy a packet every week. I'd use them for all the normal tasks and throw them in the bin after they'd been used a few times, or if I'd cleaned up something disgusting. Chux cost from 30 - 60 cents each now and they're used a few times and then thrown away. You could wash them in the washing machine but most people don't do that. They're marketed as "disposable" and are usually thrown out. If you were to buy one large pack a month for six dollars, you'd be spending 72 dollars a year that you don't have to spend. When I think back to those days it astounds me that I was so thoughtless. Not only about the money I used to spend but also for all the landfill I was responsible for.  I'll never go back to that. Using old sheets, towels, t-shirts etc is a much wiser way to go. As long as the fabric is cotton, linen or bamboo, it will clean and dry well.  When the cloths are dirty, just put them in the washing machine on a normal cycle and dry in the sun if that's possible. When they're past their useful life in the house they can go on the compost heap.

My basic cleaning cloths are knitted organic cotton dish cloths, microfibre cloths, and rags I make up from old fabric here at home. I use organic cotton yarn for the dishcloths which I get from my sponsor EcoYarns. I have six microfibre cloths that I use in the bathroom for cleaning and drying and the rest of my cleaning cloths are old fabric that's been recycled.

If you build up a stockpile of dishcloths, you'll have enough on hand for all the cleaning you need to do.



When you've made up a few dishcloths, if you've used a good quality cotton they can be used as face cloths as well. By teaming a few cloths with a bar of home made soap, it makes a lovely gift for a birthday or at Christmas.
The cloth I knitted above is using Debbie's fabulous waffle weave pattern. You can find the original pattern here on her blog.


When you have a good supply of knitted dishcloths, store them in a little basket or a kitchen drawer so you can just grab one whenever it's needed.

It's so easy to recycle your old sheets and towels. Simply cut them to the size you need - I tend to prefer larger rags of about 40 x 40cm (15 x 15 inches). If they're for general cleaning you don't need to hem them unless they're dropping a lot of threads. I used to use pinking shears to cut the edges but now I just rip them, it's faster.  And the easiest place to store them is in a rag bag.  I made one for myself and have it having in the laundry. I throw out rags if I've wiped up something really nasty, if I've just done regular cleaning with them, I rinse them out then wash them in the washing machine along with my normal washing. They're hung on the line to dry, folded and stored in the rag bag.

Above is the rag bag I made years ago to store my rags in.

It doesn't take much to start making your own cleaning cloths and dish cloths. Just make the decision to do it and when you have a ripped sheet that can't be repaired, old towels or tea towels, put them aside instead of discarding them. When you have time, work out the cloth size you prefer and then start cutting or ripping. I think I included a rag bag pattern in The Simple Home.  If you're making dishcloths, I added the waffle weave pattern in the Down to Earth book, there is another pattern here in an older post, and here is a collection of numerous dishcloth patterns. It's so easy to do, you'll be doing something positive and a practical expression of your sustainable values.

But that's just the start of what you can do to lighten your footprint and cut your costs while still having a wide variety of good quality household linens in your home.  You can make table cloths from scraps of cotton, if you have no sink drainer, make a terry towelling mat to place under your dish rack. Aprons help protect your clothing when you're working at home and also make a great gift. There are table runners, napkins, tea towels, jug covers and cloths to cover your fermenting jars and bowls. The list is long, my friends, and most of these items are things that were one common in every home and now are difficult to buy in a shop because people don't use them as much.

A patchwork tablecloth made from old tea towels, doilies, sheets and pieces of fabric.
This dish mat will help catch the drops under a dish rack. It's cotton on top and terry towelling underneath. 
The bowl covers above are shop-bought and given to me as a gift but you could easily make your own and start cutting down on plastic wrap.

Aprons, table runners and napkins are all easy to make and will also serve as useful gifts.

The cushion cover above used to be a Mambo shirt. I made it into a cover and gave it to my son. He loves it.

Making your own table napkins will allow you to stop buying "disposable" napkins and have a selection of lovely cloth napkins on the kitchen table. They just need to be cut to the required size and then hemmed.

Above and below are my latest recycling efforts. I have too many old tea towels so I took out the red and white ones, cut them in two, hemmed them. Now they are used to dry the kitchen sink, benches, windows and appliances after they've been cleaned.

