Thursday, 2 June 2016

Crochet to Extend Life

Close-up photo of the two border patterns, juxtaposed diagonally. The top has a filet pattern of two open squares followed by  a closed square. This is repeated row on row to give an effect of 1-square wide columns and spaces between them that are 2 squares wide, with a solid filet border of tr around the outside edge.  The bottom filet crochet  border has a chequerboard arrangement of open and solid squares. The outside edge is a round of open filet squares and a round of solid dc.
Crochet is not only a fun creative activity, but also a practical skill that can save you money.

If you are interested in recycling and re-using, making do and mending, to both save money and care for the environment, you will be pleased to discover that crochet can add years of extra usefulness to household items.

Back in 2009, I discovered my yellow hand towels beginning to fray around the edges. I use hand towels a lot because hand washing is a big deal at my place.

The theory is that autoimmune diseases like lupus are caused by an overactive immune system.  To illustrate, here's a typical scenario:

Instead of sending 10 soldiers to knock out that cold virus, the overactive immune system sends 100. After the first 10 get the job done, the next 90 arrive looking for a fight and attack nearby cells regardless of whether they are foreign invaders like a cold virus or whether they are the body's own useful cells. 

To make matters worse, in illnesses like lupus or mixed connective tissue disease, there seems to be a mix-up in communications so none of the soldiers get the message to clean up and go home! They continue to wreak havoc on the body's totally innocent cells, leaving the body with a trail of damage to clean up and repair.  No wonder extreme fatigue is a major problem for sufferers of autoimmune conditions.

What's that got to do with hand towels and hand washing?  
My medications to control the symptoms work by dampening  the body's immune response.  
A wider picture of the two yellow towels with filet borders side by side. The borders are worked in yellow and white variegated thread to produce an effect of mainly white with streaks of yellow. The left towel has the 'columns' border and the right has the 'chequerboard' border. For more details of the stitch refer to the first photo in this blog entry.
2016: Corner details.
Notice the chequered pattern in the fabric
which inspired the filet crochet edging choice.
(L-R) Patterns 2 and 5.

While this might calm the immune soldiers down so they don't hurt my good cells, it also makes them less responsive to warding off the real threats like bacteria and viruses. I liken it to soldiers who have had some time off to have a picnic and after a few beers and lazing about in the sun, they are less alert to detecting foreign invaders promptly and then are sluggish about dealing with them.

Prevention is always better than cure in my book so infection control is a large part of my strategy for staying well.  Germs and infection are often spread through hands and direct contact. In my family, we wash our hands frequently throughout the day: whenever we enter the home, after using the toilet, before handling food and between activities.  Towels are washed and changed daily so our hand towels get heavy use!

August 2009: a freshly trimmed towel,
when it still had years of life left in it.
The chequerboard jacquard pattern in
the fabric inspired the chequerboard
filet crochet.
This was my first ever attempt at crocheting
a thread border onto fabric.
It would be a waste to throw out the fraying yellow towels because they were still thick enough to dry plenty of hands for a long time to come but they did look shabby and worn around the edges.

The solution: new tidy, crocheted edges!

The frayed edges were squared off with a rotary cutter and then overcast with the sewing machine.  I was still very new at sewing with no experience of working with towelling fabrics so the results are a little uneven. 
A blanket stitch was hand sewn around the edges of the towel; the foundation row of crochet was worked into the blanket stitches.

Two borders juxtaposed horizontally. Top chequerboard from the towel to edge: foundation row of solid dc, a row of open filet squares, 2nd row has alternating closed and open filet squares, 3rd row has solid squares above open squares and vice versa to create the chequerboard effect for 3 rows overall, 5th row has open squares and is edged by a row of solid dc.  The bottom 'columns' patter from towel to edge: foundation of solid dc, 4 rows of filet squares with pattern (1 solid, 2 open). solid squares are worked above solid and open above open to creat a column pattern. After 4 rows, the edge is made of solid tr stitches.
Top: Pattern 5 (Chequerboard)
Bottom: Pattern 2 (Columns)

The edging patterns (Numbers 2 & 5) were taken from a German booklet of handkerchief edgings (listed below). Because the towel fabric had a square chequerboard pattern on it, I chose square-ish filet crochet edging patterns. Pattern 5 echoes the chequerboard theme and Pattern 2 has columns.

The edges were made with mercerised cotton thread in a variegated colour. Cotton was chosen because of its strength and ability to withstand hot wash temperatures. I did not record the hook and yarn at the time.  The yarn would have been between size 8 and size 20 in weight.

Photos of the newly-edged towels can also be found on a Ravelry project page

Two complete towels side by side.
The towels are looking a bit world weary in 2016
but their crocheted edges are still intact.
I am especially impressed with the colourfastness
of the mercerised cotton thread.

Only now, in 2016, are these towels at the end of their useful life.  They have worn thin in the middle and holes are appearing.  They have withstood weekly laundering and general abuse–I'm sure they would have frayed away by now without the crocheted edge–and have lost some shape over the years.

In recent years, these towels had been relegated to the laundry for wiping hands after messy jobs like gardening and cleaning but the pretty edgings have kept them presentable. When hung on towel rings, it is no longer noticeable that they are not quite square any more.

For a low-income household like mine, new towels are a luxury and rarely affordable.

Crochet extended the life of these towels by 7 years!

Hooray for Crochet!

