In my youth, almost every girl, who had a hope chest, had a least one set of embroidered dish towels. If you are going to spend the effort to embroider on a dishtowel, I would strongly urge you to take a bit of trouble, before you begin, to find a worthy towel. Embroidery is much more difficult if the foundation fabric is poor.
Most of the flour sack dishtowels commonly found in stores are hardly worth the effort to embroider them. They are too often thin, and too loosely woven. They also don’t wash well and collect lint from other items in the wash. Compared to the towels I used for embroidery as a young woman, these are miserable imitations. They are white, and that is about all I can say for them.
As a result, I have been on an 8-year odyssey to find a reliable, reasonable source for suitable dishtowels. What do I look for? What do I recommend?
I first look for 100% cotton fiber with a good twist to the threads. Most of us know that, to be properly absorbent, a towel has to be 100% natural fiber. Of course, linen makes a wonderful dish towel, if you can afford it. But, cotton is pretty great as well, and much more reasonably priced. I try to buy fiber that is untreated by finishes. The twist in the threads also makes a difference. If the fiber twist is slack, the fabric is weaker and will wear out more quickly. It is less smooth in appearance and sometimes the fibers will pill. If the fiber twist is too tight, the towel will not be absorbent. Like Goldilocks, it has to be "just right."
I also look for a tight weave. Most flour sack towels have a plain, over-under weave. I gently stretch the fabric over the pad of my finger. If I can see any of my finger between the threads, I put the towel down and keep looking. Sometimes I can see the threads pull apart. Completely unsuitable. I often think of how glad I am not to have to carry flour in a bag made from that!
As I look at the fabric in a towel, I consider the embroidery stitches I commonly use. I know that, to be able to make an attractive satin stitch, I need the fabric to be tightly woven. Otherwise, the edges of the stitch will look ragged. When I make a french knot, I don’t want the knot to pull right through the fabric. Some embroidery designs have small elements and tight curves. These require small, or even tiny stitches. Such stitches are impossible on a loosely woven fabric.
I always check the local stores. Sometimes I come across a set of dish towels that are good enough, but not often. I once found a set of four towels under the Martha Stewart label at K-Mart. Sadly, they were not reliable from package to package or from store to store. Sometimes those you find at Sam’s Club are adequate, but sometimes they are like cheesecloth.You may have better luck at your local stores. I can make two good online recommendations.
The “heavy-weight” flour sack towel at The Towel Place.com is a wonderful towel, perfect for embroidery. They are hemmed on all four sides and more on-grain than any others I’ve seen. They actually fold up squarely! These are like the towels I remember. However, these towels are largely beyond my purse. The towels themselves are reasonable. A set of 12 is $24.00. But the shipping is so high that it almost doubles the cost. You may consider the cost worth the quality, especially for a special set made for the hope chest. These are truly outstanding towels. You can buy a sample, if you wish, to compare them to lesser towels, but the shipping will kill you. ;o)
My second recommendation is the flour sack towels from Herrschners.com. I recently ordered another set and was pleased that the quality is still superior. The weave is tight and better than almost anything else out there. These towels are very suitable for embroidery. The price has just increased a bit recently, but the largest size is $14.00 for a set of 7. The towels are hemmed on all four sides, but like most other flour sack towels, they are not on-grain. This means that they don’t hang or fold straight. So, I buy the largest size, cut them to square them up and re-hem. This seems like a lot of work, but it makes a nicer set. Sometimes I add a colorful, calico border, as long as I’m going to the extra effort. Herrschners will also send you a print catalog, with all kinds of embroidery and yarn projects.
Some people really don’t mind what towels they use, but I simply have to have a decent towel. If you have another reliable source for good, flour sack dish towels, please share that information with me. I’ll love you forever!