Make your own household linens

27 January 2020
Making your own household linens is a BIG step towards a simpler life. You'll use numerous simple living skills such as sewing, recycling, budgeting, home maintenance and organisation when you actively work towards fabric recycling and creating your own cloths, bags, napery and soft furnishings. I gave up looking for what I wanted in the shops many years ago and over the years I've made cheese and yoghurt straining cloths, tablecloths, tea towels, hair towels, tea cosies, table runners, aprons, napkins, shopping bags, pillowcases, cushion covers, lamp skirts, bread bags, mats, plate covers, cool cotton sheets and warm woollen blankets for Gracie's bed. Increasingly what I want is not sold in any shop and I get a wonderful sense of reassurance and satisfaction when I make what I need. About 90 percent of the time I use recycled materials. 

This is a simple activity that takes only time, a change of mindset and a bit of effort but it will make a huge difference to your day-to-day life. And if you do this and can stand back from the commercial world, where everything has a monetary value instead of an environmental one, you, my friend, will put yourself in a powerful and sustainable position.

I'm about halfway through this project - a new linen bread bag using linen I first wore as a skirt many years ago.
The other reward for this type of work is that for every item you make and use, you will customise your home and make it more suitable for you and your family.  You can't do that by always using factory-made and mass-produced goods. Uniqueness, familiarity and finesse become part of your home and homemaking when you take the time to create what you live with.  When you use materials that have outlived their first life, you create a self-renewing circle that produces new from old and slows down the stream of rubbish leaving your home.

A lamp skirt made to cover an old boring white lampshade. 

The main skill in this kind of work is to be able to cut and sew in a straight line. Once you develop your skills, you can be more elaborate but to start with, you just need straight lines. They can be done on a sewing machine or, if you're patient, with hand sewing. I love hand sewing. It's similar to knitting in that you sit quietly with your work and think.

A tablecloth made from recycled bits and pieces.  I've been using this for about five years now.

If you've not done this before and you're a novice sewer, start with napkins. Having about 20 cotton or linen napkins on the kitchen table for your family to use with dinner each night means you don't have to buy paper napkins. Cotton or linen are ideal because they are absorbent and easy to wash and dry.  I usually make mine either 10"x10"  or 12" x 12" with an extra inch all around for the hem.  Here is a tutorial to follow. 

I always have a stack of homemade napkins on the kitchen table.

This morning I found a hole in a homemade cloth runner on top of our silky oak cupboard.  I found it when I moved a pot plant that was on top of it.  It looks like a burn mark! I have no idea how it got there. I didn't burn candles there over Christmas and I don't know who put the pot plant on top. Maybe it was me!  Anyhow, it's given me a sewing project. 


About six months ago, I made a table cloth from a recycled doona cover but I only used one side of the cover and put the other half - a green version of the pattern - in my fabric stash.  Tomorrow I'm going to organise myself to make another table cloth. I already know by sewing the last cloth that the fabric is too long for our kitchen table, so I'll cut off a piece and make that into another runner for the front door cupboard.  After the old runner is washed and ironed, I'll cut the burnt bit out of that and probably add another two or three napkins to the kitchen table caddy.

Above: This is an old doona/duvet cover that was recycled instead of being thrown out. One side was blue, the other side, green. 

It's a good idea to go through your old sheets and towels at this time of year to see if any have rips or holes.  Sometimes it's possible to darn sheets or towels but if yours can't be mended, cut them up for rags. That will give new life to the fabrics, will give you a lot of very absorbent cleaning rags and will save money because you don't have to buy cleaning cloths.  And that's another sewing project - make yourself a rag bag. Mine is below, it's hanging in the laundry.


I hope you'll make some of your household linens and start a lifelong habit of reusing what you have.  It's not difficult and there are many YouTube videos to show you the way. Look through the fabrics you have at home and use what you have on hand. You'll save money doing it but more importantly, it will lighten your footprint and bring you closer to a simple and sustainable home.