Further Links & References

Cover of MEZ Lehrmuster leaflet 9160 "Simone"

MEZ Garne, MEZ Lehrmuster mit Anregungen für Textiles Werken und Gestalten, Blatt „Simona”  9160, patterns 2 & 5.
This is a crochet booklet for working with lace thread. The publication date is unknown but there is a clue: this booklet has a marked price of DM 1,‒ (1 German Mark). If you have any idea of the age of this booklet, please let me know.

"Towel Renovation", Ravelry project page:

Serendipitous Links!

Some coincidences are very useful. Here I was, thinking about using crochet to give my linen a new lease on life, when Tamara Gooderham (crochet teacher and friend of Lupey Loops) retweeted a link about 'up-cycling' which had a big photo of tea towels with pretty crocheted edgings.  

This led me to the LoveCrochet (online shop) blog article, "Editor’s inspiration: crochet upcycling!" which was a general discussion of different ways to use crochet to spruce up your home.  There was the photo of the pretty tea towels again which linked to an earlier article on the same blog, "Crochet with Kate: pretty crochet edging" which gave instructions about how to add edgings to tea towels.  

The tutorial was written by blogger Kate Eastwood of Just Pootling where she writes about her experience creating these pretty edgings. She discusses the materials and how she felt about the projects in her blog entry, "Crochet Edgings" and generously shared the fine details of the process with Merion of LoveCrochet.

I love how a simple tweet from Tamara can lead me on a trail of new discoveries.  I hope these links (in order of discovery) are helpful:

Tamara Gooderham:
Kate Eastwood:


Patterns for Practice

Here are three downloadable leaflets for three different weights of yarn from Spotlight, an Australian craft chain:



  1. Such a great idea, I will certainly be giving that a go they really do look pretty.

    1. Hi Lorraine! I've added some links to free patterns and a tutorial. Perhaps you have some other patterns in mind to try. I would certainly love to see your results. :-)

  2. Our hand towels get very heavy use too. I must confess though that the frayed edges just get cut off and sewn over!

    1. Hi Cat! You strike me as 'always the practical one'! When the towels get cut, they lose some length. I like how the edgings make up for that a little, bringing the towels 'back up to size' in line with the other 'non-edged' ones. I am sure that having a separate edging takes the wear and tear off the towels. It's much cheaper to remove (and replace) a worn edging than to buy a new towel! Do you get much time for crafting these days, Cat?

  3. What a lovely idea, and 7 more years of use is really something to cheer about. I have put my old frayed towels in the rag bag, but I think I am going to give it a go. Actually have a bag of cotton yarn from my dishcloth knitting. A LOT of handwashing and towel use here too, microbiology at Uni has seen to that :). Thanks for the idea, Pam xx

    1. Yay! (We can cheer together!) I never expected the towels to last so long. In fact, I am thinking of keeping the edgings alive after the towels have worn out. A blanket stitch join makes it easy - I can cut the blanket stitches and remove the edgings intact. It should be a matter of placing the edging over the fabric and sewing over the foundation row of double crochet.
      I did not know that you studied microbiology. What else have you studied at university, Pam?

  4. Thank you for including me in this great article Jodie. You did a fantastic job with the filet crochet. I've had a little go at it before and then fine thread is challenging. I'm feeling rather inspired by edgings after reading this and am going to put an edging project on my list! Hook on!

    1. Hi Tamara,

      I am so sorry that I didn't reply to you earlier - your comment was inexplicably sitting in the 'spam' box and was only discovered just now!

      Thank you so much for taking time to pop by and share your experience. It's been almost a month since your comment; how are you going with edgings now? It takes a while to get used to different yarn weights, especially the finer threads because the hooks are generally thinner, shorter and made of steel so the hook handling is different as well.

      My recommendation for anyone wanting to try thread crochet is to work gradually down the sizes with small, easy-to-achieve projects. Maybe start with a mini-doily/coaster in a 4 ply yarn with a 2-3 mm hook, then try a size 3 or 5 thread before getting to a size 10 cotton.

      Thread projects are usually lacy and it can take some getting used to, to be working into large chain spaces, making lacets and other filet techniques when one is accustomed to making solid crochet fabrics in thicker yarn.

      I found that fine thread crochet can be challenging for the eyesight and I did find myself feeling my way through the stitches. It takes practice to get the 'feel' of crochet so lots of general crochet experience helps one to know what it should feel like when you get down to the fine stuff. The steel hooks give good tactile feedback to the hands too.

      If you want to see some of my edging projects, you can click on the label 'tea towels':

      I am keen to know what kind of edging project you have chosen and to see your results. Keep practicing and have fun! :-)

  5. That's awesome Jodie! I have various things put away for mending, recycling and extending in similar ways - but, have I actually tackled those projects...? Might have to knuckle down and do some of them!

    1. That's the challenge, isn't it, Kaz? I have a mending basket and just when I think I can see the bottom, another thing lands on top! It is much easier to reach for the new crochet project because mending etc. often requires some extra thought or problem solving. I motivate myself by reminding myself of the money I am saving. If we can also buy towels less frequently, can we reduce the demand for new ones and save them from landfill a little longer? I give my oldest towels and rags to charities who sell them to companies that recycle them.
      Good luck with your recycling and you never know, the recycled item might turn out better than the original!

  6. Pretty and practical, I like the look of your upgraded towels.

    1. Thank you, Amalia. It is a lovely compliment coming from you because you are someone who does 'pretty' very very well. :-)
      I think your crochet work is very pretty. You have a good eye (and a good sense of rhyme too!) Have a happy day. :-)