Jan 03

Christmas leftovers


How to knit your own dishcloths


Christmas is over, bar a few lords a-leaping and the waft of pine needles from the vacuum cleaner. I usually hang on until 5th January, just ahead of Twelfth Night, before taking down the decs, but this year I’m itching to move on and put the last vestiges of 2013 well behind me. My goodness, I even feel drawn to a spot of spring cleaning! Which is why I started eyeing my large cone of Christmas baker’s twine* with intent. Here’s an idea, I thought. Why not try creating baker’s twine dishcloths?


Knitting with Christmas leftovers


Perhaps not the obvious conclusion to draw, but if necessity’s the mother of invention then post-Christmas boredom is her efficient midwife.

In case it’s new to you, baker’s twine is a twirling barber’s pole of a string which has become incredibly popular in recent years, thanks largely to the efforts of Martha Stewart and others. It gets used for anything, it seems, except its original purpose of crisply tying up boxes of baked goods. The classic red-and-white combination has a jaunty Scandinavian cheerfulness, but you’ll find the string in an array of other colours now too. Hard to beat it for jazzing up simple brown paper or white tissue gift-wrapping.

I bought in a huge reel from the US a few years ago, but when it arrived I was disappointed to discover that it was  a lot thinner than I’d hoped. A good baker’s twine needs to be a certain bulk and preferably all cotton. This was puny and an inferior poly-cotton blend – not what I’d hoped for at all. So, I had a lot of thin twine on my hands. What to do with it? Well, I’ve wrapped endless gifts and parcels with it, and tied up lots of packets of cookies. But this was a big reel and I’d barely made a dent. I needed a bigger project.


Red and white twine makes a cheery Scandi-style dishcloth


Sitting down this New Year’s Eve, I cast on 40 stitches on size 3.5 mm needles, started knitting and just kept going. Turns out that working baker’s twine in garter stitch is relatively easy, and I really like the marled effect.


Knitting with baker’s twine


You can, of course try other materials to make dishcloths: linen yarn, or dedicated dishcloth cotton yarn (yes, it really does exist) which looks great in ecru or white with occasional alternating stripes of red or other contrast colour in the same weight/fibre yarn, as shown here in this charming Purl Bee tutorial. But you don’t really need a tutorial: just cast on a few dozen stitches as the mood takes you. Knit until you have a square. Or a rectangle. Or knit a square from corner to corner, increasing then decreasing. Dishcloths are a really great vehicle for sampling new stitches: border details can be included, and all kinds of fancy stitches will add a functional texture:  But plain old garter stitch is all you need if you’re working with a patterned yarn such as baker’s twine. And, whatever the stitch, dishcloths make very portable projects to carry around with you for that inevitable idle moment. I’m admittedly not much of a knitter, but even I find 5 minutes of knitting surprisingly relaxing.


Baker’s twine dishcloth


I tested this square in the washing-up bowl to see if my Christmas occupation-creation scheme really had any point, other than reducing my towering twine-mountain and proving a mindlessly relaxing pass-time. Could laboriously knitting these babies really offer any noticeable improvement on the shop-bought machine-produced-dishcloth experience?


Putting it through its paces


Well, the answer’s yes. It was definitely pleasanter scrubbing my plates with this highly textured, nubbly, stretchy textile. And, as a considerable quantity of one’s day is taken up with mundane domestic tasks such as washing up, why not make this inevitable chore as pleasurable as possible? My heart gladdens a little just seeing this dishcloth hanging up to dry.


Handmade dishcloths drying


It stands to reason that if you knit your own dishcloths, you’ll be motivated to take slightly better care of them, hanging them up to dry rather than maybe leaving them to their fate in the washing-up water. Other than that, you can just throw these in the washing machine when it’s time to hotwash your tea-towels. I have a dedicated cloth saucepan in which I boil out dishcloths with a certain brand of ecologically sound oxygen bleach, though I remember my mother-in-law using just a spoonful of salt.

I’ll certainly be looking at string and twine a little differently from now on, sizing up its dishcloth potential. By the way, the other cloth there on my drying rack is knitted with much thicker cotton dishcloth yarn (a DK to the red-and-white twine’s 4-ply) edged in a chunkier blue/aqua baker’s twine which came from an Anthropologie sale a couple of years ago. It makes a much thicker, spongier textile and is a lot quicker to work up into a good-sized cloth.


Q. Do you already knit your own dishcloths? If so, I’d love to hear how and with what. If not, would you be tempted now to give it a go? Have a healthy, happy and well scrubbed 2014!



*baker’s twine, or should it be bakers twine? I am never quite sure. Today I’ve gone with an instinctive possessive apostrophe. Just a hunch. But if you know otherwise, please leave me a comment to set me straight. Thanks.




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  1. Alison says:

    They look great, Eirlys. I particularly like the white and blue one but then I'm a bit addicted to blue. Good idea for using up the baker's (?) twine stash. I suppose you could make something similar (and softer) using ripped up cotton jersey or scrap fabrics. Might be good in the bath.

  2. Cornelia says:

    This is a great project Eirlys. I like the idea of making use of things you already and have deliberately been trying to use my stash of fabric, yarn, etc over the past couple of years. Like you, it is known that I'm a hoarder of crafty bits and bobs 😉 and I have been offered many a bag of treasure that has been cleared out from friend’s mother's or aunts' homes. There were a couple of hanks of dishcloth yarn in one of these and I knitted half a dozen dishcloths last year. I used 4mm needles and knitted them 50 stitches by 78 rows. I knitted a two by two moss/basket stitch pattern with a couple of stripes of oddments of coloured cotton yarns in each. The textured pattern kept my interest and made it easy to count the rows.
    My mother used to knit dishcloths diagonally by starting with just one stitch and casting on one more at the beginning of each row until the knitting seemed big enough to be half a dishcloth, then cast off one at the beginning of each row until there was just one stitch left.
    I've got the sock-knitting bug at the moment, after a friend sent a pattern and some variegated wool for my birthday, so I have been buying new sock yarn recently. We popped into the wool shop 'Knit One' in Dolgellau a couple of weeks ago as we were near there for new year, in the hope of being some welsh wool for the next pair. It's a lovely little shop to visit if you are in the area. The Welsh sock yarn they had in stock were beautiful skeins of hand spun and dyed wool, which are worth every penny for the maker's time and skill but, at over £30 each, were beyond my budget for a pair of socks. I bought a large ball of Wendy instead, which is, at least, British.
    While we’re on the subject of yarn, I fancy taking up needlepoint again at some point, or maybe having a go at cross-stitch. I'd start by making something with the motto 'life is a tangle of wool; treat the knots gently and they'll come undone'!!

  3. Joanna says:

    loved this Eirlys. we seem to have spent our xmas hols doing the same thing… except mine were crocheted. i particularly enjoyed your using bakers twine and would be interested to find out how it fares after a few dunkings. power to your elbow!

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