35 comments

  1. Love the embroidered bread bag Rhonda can't wait to see it all finished with a lovely loaf of bread inside. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

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  2. One of my aims for 2020 was to try to solve more problems around the home without throwing money at them. So often we think we just need to go to the shops and buy x,y or z to fix something. After months looking at lamp shades locally and online, I couldn't find exactly what I wanted to replace a broken shade on a floor lamp. Then suddenly the lightbulb went on and I realised I could easily recover the shade myself. And I can do it with fabric leftover from another project.

    Today I cut part of an old duvet cover into strips and used it to tie up half a dozen tomato bushes. It was satisfying to do the job for free and reminded me that my father used all of my mother's old nylon stockings to tie things up in our garden. He would have thought it crazy to pay for something to do the job!

    Madeleine

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  3. I can do those things (I've earned my living sewing when I was teenager/early twenties), but to my shame I rarely do nowadays. More shame on me: my grandparents moved to our village right after the WWII, they had nothing. In first summer granpa sow a field of linen, then granma soaked them over winter - while granpa built everything needed for treating the linen fibers, spinning and weaving. So next autunm they had their own bedsheets!
    I haven't weaved anything like that, only felts and rugs.
    Now I only sew something if it really needed, atm I should be making covers for a rocking chair (originally it belonged to than beforementioned granpa!) for my sister who's havin her second child at any day now.
    I have noticed fabricks are so much poorer quality nowadays; I had to throw away (lit a fireplace with them) some newish t-shirts (bought about 10 years ago), fabric was so fragile I couldn't use it as rag or not even in rag rugs!

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    1. I hope you get back to sewing for yourself, Ulvmor. But having said that, I'm sure your sister will love the comfort of the rocking chair when she's feeding the new baby. xx

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  4. I have a plan for some new pillow cases. I have some cotton fabric that will be lovely for this. I prefer home made cotton pillow cases as it is more absorbent compared to the polycotton of the purchased pillow cases. My rag bag is a drawstring bag I made out of old sheeting. It hangs over a towel rail in the laundry. I was given two lots of jelly rolls by a friend cleaning out her craft cupboard. I have made this into long quilted runners. The backing is an old doona cover. These quilted runners are on the recliners and are sweat runners. Not a pretty name but they do a wonderful job.

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    1. Thank you, Rhonda and Jane, for the inspiration: there are two identical jelly rolls in the fabric we've sorted following my mother's death nearly two years ago. I'll start with piecing those next time I visit dear Dad.bWill be a great start on phase two or sorting out Mum's sewing room. Sending happy, relaxed sewing thoughts to all,

      Michelle in Wellington, NZ.
      (My own wee home is full of my yarn stash and my ongoing knitting projects - including the UFOs!)

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  5. Hi Rhonda,

    I love seeing anything homemade for the home.

    I have quite a bit of fabric that I have been collecting over the years from op shops etc for projects such as these. Firstly I am going to make some place-mats to use for mealtimes at our table. I have napkins already, mostly vintage ones collected from op shops, but I could always use some more.

    I love your bread bag and I am wondering if I have some linen fabric in my stash. I will have a look tomorrow. If not I might use calico to make one.

    Your tablecloth is really pretty, blue is my favourite colour. Wonder what happened to your runner, just one of those mysteries that do not get solved. At least it can be re-used for something else.

    A rag bag is a great idea too. You have me inspired to get sewing.

    xTania

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    1. Go Tania! It's surprising how many things you can easily make for your home. I hope you take photos and put them up on your blog. xx

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  6. Hello Rhonda,

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Thank you for taking me back to my childhood and reminding me of all the frugal tasks my parents did each and every day because that was just the way they did things.

    My mother did a lot of sewing when I was growing up. My father was the wage earner and my mum was a stay-at-home-mum of three girls born in the space of four years.
    Mum sewed all our clothes and knitted our jumpers and cardigans. She shopped for well priced fabric to make tablecloths, tea towels, napkins and aprons. As these items wore thin or developed holes she would mend them or repurpose them into other items. All her sewing was done on a Singer treadle sewing machine that came with us to Australia from Italy.

    Worn bed sheets were washed and bleached and then used when Mum made our bread each fortnight. She mixed and kneaded by hand, ten kilos of flour with water, salt and a sourdough starter. After the initial rise the dough was shaped into loaves, put onto a worn clean sheet, covered with another sheet and woolen blankets and left to prove. When the loaves were ready they were baked in the wood-fired oven that my father had built using second hand bricks and recycled materials.

    Dad used strips of rags to tie the tomato plants to the bamboo trellis he had constructed. Rags were used for cleaning or damp dusting.

    Rhonda, your bread bag is lovely and the embroidery is beautiful. I can't wait to see it when it is finished. I would love to make one if you can please provide instructions. Can I ask how you will use it? Is it for storing bread instead of using plastic of some sort? We have a wooden bread bin to keep our bread in but I find that the cut end dries out.
    You have inspired me to make a tablecloth using your idea. I love your bits and pieces tablecloth.

    Thank you lovely lady. You have evoked some very special memories with this post. I am so grateful that you are continuing to inspire and encourage us.

    Warmest regards,
    Maria xx.

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    1. Your parents sound like mine, Maria. When I bake bread, I slice it and the sliced loaf will go into the linen bag and, in summer, will be stored in the fridge. I'll leave it in the kitchen, hanging in the bag, during the colder months. Bread is always best on the day you bake it but it will keep well in a linen bag for 3 - 4 days. If you want to keep it longer than that, store the bread, in the linen bag, in the freezer and just take out the number of slices you need as you need them. Happy sewing, Maria. xx

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  7. We save old sheets to cover our citrus when there's a freeze warning.

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  8. Because of your lovely bread bag, Rhonda, I am making one of my own. I have some cream coloured linen and just finished stamping the embroidery pattern on it. I have had these transfer booklets for literally YEARS, and never used them. This time I was delighted to bring them out; thumb through them, and find a pretty pattern of wheat that I made my own for the top of the bag. I am wondering if I made my bag large enough now; but we shall see soon and if not, I can always make another. It has been a lot of fun so far. Since it will be laundered a lot I will not go overboard on the embroidery detail; but I want to make it nice anyway. I'll start embroidering today. Yours looks great!

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    1. I'm glad you're making a bread bag, Hopflower. I'd love to see your bag when it's finished.

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  9. What a super ideas!! Love all your creations. The tablecloth its just a double layer?
    Love it!!

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    1. Thank you. Double layer for the patchwork tablecloth, Wilma. All the others are single layer.

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  10. Love your ideas. The other day my husband was straining some homemade almond milk through my jelly bag and I was thinking that it was getting quite stained. It dawned on me that I have some old white sheets that I could make a new one with. Problem solved. Your bread bag is really cute, but I always wonder when you mention a bread bag whether the bread dries out easily since the air can get through the fabric?

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    1. See what I wrote in answer (above) to Maria. Linen keeps the bread well for a few days. Long term storage should be in the freezer. I'm pleased you're making your own straining cloths. I bet you find other things to make too. xx

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  11. A blessing to be able to this!

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  12. That is going to be a beautiful bread bag. I do believe I'm inspired to sew up some napkins after seeing your pretty ones in a basket on your table. We used to use cloth napkins many years ago, but when children came along I was lured into the convenience of disposable paper napkins and paper towels. Unfortunate, too, when the savings would have been greatest. Now that we're two again, and life's a bit slower let's see if I can get hubby on board again after all these years. ;^)

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    1. I'm glad you're sewing napkins. They'll be handy on the kitchen table and save money over the year. Happy sewing!

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  13. Your bread bag is beautiful and will bring a smile to the faces of those who use it for many years to come.
    I’m in the process of turning a floral duvet cover that we got secondhand and hardly ever used into a dressing gown and pyjamas for myself. So much lovely cotton fabric and each side a complimentary print which will make a pretty set. Seeing your bread bag has inspired me to do a little bit of embroidered embellishment on the pocket edge.
    It’s a happy activity, reviving the skills that my mother thought me as a child that have been dormant for so many years.

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    1. Thanks Ingrid. Duvet covers are one of the best thing to reuse because of all that fabric. I think your PJs and dressing gown will look great and the embroidered pocket edge will add your very personal touch. Enjoy your sewing. xx

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  14. You've inspired me Rhonda (again)! I already use old worn sheets that I rip up and crochet into baskets, but I had never thought of a tablecloth. And napkins .... what a great way to teach my girls sewing machine skills (I am forever at my husband who uses the tea towels as napkins!). Thank you.