This is all simple sewing and knitting that anyone can do. Let's stop wasting resources and money buying the convenience of Chux and get back to being productive in our homes. It's easy to do, it often helps you recycle instead of discard, it costs less and it means more. A lot more.

53 comments:

  1. This is such a timely post, Rhonda! I recently had to get rid of the majority of my tea towels and cleaning cloths (mould infestation, eek!), and although I still have enough usable ones to suit my current needs, when they need to be replaced I'll look through my old clothing and bed linens first.

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  2. I've never done the math on Chux before - goodness me. We no longer use them but doing the math is a motivator. I might go do the math on paper towel that my family seem to not have kicked the habit of yet. I really like the bowl covers too - useful for my no-knead bread dough that always seems to be on the bench rising. My next project is figuring out how to save money on cat food....we have a cat (we love it but it does not seem to love us all that much!) and I did the math on cat food and was a little a-taken back.

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    1. I have the same problem with cat food- I have more than 1 cat (not saying how many but I didn`t choose them- there must be an invisible sign out saying "stray cats welcome here") It`s easy enough to make up your own dog food but it seems that cat food is a whole different kettle of fish (excuse the pun). I`d be very interested if anyone could come up with some ideas

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    2. I've been making our cat food for a few months now and the savings are significant, especially if you are currently feeding a premium cat food. Rough estimate, making this food costs us about $40 per month per cat. This saves us around $100 per month (2 cats) compared to when we fed them a super premium grain free tinned food. Our cats just love it. Here's a link. P.S. Really enjoy your blog.
      Rachel
      http://www.catnutrition.org/recipes.html

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    3. thanks Rr - looking into this now.

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  3. Right, out with the sewing machine. I'm looking forward to it. I have a few old tea towels and I'm inspired!

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  4. When I was pregnant with my first child I inherited dozens of the old fashioned square cloth nappies which my sister had used for her baby. These were then used for both of my children. The kids are now 9 and 7 and those nappies are still used every day for cleaning and spills. When the children clean their rooms each Saturday they put a couple drops of lemon oil or peppermint oil on them and their rooms smell divine. I have saved a fortune and have got almost ten years of value out of those nappies. They are starting to get threadbare and I will soon have to put some of your suggestion to use to replace them, but I often think f the money I have saved over the last decade, and also the waste I have eliminated.

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  5. Thank you for your lovely post. This week is 'zero waste week' here in England. I am trying to be even more efficient - and making cloths from old sheets is one thing on my list. Blessings xx

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  6. Good morning Rhonda. Thank you for the tips today. You have shared a totally new one, the bowl covers. Simply beautiful. One question though, if you use them to cover rising bread so they stick? If they do would flouring them help?

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    1. Yes Suze, I'd make them larger than normal and dust with flour to prevent the dough from sticking.

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  7. Good ideas, I will be putting them to use.

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  8. Bowl covers! Brilliant! I use microfiber on my mop head and for dusting and dust mopping.... and washing the bathroom. Other rags have different tasks; however, I had never though of bowl covers! I have some lovely outdoor remnants I may try this with! They would be thicker and waterproof, don't you think?

    I always learn something when I drop by!

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    1. Just be careful about waterproof fabrics, Matty. Check how they make it waterproof. You could use cotton or linen and cover the top of the food with a circle of greaseproof paper or baking paper. If it's to cover dough, make it larger than normal and flour the top of the dough.

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    2. Had not even thought about that, Rhonda! Thanks for the head's up!

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  9. What a lot of ideas to help us recycle various fabrics.
    A friend who is a professional domestic cleaner sources all of her cleaning rags from old flannelette sheets found in op shops,they do a great job and last for ages.
    If you want to save a little more money you can buy odds and ends of knitting cotton from op shops and make your dishcloths, it doesn't matter if they are scrappy colours they are just for cleaning in the kitchen,I keep all my lovely cottons for my face washers and gift cloths.

    It is so nice to go through the day using things that you have made or provided to keep your home healthy , non polluting, cost saving and comfortable.

