Tutorial: Easy Embellished Handtowel

In celebration of National Craft Month, I’m sharing a tutorial that makes a great first sewing project.  But first, I gotta mention our our giveaway of an Elna Sew Fun sewing machine, perfect for a new sewist. 

Yep, you read that right – we’re giving away a sewing machine!!  After all, if you want to take up sewing, you’ll need a machine to learn on.  Deadline is midnight CST, March 31st, 2011.  Go to the giveaway to get yourself entered!!

Now, on to the tutorial…

Today I’m going to show you how easy it is to make an embellished handtowel.  It’s a quick, easy project and it looks just like the designer ones that you can find in department stores.  But, instead of paying for department store towels, you can grab them up inexpensively at the discount store and add your own fabric embellishment.

This is a great project for a beginning sewist, as it uses only straight seams – and just a few of them, too.  With the help of Steam A Seam, there’s not even any pinning required. 

First, gather your supplies.  Among other supplies, you’ll be using a handtowel and a piece of fabric.  You’ll need to preshrink these before starting your project.  Cotton fabrics all shrink at different rates, so if they shrink after they’ve been sewn together, you can end up with a warped and buckled towel.

To complete this project, you’ll need:


Piece of fabric, 4″ x 1″ longer than the width of your towel. 
My towel is 15″ wide, so my piece of fabric was 4″ x 16″.  You can use just about any type of fabric here, so long as it can be washed and doesn’t have a stretch to it.  I would suggest a quilting weight cotton or a lightweight canvas home dec fabric.  I used a piece of vintage cotton.  If you use a fat quarter of quilting cotton, you’ll have enough fabric in that one fat quarter to make 4 towels.

Approx. 1 yard of ribbon or bias tape
You’ll need enough to go across the towel twice, plus a little extra so you can fold under the edges.  If you’re using ribbon, make sure it’s one that can be washed. 

Thread that matches your ribbon
In my examples, you’ll see that I’m using a contrast thread.  I’m only doing that so you can see better where to stitch.  Using a matching thread will mean that uneven or crooked stitching lines won’t be as obvious to the casual observer.


Steam A Seam
You can buy this at most chain fabric stores or hobby stores.  This is what the box looks like.

It’s basically 1/4″ double-sided tape.  The adhesive is temporary until it gets heated with an iron; then it becomes permanent.  In this project, I’m using it instead of pins to keep the fabric in place while you stitch it down.  If you’re sewing for the first time, you’ve got enough to worry about without having to think about removing all of those pins while you stitch.  And, a straight pin going through a bulky towel can cause the towel and the fabric to shift. 

Now that you’ve got everything together, let’s make the towel.

1.  Fold under approximately 1/2″ on either short side of the fabric piece. 

When the ends are folded under, your strip should be exactly the same width as your towel.  Use your iron to create sharp creases.



2.  Now for the Steam a Seam.  Put strips of Seam a Seam on the backside of the fabric around all four sides.  Make sure that none of it is sticking out beyond the edge of the fabric.  If there is any sticking out, it’ll make a big mess when you iron it.



3.  Lay the fabric piece on top of your towel.  The bottom edge of the fabric should be 1 1/2″ above the bottom of the towel.  I used a ruler to make sure I had it all neat and even.  

Now, use a hot, dry iron to melt the Steam A Seam into a permanent bond.  Remember that you’re not actually ironing something to remove wrinkles.  You’re just needing the heat to melt the glue.  Just put the iron down on to the fabric and leave it for a second or two.  Then life the iron up, and move it over to the next section that needs to be melted.  Down/up, down/up, all the way across the fabric strip.  Don’t do a back and forth motion, as this can cause your fabric to shift. 

4.  Stitch the ends (short edges) of the fabric strip down to the towel, really close to the edge.  My stitching was approximately 1/8″ from the edge.  This was an easy measurement for me, as there is a 1/4″ mark on the presser foot of my Janome MC6300.  To get a nice 1/8″ seam, I just made sure the edge of the fabric stays halfway between the needle and the 1/4″ mark.  Your presser foot may be different, so  you may need to find a different reference point to use.  Luckily, the exact measurement isn’t necessary, so long as you can keep it fairly close to the edge and still maintain an even stitch line.

Why are we stitching after using the Steam A Seam?  Even though you’ve used the Steam A Seam to affix the strip to the towel, the adhesive may wear off over time and with multiple washings.  You don’t need to stitch down the long edges of the fabric strip because they’ll get stitched down when you add the ribbon later in this tutorial.

5.  Now, use the ribbon or bias tape to cover up the raw fabric edges.  Do the same thing with the ribbon that you did with the fabric strip.  Fold under the edges and use Steam A Seam to stick it down.  Use a hot iron to melt the Steam A Seam and make the bond permanent.  (If you’re using a ribbon, I’d suggest covering it with a thin cloth when using the iron.)

6.  Finally, stitch the ribbon or bias tape down.  Like before, stitch close to the edge.  Again, my stitching was approximately 1/8″ from the edge.  You’ll need two rows of stitching to secure each strip of ribbon, for a total of 4 long stitching lines.

You’re done!!  Stand back and look at your new embellished handtowel.  Isn’t it just like the designer ones you see in the stores?   Now, fold that baby up all cute and put it out in your bathroom.


  1. Jacque Bruce says

    Great tutorial…thanks for sharing an inspiration of how to bring some springtime into our homes! We so need it about now!

  2. Jaan says

    Thanks for showing how to make some very pretty towels. Now all I need is a sewing machine to do them on…thanks for the chance to win one.

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