linen dish cloth

When the countertops and cutting boards, the faucets and the sink are all wiped down with a good clean cloth, I’m quite content. Linen fibre is strongest when wet, so it makes an ideal dish cloth. I adore the texture and gloss of wet-spun linen, at once hardy plant fibre and fine silk, artless pastoral and opulence combined.

These cloths are a great little project to pick up and stitch when there are quieter moments in the day. All you need is some linen yarn and a crochet hook in your pocket, and the simple pattern, below.

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The qualities of linen

Like rustic clothing, the difference between store-bought and handmade is often its strength. They’re certainly not cheaper than the imported cotton dishcloths we can easily buy, but then they last so long, and please me so much. In using natural linen we sidestep destructive farming practices, pesticides and toxic dyes. There are even folks experimenting with local flax production, and you can grow it easily yourself! To demonstrate the wonderful process of transforming flax to gold, there’s a an old bit of Canadiana on the subject, too.

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Linen care

To care for these linen cloths, we just throw them in the wash as usual, cold or hot, with a drop of tea tree oil to kill any germs. I imagine it doesn’t get musty or stain as easily, but I might just take extra care to hang it to dry, because it’s handmade and beautiful. We hang them or lay them on a flat, waterproof surface like our countertops, and sometimes block them. Block them?

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Blocking is what you do to shape any knit, woven, crocheted piece, and is simply arranging it back into shape and allowing it to dry that way. You can get fancy with special pins and boards, if you were blocking pieces of a sweater before sewing it, so that it would fit perfectly together. But for the linen dish cloths, you’re just laying them flat while they’re wet or damp, and patting, pulling, shaping back to a square, then leaving them to dry. Shaping is ten-second task. No harm in skipping this part, either. It does please me to see them back in their fine shape.

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Theme and variation

Crocheting linen fibre makes these pieces a little bit rustic, a little bit ornate, and thoroughly handmade. I love to use these cloths to experiment with variation in crochet patterns.

Linen dish cloth pattern

I like to use a heavier linen yarn like Euroflax, and a 4.5mm hook – aim to have the hook larger than what’s called for, to get that open weave.

Chain 27 stitches, and work into them half-double-crochet, double crochet, or triple crochet, repeating until you have a square.

I like to stitch the rows in hdc, and then finish with a restrained ruffled edge: chain 6, slipstitch to attach at every 5th stitch, and repeat to the row’s end. Then work back with 6 or 7 double crochets around that loop you’ve made, just enough that the ruffle lies flat, working a slip stitch into the previous slipstitches. Tie it off very firmly. Rinse the piece and block it!

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Linen cloths make a nice accompaniment to a trusty stiff brush, and a stack of linen tea towels. Elegant tools make the work far easier, far more agreeable, I think. They encourage mindfulness in presence in everyday labours. We love these useful, perennial favourites.

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tufted pillow

Next in my series of linen pillows, those little textural studies in sewing. I find tufted furniture quite entrancing, much like kissing pleats and smocking. Something about the sculptural qualities of tufting is so appealing, and I made a cushion to try it.

how to cover buttons with fabric

I love the tradition of accentuating tufting with buttons, from early vintage pieces to the Barcelona chair. Time to learn to cover my own buttons. My button jar had odd ones that I wasn’t sure how to use, so I bought a set of four with reassuringly simple directions printed on the back. Cut out the template and use it to cut your fabric. Sew a running stitch round the edge, pop the button in on the wrong side and pull to gather tightly. Smooth out the fabric and press the washer into place. Magic! Suddenly I was transported to my youth, wearing my mother’s 1960’s blue skirt & jacket, with cloth-covered buttons to match, just the same size as these. Very Jacqueline Kennedy.

handmade tufted linen pillow

I marked out four spots on each side of fabric before I began the piece. After covering the pillow in two shades of linen, I used some sturdy thread to sew through a pearly button back and out through the front, fabric-covered button, pulling as tightly as possible. Back and forth between the buttons til securely fastened, much wrestling and squashing of the cushion involved. I think the tufted pillow makes a fine addition to the daybed, quite cosy. Now I have rosettes in mind for the next cushion, though as winter steadily approaches, it must wait its turn til I’ve finished the nine-patch quilts.