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    1. We have a local thrift store that takes donations, and I lucked out one day and came in just after they got a donation of a bag full of cotton yarn--the whole bag was something like $3. As you say, some of the colors were not what I would choose for gifts or washcloths, but for cleaning cloths, it matters not in the least. And there actually were a few nice colors in there as well. Definitely worth keeping an eye out when in the thrift stores!

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  10. I love your napkins with the nice, wide hems! They really got my attention because the narrow hems are hard for me to make, and ridiculous as it may sound, I never thought of making them wider. Now I can see how nice they look. :D Thanks.

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  11. This is a very timely post for me as my tea towel/hand towel cupboard is over flowing.
    I hang my head in shame as I admit to still being a Chux user .... laziness on my part. I will be putting some of my excess tea towels and sewing machine to work today to replace the Chux.

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  12. My napkins have come from the op shop. They are beautifully embroidered and made from quality linen. These cost me $4. I had a piece of Japanese lawn that needed to be used. I hemmed this up into large squares for the outdoor table and smaller squares for hankies. An old flannelette sheet with a tear has become hankies for sore noses over winter and the rest is wonderful cleaning cloths. I cut up and hemmed with the overlocker an old bath sheet. This went into the shed and has been used up by himself in various shed projects. I have another couple of towels that are almost past their used by date in the bathroom. These might yet end up in the shed. All of these clean so much better than any disposable product you could purchase. Recycling rocks!

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  13. I love this post Rhonda.
    Thank you for reminding me why I'm trying to live a simple life.
    I love sewing and re-purposing and I hate waste.... perfect.
    Have a great day.
    Cheers
    Beck

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  14. This is a lovely post. I love all kinds of fabric and never throw it away. I make my own clothes and use old sheets to make "muslins" (basically a trial run of a pattern to get a good fit) out of them. As a teenager, I made a full quilt out of off cuts from our family's sewing projects from the 60s and 70s. It's one of my most valued possessions now; so many memories!

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  15. I love this post. I have been wanting to make table napkins and runners, and just never make the time. This weekend I will.
    Thank you for inspiring your readers to live frugally and sustainably.

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  16. Thank you for the wonderful ideas! Would you have a pattern or instructions for the handtowels with the crochet tops on them? You know the ones that you can hang around a cupboard handle. I usually buy them from the CWA stalls but would love to know how to make my own. My old ones are getting closer and closer to becoming cleaning rags!

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  17. I had a goal long ago to decease paper use, both paper towels and paper napkins. The hardest part was my normally frugal hubby! I couldn't believe it.
    I have been known to buy towels at garage sales and thrift stores to cut up with pinking shears to cut down on unraveling and make them into rags. I turn them under twice and hem.
    I also take 100% cotton tee shirts, cut them up into about 10x10 inch squares, and make my own "handy" wipes with a home made solution of 2 tablespoons ammonia, 1 cup water, 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol, and 2 tablespoons Dawn detergent. It works well. I keep the cloths in an old plastic shortening container in the solution premoistened ready to go.
    100% cotton tees are my favorite rag material.

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  18. Thank you for a great post, I too use rags for cleaning and cloth napkins. I also find used towels and linen cloths at yard sales, so I always have a good stock on hand. Thanks also for the patterns for the knitted dishcloths. I make a lot of those and it is nice to have a new pattern. They make such wonderful gifts.

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  19. Growing up my Grandmother lived with us and I remember all these things from when I was little. I still practice these economical ways of doing things. I remember learning much the same at Highschool when we had home economics classes, it is a great pity they do not still teach these things, as our young ones seem not to know anything other than throw away, also they are hugely influenced by TV and advertising. We can not stop these negative trends if we don't teach the young a better way. I remember life before plastic and it was better and less wasteful. Just a few thoughts from Judi

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  20. These are great helps for me today. Since having our 2nd baby a few months ago, I reasoned that it was better to buy the convenient Lysol wipes to clean/disinfect. I have also been using way more baby wipes to clean up little faces and hands than I should be. It has saved me loads of time and brain power - a commodity in short supply after having a baby ;). However...
    This post has renewed my desire to make less waste. Your encouragement in an older post to knit a stash of dish washing cloths led me to do just that a couple of years ago and I'm still enjoying the stash! It actually made me enjoy washing dishes. Also, I cut up several receiving blankets to use as napkins and face/hand cleaners for the boys at meal times. They work great! Now...on to the cleaning rags. Since I started reading your blog, I look at our worn out clothes and linens differently. Consequently, there is now quite a stash of them waiting for this busy mama to make time to cut/rip/sew my way to less waste. Thanks for the motivation!
    Sarah from NM

