Sewing – Three Simple Things You Can Do With Old Linens

So, I recently had a conversation with the lovely Ms ZiYou, who seemed astonished when I mentioned that I sew simple basic items for our home. I also mend our clothes, knit hats, crochet blankets and enjoy many other crafty endeavours which personalise and warm our home.

Instead, I wanted to show you a few things you can make yourself with an old duvet cover, worn out linen or some scrap piece, plus a needle, some thread and… rice?

Bear with me, it will all make sense in the end.

If you have never sewn anything in your life – have no fear! These are all square or rectangle cut projects with easy instructions. I intended to use an old duvet cover I got for free online for this tutorial, but when it came to it, I realised it had many years of service left. So I dug out an old piece of fabric I once bought with no clear plan instead.

In the name of decluttering and all that, you know?

In addition to reducing plastic consumption or the general need to keep purchasing more stuff, these simple items also make great gifts for exactly the same reasons. Giving away handcrafted items which reduce plastic consumption is, in my opinion, a great way to live by example and give friends and family a gentle nudge, with much less risk of being considered a nag or annoying for the effort.

All of these projects will of course be much faster if you have access to a sewing machine, but I have included instructions for hand sewing all of them, so that you can get started with a minimum of investments if you do not have the necessary tools at home.

As a cloth and sewing enthusiast, let me just include a small reminder that if you possess or buy cloth scissors – please never use them to cut paper, they will last you so much longer!

Cloth napkin
Cut, fold, sew, fold and enjoy!


Let’s begin with the easiest possible project: Cloth napkins. Good for anything from dinner and wiping children’s mouths, to cleaning up spills around the house and runny noses in the midst of flu season.


  • Cloth scissors, needle, matching thread
  • One or more square pieces of cotton or linen

It goes like this; you cut a square, you fold the sides twice over, and you sew them down with whatever stitch most appeals to you. You can go basic with a hemming stitch, or fancy with decorative stitching. Sometimes I use different stitches for each napkin to teach myself new things.

To start a new thread, tie a knot on the end or just pull the needle twice through the same stitch. Same goes for finishing a thread. I hide my ends inside the seam both when I start and finish a thread. Less risk that the seam will unravel that way. With hemming stitch, it is nice to pull the needle through the same stitch every once in a while whether or not you are at the beginning or end, or it will unravel if a thread breaks.

Or – if you have a sewing machine accessible, just fold over twice and zoom on over all the sides. When you reach an edge, lift the foot with the needle still down in the fabric, fold, turn, and zoom on. Easy as pie and there you go, a few handfuls of those and you no longer need to buy napkins or paper towels.

Drawstring bag
From top left: Pinning, skipping stitches for drawstring, pulling the drawstring through and finished bag.

Drawstring bags

Drawstring bags require a little more work, but they are great for various tasks in and out of the house. Buying loose weight produce or baked goods at the shop, bringing baked goods to work, a craft bag for all your tools when you need to take it with you etc. We have cloth bags in all shapes and sizes around the house and they see loads of use!


  • Cloth scissors, pins, safety pin, needle, matching thread
  • Rectangular piece of cotton or linen cloth
  • Drawstring or yarn to make one

Start by folding your cloth over itself and pin it well (if your cloth has a front and back, make sure the back of the cloth is facing out). For actual seams, backstitch is an excellent and sturdy choice. Start from the bottom of the bag (short end) and work your way up. When you are about half an inch to an inch (depending on how much you fold) away from the top, skip enough stitches to get a safety pin through (top right image). Sew the last stitches as usual.

If you intend to by pulses or any smaller food item in the bags, I strongly recommend you lay down the inside seams. Simply fold them twice like with the napkins and hem down all the way around.

Turn the bag inside out and fold down the top for hemming. Make sure there is enough room for a drawstring and safety pin, and that the hole we just made faces out. Hem all the way around.

If you don’t have a drawstring, make one with any preferred method. Braiding, twisting, crocheting, anything works. Fasten a safety pin to one end and use that as your anchor point to pull your drawstring through the hem. Tie the two ends and voila! One drawstring bag.

Rice bag
Full, but not unpliable

Microwavable rice bag

Have you ever had stiff shoulders or a tension headache and thought to yourself: Man, I wish I had one of those microwavable heat conducting creations I see in the store, but I don’t want to spend money on one.

Fret no more! These things are easy to make and dirt cheap. Bonus, also serves as an emergency food store in case of zombie apocalypse, or other unforeseen emergency event.

Why rice? Because it conducts heat well and is dirt cheap. There are other choices available which supposedly conducts heat even better, but they are often either difficult to get in a normal store, or take a small eternity to collect (a friend is collecting and cleaning cherry pits for her bag).

Rice bag
Folding to get that square shape, more sewing, folding inside out and filling


  • Cloth scissors, pins, needle, thread
  • Large square piece of cloth
  • Lots of cheap rice
  • A funnel (or top half of a bottle)

When you cut your cloth, remember that this needs to be big enough to lie around your shoulders without falling off, yet not so big that you need a metric ton of rice to fill it.

Pro tip: Fold your cloth so the back of your cloth faces you (if it has a front/back), pin the two short sides together and cut along the sides. Now you don’t have to struggle to make all the ends and corners align!

Stitch the two short sides together, but stop about a hands width from the end. Your stitches need to be smaller than the rice you are using, or it will leak through the sides.

Now for the fun part – imagine you are folding socks or turning clothing right side out. Start stuffing your cloth (make sure all the pins are removed) through the whole you just left. Keep pulling until you’ve turned your entire bag right side out.

Fill with rice. It should be at least half an inch tall all over when lying flat, but not stuffed to bursting. You need some room to adjust it when you use it.

3 simple projects you can make from old pieces of cloth - Instructions included!

Once you are satisfied with the level of fullness, pin the last seam together and stitch up carefully. No need to lay down the inside seams on this one, as it is all secured inside.

That’s it! Toss your new bag in the microwave for a few minutes until nice and warm and lay it on your aching shoulders. You’ve earned it!

Can also be heated in a regular oven, but it takes a bit longer. If the bag is too warm in the beginning, lay a towel between the bag and your skin. Can also be used in front of a laptop or keyboard as a wrist rest for that ever looming tendonitis risk for us laptop entrepreneurs/office workers.


4 Comments on “Sewing – Three Simple Things You Can Do With Old Linens

    • That’s a great idea! (sorry for the late reply, spam filter ate your comment)

  1. This is great, thanks!

    I’ve been contemplating making drawstring bags to use for Christmas gifts rather than wrapping in paper or using paper bags that will just get tossed and have been putting it off because it’d be all hand sewn which is a big commitment. When I’m ready, though, this tutorial will come in handy!

    • To be fair, you could whizz up these on a sewing machine in a matter of minutes if you’re familiar with the machine. I just figured I’d do the very basic, barely any tools needed version. I figured if you have a sewing machine already, you might just be handy enough with it to figure out this easy recipes on your own. But I know people who inherit their machines too and couldn’t tell heads from tails on it.

      Glad it could help you! I like to have easy crafts like this when we’re relaxing with a movie or some music. Makes me feel a teensy bit productive. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *