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Fresh Linens: Layer Cake Dresser Cloth with Button Accents

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My grandmother, an immigrant from Lithuania, was an unbelievably talented seamstress. She did everything by hand, including free-hand embroidery, tatting, and crocheting. She never needed a pattern; you could just sketch something and she would create it. It was the sewing equivalent of the musician's 'hum a few bars.' Her vividly artistic creations seemed to flow from her fingers like water from a pitcher. In fact, as a young child, I thought everyone had handmade and hand-embroidered sheets and pillowcases and dresser cloths and curtains, and, and, and... I was shocked the first time I slept over at a friend's house and saw her sheets were (gasp!) plain white. My grandmother's influence is likely a big part of why I love the idea of antique linens, and why I steadfastly refuse to give up my dresser cloth.

The idea of a dresser cloth may seem a bit old-fashioned, but it not only helps protect the wood surface from hairbrush dings and perfume spills, it also lends a lovely splash of color and is an easy project that can help instantly change the look of a room, just like a new group of throw pillows or a new set of curtains.

All of our Fresh Linens projects started out with Fresh Cottons Collection.

This collection of fabric has a softly nostalgic feel, but there's nothing old-fashioned about it. That's one of the magical things about Joanna's designs; she pulls in wonderfully vintage themes and colors but the result is never dowdy or out-of date. In fact, they are always new and fresh and fun. To learn more about Fresh Cottons, pre-cuts and our nine Fresh Linens bedroom projects, read our article, Fresh Linens Liven up a Guest Bedroom with Crisp, Comfy Color .

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

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  • Layer Cake (we used just seven 10" x 10" squares from the standard 42-piece pack; if you choose not to use a Layer Cake, you'll need to cut seven 10" x 10" squares): we used Joanna Figueroa's Fig Tree Quilts Fresh Cottons Layer Cake by Moda Fabrics
  • 1½ yards of 44-45" wide coordinating solid fabric: we used Moda's Bella Solids in Ivory
  • 1½ yards of thin cotton batting
  • All purpose thread to match fabrics
  • See-through ruler
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Long straight pins
  • Tape measure
  • Thirteen ¾" buttons: we used vintage-style shell buttons

Getting Started

Our dresser cloth design is considered to be 'patchwork,' a term you often hear in relation to quilting. When doing a patchwork project, it is very important you are precise and consistent in your cutting and seaming. This way all the pieces fit together nicely.

Plan the layout of your dresser cloth. You'll use all seven Layer Cake squares, however, three are cut in half; so think about which are going to be made into triangles. You can follow our pattern or create your own.

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  1. Pull out the three squares you've selected to become the six triangles. Fold and press each one in half on the diagonal.
  2. Cut along the pressed folds to create the six triangles.
    NOTE: If you have a quilt ruler and a rotary cutter, you can line up the ruler's 45° angle on one side of the square and cut on the diagonal perfectly without folding and pressing.
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  3. From the coordinating solid fabric (Bella Solids in Ivory in our sample), cut three strips 2" x the width of the fabric (WOF).
  4. From these three strips, cut six 2" x 10" strips and three 2" x 21" strips. These strips will form the dresser cloth lattice – the solid strips in between the squares and triangles.
  5. Also from the coordinating solid fabric (Bella Solids in Ivory in our sample), cut four 2" x WOF strips.
  6. From these four strips, cut two in half, and set the other two aside. These strips will be used for the border.
  7. Finally, from the coordinating solid fabric (yep... it's still Bella Solids in Ivory in our sample), cut two 18" x WOF pieces for the back of the dresser cloth.
    NOTE: If desired, you could purchase extra yardage of the solid fabric so you do not have a seam in the back piece. Another 1¾ yards would be needed to insure you could cut an 18" x 60" piece. We chose to place a seam in the center of our sample, which allowed us a more efficient use of our yardage.
  8. From the thin cotton batting, cut one piece approximately 20" x 63".
    NOTE: Some people prefer to work with their batting as an untrimmed roll; not cutting it until the final layering stages. As you'll see in our photos below, this is what we did.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Remember, in patchwork it's important to be consistent when sewing the pieces together. You should think of it like putting together a puzzle. In the end, all the pieces have to fit together perfectly. Don't worry too much though, fabric is very forgiving! We're lucky enough to sew on Janome machines in the Sew4Home studio, which have Cloth Guides. These help you to sew a consistent seam, which is really handy with this type of project! For a quick tip on how to make a DIY fabric guide from Post It® notes, see our Whimsy Quilt project.

Following our layout or your own, begin to sew the pieces together starting at one end.

Since you will be working on the diagonal, it is important to handle the individual pieces (and the eventual sewn piece) carefully. The pieces will be on the bias and could easily stretch out of shape. Stretched out pieces will result in a wavy dresser cloth instead of nice flat one.