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  21. what a great post! gentle reminder of how we can be frugal & environmentally conscious.

    i do have a question though, not sure if it's related to the frugal side of things though, my children are telling me that i'm hoarding, you see i have started in the last few years to save old clothes, string, purchasing cheap fabrics & buying wool on special but most of all i am trying to reduce my impact on the world with less bought items/rubbish, so why do they keep telling me to de-clutter & stop hoarding? perhaps a post on the subject could help enlighten those of us a tad confused?
    a very inspiring post
    thanx for sharing
    selina from kilkivan qld

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    1. Selina, if you have a reason to collect the old clothes and string and you're actually doing something with it, that's not hoarding. It's hoarding if you have it, refuse to get rid of it but never do anything with it.

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  22. Do you have a pattern you use for the dish rack mat? That looks like a fun, easy and practical object, thus hitting all my requirements for a home sewing project!

    Thank you for the link to the knitted waffle-weave dishtowel! I have knitted a few but haven't found a pattern I really click with that works for something like a dishtowel. I'm looking forward to trying this!

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    1. Sarah, there's no pattern. Just measure up your sink and make a rectangular in two layers.

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  23. I really useful blog post Rhonda. I have needed to replace some bath towels recently and couldn't bring myself to just 'chuck out' the old ones. My mother always had a rag bag, now i'm going to make my own from your pattern.
    I also want to mention that I am interested in your blog posts on ageing that you mentioned you were planning to write in the future. Just turned 73 the other day, lucky to be in good health. I'm grateful for that.

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  24. Rhonda, could you perhaps do a follow-up post about the best way to clean and maintain dish cloths, towels, etc.?

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  25. We can buy a bundle of old hotel towels from our local market and I keep any that don't have holes, the rest I cut up for cloths. We haven't bought paper towels or chux for years. We just use them and pop them in the wash, no need to feel bad for wiping up a mess and only using the rag once. It saves on floor mopping as you can clean up the floor with the rag if you drop anything messy. We use our old clothes as well, but I started making rag rugs and now if something colourful goes to the rag bag I am always tempted to add it to a rug instead!

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  26. I couldn't find suitable dish towels, they either stained and couldn't be cleaned properly OR, better yet, shrunk a lot with the first wash. I use sack cloth towels and then made towels up from homespun and flannel. They wear like iron and seem to get the job done for me.

    Maybe one of you, though, can enlighten me. I got busy and knit up dishcloths. They work fine for washing, but how to you get those things to dry?!? I hang them up overnight and they are still really damp. I wouldn't thrown them in the clothes hamper, they would mildew for sure. Its not like Michigan is a tropical steam bath. I've got the usual Peaches N Cream cotton that I'm using.

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  27. Great post! Did I read correctly you put your old rags in the compost bin? How long does it take to break down and what about the dyes in the fabric? This is new to me and very interesting, need more info. Thanks Rhonda!

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  28. thank you for all those wonderful ideas ... historically Mothers always taught the next generation.. but with the advent of lots of persuasive advertising...many went by the wayside. I have to add one that I use daily...since at my age of 75 I have become a little incontinent.. so I use toweling the size of half a hand towel and fold it the way I'm comfortable... never ever bought adult diapers... how ridiculous to do so... After I 'change' I immerse them a lightly chlorinated water until I have a few and rinse them in clear cold water... hanging them to dry....preferably in direct sunlight. I can't begin to tell you how much I have 'saved'...I always feel fresh and clean...I know this topic isn't on every ones radar but we all get old and have hopefully little issues. Also I use interlock material from t-shirts, cut into nice squares, as vesselcloth (translated from Dutch'vaatdoek')to wash dishes, easily washed and dried with the rest of the laundry. I hate the idea of sponges...they are so foul.