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  15. I need to make some napkins. I'm rather thinking of recovering my ironing board first. I'll have to just look through my fabrics and see what speaks to me.
    Blessings,
    Laura

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  16. I do like your bread bag, Rhonda. I'm going to put that onto my (long) list of things to make. The kickstart to my getting back into sewing household linens last year, after a many-decades hiatus, was being so infuriated by the poor quality of pillow cases in linen stores, with their wonky seams and absurdly high prices. Old bedsheets are my new pillow cases, and the leftover worn sections go to either the rag bag or into the stash to be used for muslins when I'm testing a pattern.

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  17. Bread bags are such a lovely idea. I have made them out of pillow cases before. I always seem to have far more pillow cases than any other linen.

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  18. Oh, that bread bag is so sweet. I love your work; the detail is just perfect. I used to use recycled flannel sheets that I sewed into moon pads for when I was on my period. The water went to the plants. I have exteneded the life of my towels by sewing blanket binding onto the edges. The centers are usually fine. It has mad my towels last for decades! I even sewed small flannel squares to use as toilet paper. They are very absorbent, and you can just throw them in the washing machine. I love your napkins and table runners. Maybe I will get brave and make some...

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  19. My mother in law gave me a pile of sheets. They all had a seam down the middle. I'd never seen it before! She cuts the sheet in half length ways when it gets thin and re-read it with the outside now in the middle (if that makes sense?) She gets twice as long out of a sheet!

    Eden

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  20. a wonderful post
    i am still to make any napkins or table cloths, not that i use them much, having cats sort of put me off table cloths but i like the bread bag idea, it wouldn't sweat either? sad to say i buy my sourdough loaves & they always go mildewy within a few days if i forget to put in the fridge, might be a good sewing project for me to start on; does it matter what type of fabric used?
    great reading
    thanx for sharing

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    1. Cotton or linen are the best fabrics to use, Selina.

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  21. I really can relate to what you say about customizing your home and a sense of uniqueness. I gave up finding curtains for our home in the shops years ago and sew ours. My kitchen curtains by eg. are orange recycled duvet covers. Really can't abide the rapid trend shifts in the shops, far from environmentally friendly and a waste of money. Pam in Norway

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  22. I am thinking I need to make a bread bag! That looks so useful and we have had mold problems lately with our plastic keeper. We love our cloth napkins. I recently replaced many that were 20 years old. I am wondering how much we saved by not buying paper ones and how many trees were spared. We like big napkins 20 inches square which you cannot buy and the ones in the stores are not soft cotton like we enjoy using. I have stacks of tablecloths I have made over the years and since my husband built our table it is not a standard size. My homemade ones fit it perfectly.

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  23. Hi Rhonda
    Your embroidered bread bag is so lovely! I might try that with some beautiful Italian linen my mother gave me.
    I'm a member of Boomerang Bags and we make shopping bags out of post-consumer fabric like sheets and doona covers. We also make produce bags from lace curtaining and cutlery wraps out of scraps. Our aim is to reduce single use plastics.
    I don't think the black stain on your runner was a burn mark - quite the opposite in fact. I'd say water had been leaking out of the saucer and was settling underneath where it never really dried so the fabric went mouldy and rotted. If I'm right then your silky oak cupboard would have been spared worse damage :-)
    Thanks again for your blog, I find it very inspiring.

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  24. Hi Rhonda
    Your embroidered bread bag is so lovely! I might try that with some beautiful Italian linen my mother gave me.
    I'm a member of Boomerang Bags and we make shopping bags out of post-consumer fabric like sheets and doona covers. We also make produce bags from lace curtaining and cutlery wraps out of scraps. Our aim is to reduce single use plastics.
    I don't think the black stain on your runner was a burn mark - quite the opposite in fact. I'd say water had been leaking out of the saucer and was settling underneath where it never really dried so the fabric went mouldy and rotted. If I'm right then your silky oak cupboard would have been spared worse damage :-)
    Thanks again for your blog, I find it very inspiring.

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