Unpaper Towels

Upcycle unused t-shirts into useful cloth towels that can be washed and reused for a variety of household purposes.

article image
by Nissa Brehmer

Take the first steps to help change the world armed with a pair of scissors and a pile of old, unused t-shirts. The Upcycled T-Shirt (Stash Books, 2015) by Jenelle Montilone is full of inspiration for repurposing your t-shirts into reusable household items, repurposed wearables and more. Transform old t-shirts into functional cloth napkins or towels with the following DIY project.

Before paper towels, there were cloth napkins, which worked great at wiping spills and chins. And they still do. Cloth napkins often seem like a luxury these days, but these are the “unpaper” towel, meant to be used any time.

Tip to Save the Planet: One-third of garbage that enters our landfills is paper products. Eliminating paper towels from your daily habit for one month will reduce your carbon footprint by 5.8 pounds and save you approximately $8.


Makes 1 Unpaper Towel

• 1 T-shirt
• Marker/chalk


1. Turn your T-shirt inside out and lay it flat.

illustration of a t-shirt with a rectangle drawn on the body with inside out captioned on it

2. Draw a rectangle on the T-shirt. Start by marking a line just below the collar of the T-shirt using your straight edge and washable marker. Draw 2 parallel lines down the sides of the shirt close to the sleeve stitching. Finish the rectangle with a line near the bottom hem.

illustration of a shirt with a rectangle drawin on it and pins going around just inside the rectangle and scissors beginning to cut along the rectangle line

3. Pin around the inside of the rectangle. Be sure to go through both layers of the shirt. Cut out along the lines.


1. Sew along the outside edge using a 1/4-inch seam allowance. Leave a 3-inch opening along the side to turn the unpaper towel right side out.

illustration of a rectangle of fabric with dashed lines indicating a seam around the outside edge with an opening on one long side

2. Trim the corners at an angle.

illustration of a closeup of a sewn square of fabric showing to cut the corner off

3. Carefully turn the towel right side out through the 3-inch opening. Push out your corners. Iron to press edge seams flat, turning the edges of your opening to the inside.

4. Pin the opening closed, and then pin around the edges.

5. Topstitch around the outside of your reusable napkin about 1/8-inch from the edge.

person using a cloth towel to wipe up spilled milk and cereal

More projects from The Upcycled T-Shirt:

How to Make T-Shirt Yarn
DIY Dusting Mitt
Reusable, T-Shirt Produce Bag

white book cover with gray shirt in the center with dashed lines leading to cloth crafts

Reprinted with permission from The Upcycled T-Shirt by Jenelle Montilone and published by Stash Books, an imprint of C&T Publishing Inc., 2015. Cover courtesy Stash Books. Instructional photos by Diane Pedersen. Style photography by Nissa Brehmer.

  • Updated on Nov 9, 2021
  • Originally Published on Apr 17, 2021
Tagged with: paper towel, recycle, upcycle