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  29. Rhonda, this post brought back a lovely memory for me. Several years ago, my mom passed, and I was going thru her things. I have one brother, and neither of us wanted anything except some sentimental items. I came across her rag bag and snatched it for myself. My mom was the cleanest person I know, and she never wasted the opportunity to make a "good" rag. She was particular: it had to be all natural, non-linty, and the right weight. Every time I go to her bag and see some ancient print or some of my dad's cut-up undershirts, it takes me way, way back. When I got married, many years ago, I asked her for a couple window rags. She always had the best white cotton rags--well, you'd have thought I asked her for her wedding band. The look she gave me--like it pained her to even consider parting with a couple rags. She did relent, tho, and gave me two. Recently, when my daughter married this past summer, I shared some of my mom's rags with her. My girl grew up using those rags, and I knew whenever she cleaned her home, it would bring back memories. When I gave them to her, she lit up like a Christmas tree. Rags can be precious!

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  30. my mom always used everything to it most possible end.. then into the rag bag it went... I have crocheted dishcloths she made me over 15 years ago and I still use them /// i think they are indestructible... i have found ol' mens sox to be great dusters.. when i fist married my husband he was going thru a ton of paper towels.. i went out and bought several big packs of cheap was cloths for the bathroom and we use them for spills, wiping off counters etc and then just was them ...i love saving money and not adding to waste
    jean Ohio, USA

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  31. for household spills like milk or food (not chemicals) we just grab an already used hand towel dishtowel or bathtowel and wipe it up and toss in the wash. I love the idea of cutting up old sheets and hemming them. I have an old sheet I cut the elastic off thinking I would use the fabric for something but never did. Now I know what to use it for!

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  32. I love this post. I have recently been cutting up old cotton nighties to make cleaning cloths. I do buy J clothes, but always wash them and reuse until they fall to bits. I am now eyeing up some sheets that have been sitting in my airing cupboard for some years, unused, and will now repurpose them.

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  33. I too love this wonderful recycle post~!
    I have made many of Debbie's pattern, so the familiar ivory with red stripe knit caught my eye immediately. It is so helpful to have one or two skills in the back of ones mind to whip up a creative gift or fill a need in your own kitchen drawer. Simply sitting through a ballet practice or afternoon tennis match can be rewarding this way.

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  34. I really enjoyed your post Rhonda and this will inspire me to start knitting some cleaning cloths as a start anyway.We have just returned from a trip around Australia where we camped for some of the way and I found the tea towels with the crocheted top that can be hung from poles or the oven rack in our homes invaluable. I can't really crochet but they would be a good place to start. They can still be picked up at fetes but would make great gifts as well if I can learn to make them.

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  35. Thanks for this wonderful post Rhonda. I have a large number of old sheets and towels that need to be recycled, so you've given me some great ideas. I love the patchwork tablecloth too - very pretty.

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  36. I have recently knit covers for my swiffer with the same cotton yarn used for dishcloths instead of buying the disposable covers. There are many free patterns on line to knit or crochet.

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  37. After reading your first book I was inspired to make my own dishcloths. I now have a nice pile of cloths for cleaning and so do my friends, they make great gifts.

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  38. Rhonda, I often get tea towels that are gifts - from friends when they travel, souvenir teatowels I'm talking about.Apart from using some as in the kitchen as you said, are there any other ways of using them, ie like you made the cushion cover for your son. Any other ideas of what to do with brand new kitchen tea towels?

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  39. And it is really fun too I find. Loved this post. I recently brought home my mother-in-laws old white sheets. Some have holes in places so I thought I could make table napkins out of them. Your post inspires me to get moving and get it done. Currently sewing on a scrap quilt I found half finished in a charity shop. Some beautiful sewing done on it, so I am very glad to be able to finish the project. Pre-loved (as they call it) textiles are so soft and a pleasure to use. Pam in Norway

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  40. Loved this post! Not just for it's practicality, but for all the wonderful examples you provided. Your home looks so cozy!

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  41. That beautiful apron did indeed make a lovely gift and is one of my most treasured items!

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    1. The paintings you did for me are my family treasures now, Moey. I'm in awe of your talent. You're such a good artist. xx

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    2. I am so glad they have brought joy to you as you have so many times to me and others. Xx

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