I love, love rustic vintage fabrics like grain sacks, burlap and linen. Occasionally I’ve found actual vintage items in thrift stores, but really when I think about it that was years ago before thrifting became popular and Pinterest gave people so many ideas! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything of decent quality.
Now if I visit a site or store with wonderful things made with vintage linens, I’m usually always shell-shocked over the prices. There’s no way I could ever pay $40-100 (or more!) for towels, pillows or a sack. So my next option is to create vintage-looking things myself, preferably with something a bit aged that I’ve inherited or found somewhere.
And so today I’m sharing my latest gift-giving idea – how to diy French-inspired vintage linen tea towels using reclaimed linens (vintage or not) and a bit of fabric paint. It’s quick, easy, adaptable with a change of color and completely gives the look I was after of much pricer offerings!
Here’s a quick comparison I found while putting this article together – vintage linen tea towels from France like the ones pictured on the left from eBay are selling for $30-45 each. I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t use a towel I spent $45 on, but I’d really like a set of pretty vintage towels for our farmhouse kitchen (oh, right – to, um, give away).
My version on the right comes in under $5, depending on your materials cost – if you have to buy the paint (though of course you won’t use all the paint) and if you have linens in the cupboard you can use, like I did. However you come by your materials, the savings is huge over the real thing and still gives a vintage look with a bonus of being able to customize the colors.
Materials Needed to Make Vintage-Like Linen Tea Towels
- Mid-to-heavy weight linen, cut and sewn to kitchen towel size (mine ranged from 20″ long x 18″ wide to 28″x 21″). Here are some items I used to cut my towels from: and old linen tablecloth I’ve had for years, but had developed holes, a heavy weight vintage linen tea towel remnant (I had used the lace edge to make the cuff a one of our Christmas stockings), and the back of a linen dress shirt Brian had worn before it developed yellow stains that couldn’t be removed. Hopefully, this will give you an idea of different ways you can find your ‘vintage’ linen. I then used a simple sewing technique like this one for the edges.
- Acrylic craft paint in desired color (most vintage tea towels have red, blue, green or black stripes). I used mostly Martha Stewart’s multi surface paint, but added a few drops of old paint I had in order to get closer to a color I liked.
- Fabric Medium. Again, I used Martha Stewart brand fabric medium – I found that even though MS craft paint says it can be used on fabric, if you want it to be pliable and washable you need to still add the medium.
- Painter’s tape like the Frog Tape I used.
- Foam brush, container to mix paint in, paper plate and paper towel or rag.
Before starting to actually paint your linen, you need to practice painting on strips of linen to get the right look for your color stripe. As you can see, I did quite a few, as the medium dilutes the color a bit. Mix 2 parts paint to 1 part medium and test what that looks like. I wanted a more washed-out, vintage-y look, so I added a bit more water and painted another test strip. Then I mixed in a different green and so on, experimenting with my technique as I went.
Once you get your paint the color and wash that you like, it’s a simple process to paint your stripes:
How to paint stripes for a linen towel:
- On a paper covered surface, use the painter’s tape to tape off your stripe on the long edge of the towel (vintage towels almost always have the stripes going the length of towels, not the ends).
- Use your finger to press firmly down on the side of the tape that will be painted to make sure paint doesn’t seep under.
- Dip your foam brush in the paint mixture and then dab on a paper towel. We’re aiming for a washed-look for this stripe, so try not to soak the fabric with all the paint on the brush.
- Paint the stripe in between the tape. You can see the fabric puckers some and the paint doesn’t go on evenly, but that just helps us get the washed-out look we’re going for. Go over it until you have the look you want (which you hopefully perfected with your practice pieces).
- Immediately grab a clean paper towel or rag and blot along the stripe. I blotted and rubbed a bit, again trying to fade the color a bit.
- Remove the tape as soon as you’re done blotting.
Repeat with the other towels you have. Once you have your towels sewn and your paint mixed, the stripe-painting process goes pretty quickly and you can crank out the towels. You also can choose to do two stripes on each side or paint one in the middle – find some photos of vintage towels for inspiration and adapt as you like!
Hang painted towels to dry for at least 24 hours and then heat set with an iron so they’ll be safe to wash (heat set by placing a piece of cotton over the painted area and ironing over it).
For gift giving, package with some twine and stamped office store tags.
Me? I’m probably keeping a few of these, since they’re in my color and all…
Want even more ideas? Follow me on Pinterest and check out my Handmade Gifts board as well as my Thrift Store Transformations board.
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