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handmade tufted linen pillow

quilting & piping

I have been using our throw pillows as small studies in the fabric arts. They’ve enabled experiments in knife pleats and kissing pleats and smocking so far. I’ve had a terrible time with some stubborn ruffles on a piece which may never recover, though I’m going to see if a few rosettes will save the thing. I’ve been warming up my quilting skills on another placemat and then on a cushion, before taking on the large quilts, and decided to throw in a small lesson in piping, while I was at it. I’ve never tried piping, very exciting.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

I used a wide bowl and some tailor’s chalk to draw out the pattern. If you like things to be very precise you could mark out lines first, but I’m both impatient and fond of a handmade sort of drift and wiggle. I’ve simply cut a piece of cotton quilting batting and pinned it in several spots behind the linen.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

Come into my dim and grainy evening studio for a bit. I bought piping cord a whole year ago with good intentions. You’ll need to make or buy some very wide bias tape, as it needs to stretch round the corners of the pillow without puckering. Cut it long enough to overlap generously. Fold it around the cord and pin the cord into place along the fold.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

This would be a good moment to switch to a piping foot or a zipper foot, to allow the needle to move along snugly beside the cord. I confess, having neither for my vintage machine, and not quite having the patience (hmmmm) to wait for dear friends to post me one (thank you!) I went ahead and sewed the piping anyway, with the foot moving along on top of the piping and the needle dropping in beside. I know. It did work, happily!

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

Pin the piping round the cover, raw edges together, easing the corners and then notching them with little triangle cut outs to help things stay smooth. Fold one edge of the piping, and when you get back around to it, tuck the raw edge inside it so that they overlap cleanly, and trim. There are some good resources for how to do this bit. Stitch round, as close to the piping as you can get.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

I chose a slightly rougher, slightly darker linen for the back. I pinned the back of the cushion cover on to the front, right sides together, sandwiching the piping, and then sewed around again following the first line of sewing precisely, and stopping with enough space left to both turn the cover right side out, and stuff the pillow form into it. Best to choose what kind of closure you want in advance – I’m happy just to handstitch it closed and toss it in the wash if it encounters some messy little hands.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

Quilted and piped!

knife pleat pillow

There’s something about desaturated colour and the textures of fabric that I’m so drawn to. The intricacies of textured fabrics are fascinating, heart-quickeningly so, and I’m able to rest in the quieter shades, like a happy Taoist in the open spaces of a drawing. Therefore when I began to sew things for our home to make it softer, warmer, comfortable, I began to work with un-dyed natural fibres, wool, linen, cottons, to draw out their textural capacities. I long to do the same in clay. Soon.

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Like the kissing pleat pillow, simple pleats were ideal for creating a sculptural effect with some stiff, heavy linen. I’m experimenting now, learning to sew as I try different techniques. A very basic one, then, the knife pleat. I began by marking out my linen with tailors chalk and a quilting ruler.

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I followed some clear directions to press and sew and press and sew pleat after pleat. Best to use a very hot, steaming iron, and to first set the seam closed as it was sewn, then flip the fabric, so that the pleat lies in the direction you’d like it to face, and press the seam open from underneath.

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I cleaned up the edges, the rotary cutter is my best tool for this. Then I turned it wrong side out, hemmed the edges, and sewed the pillow form in. I will likely regret this, an envelope pillow case is my next study.

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Quite content with a knife pleat pillow. Well, I am dying to learn how to reupholster the sofa, but otherwise content. I’ve begun the next cushion experiment today, using shirring elastic. A sort of training for frocks. What happened to skirts and frocks and quilts? Soon – soon!

kissing pleat pillow

There’s something about having a whirlwind of vibrant children and all of their colourful things in a house that makes me love peaceful shades of linen and white. I’ve been thinking about sewing with texture, and starting to play with old techniques like pleating and pintucks. This pillow is an astonishingly easy pattern; the kissing pleats are made by knotting on the back of the linen. Now that autumn rains are falling I’ll make some variations.

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