  1. Find your first square (the first square at one end; we started from the bottom and worked up). Pin this first square right sides together with one 10" x 2" strip.
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  2. Using a ½" seam allowance, sew the first square to the 10" x 2" strip.
  3. Find your first triangle (you are following your pre-determined layout, so this would be the triangle that will go next to the first square on the diagonal). Pin this triangle right sides together with the previously sewn square and strip along the raw edge of the strip.
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  4. Using a ½" seam allowance, sew this first triangle to the strip.
  5. Press all seams away from the solid fabric and toward the floral fabric. Set aside.
  6. Work on the next diagonal row following the same process. As shown, this row (and the next row) will have triangles sewn to both sides of the square.
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  7. Continue in the same manner until all four diagonal rows are sewn.
  8. Now you're going to sew the rows together.
  9. Lay all the sewn rows on a flat surface. Place the 2" x 21" strips in between each row.
    NOTE: Laying out the pieces as you go will help you keep track of what comes next, so you sew things together in the correct order! As we did above, plan to work from one end or the other.
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  10. Pin the first 2" x 21"strip to the first row. It will go past the ends of the row a bit. That's okay.
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  11. Using a ½" seam allowance, sew the strip to the first row. Press the seam towards the squares/triangles as before.
  12. Here's where you need to be extra careful. When you pin the next row to the opposite side of the strip, you need to pay attention to your previously sewn solid lattice strips (that run in the opposite direction) to make sure they line up. Place pins at the seams of the lattice strips, open up the pinned rows to make sure they are in line.
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  13. Sew the next row onto the opposite side of the strip. You should be getting the hang of this now, and your dresser cloth should be taking shape!
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    NOTE: As you sew over the rows, make sure you keep the seam allowance from the previously sewn pieces flat to eliminate bulk at the intersecting seams.
  14. Continue until all the rows are sewn together.
  15. Being VERY careful to keep the dresser cloth flat, trim the excess from the sides. If you have a rotary cutter, cutting mat and quilt ruler, these will be very handy right now.
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Border

  1. Pin one 2" x WOF strip to each long side of the dresser cloth.
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  2. Using a ½" seam allowance, sew the strips to the long sides. Press the seam allowance toward the border.
  3. Trim the four corners at the ends of the long strips so they are flush with the angled ends of the dresser cloth. In other words, trim to match the fabric's diagonal line.
  4. To sew the border at the ends of the dresser cloth, you are going to work in opposites. First, pin one of the 2" x 20" strips along one side of one end point. (This is the WOF strip we cut in half originally, so the exact length may vary).
  5. Next, pin the second 2" x 20" strip to the opposite end, on the opposite side of the point.
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  6. Using ½" seam allowance, sew the border strips at the ends. Press the seam allowances toward the dresser cloth. Trim away the excess flush with the raw edge of the long border strip and the point of the fabric square.
  7. Repeat to attach the remaining two strips to the remaining two ends.

Layers

  1. To create the back, pin the two 18" x WOF pieces right sides together along one short side (the 18" side).
  2. Using a ½" seam allowance, sew together. Press the seam allowance open.
  3. On a flat surface, layer the batting, then the backing WRONG side down, and then the dresser cloth RIGHT side down.
    NOTE: The order (batting, backing, top) is important. The idea is to layer the pieces so after you sew around the edges and turn the project right side out, the batting will end up on the inside between the top and the backing.
  4. Place pins down the center, and around the edges to hold the layers together. This is called 'pin basting.'
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  5. Trim away the excess back fabric and batting around the entire dresser cloth. Cut carefully, you want to trim flush against the border strip but do not trim the border strip itself.
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  6. Using a ½" seam allowance, sew all around the edges of the dresser cloth, pivoting at the points. Be sure to leave about a 9" opening in one long side of the dresser cloth for turning.
    NOTE: You may want to lengthen your stitch a little here to accommodate for all the layers.
  7. Trim the batting back to ¼" from the stitching line. This removes the bulk of the batting around the edges.
  8. Turn the dresser cloth right side out through the opening, pushing out corners and end points. Press seams open, turning in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam.
  9. Slip stitch the opening closed.
  10. Using a fabric marking pen, mark the button positions at the intersecting points in the lattice and border.
  11. Sew buttons at marked points.
    NOTE: We sewed our buttons on by machine. Janome machines have wonderful button sewing feature that we really enjoy using for a project like this one. You can learn more about this in our tutorial:

    Contributors
    Project Design: Alicia Thommas 
    Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly

    Other machines suitable for this project include the Baby Lock Quilter's Choice and the Pfaff expression 2.0.

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    Comments (15)

    Airon said:
    Airon's picture
    Thanks, Liz! Good information and tips! I'd also considered using a couple of sheets of cotton flannel (versus the batting) in order to forego the quilting step.
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
    @ Airon - we didn't run any lines of quilting stitches because the many buttons on the table runner work to hold all the layers together. If you don't use the buttons, you would need to add stitching to keep the layers together or, yes, there would be "bunching." Also, regarding the thread, when I am doing topstitching or any other stitching that will be seen from both sides, I use different colors of thread in the top of my machine and the bobbin. If there is a super dramatic difference, such as red on the top and white on the bottom, you will see a hint of the other color because the threads do, of course, intertwine with one another, but it is an easy trick to help your stitching become less visible in this type of situation.
    Airon said:
    Airon's picture
    Hi! I've been looking at doing this project (with a couple of modifications) and had a few questions for you. First, it looks like although the pattern calls for batting, you didn't actually do any quilting of the table linen/runner. Is that correct? Wondering if there's any danger of the batting bunching up if there isn't any quilting on it? The reason I ask is that I'm thinking of doing a reversible runner with patchwork on both sides rather than having a solid backing. I'm thinking of using Christmas fabric on one side and Thanksgiving fabric on the other. If quilting isn't necessary, I think this would work great for my project (since the fabric colors are very different, it would be hard to find a thread that would match both sides).
    alicia.thommas said:
    alicia.thommas's picture
    Diane from Lakeland, FL, You can make it wider and longer. I did a quick sketch and the best way I could figure was to make one center row of 5 full layer cake squares, the flank on either side with 4 full layer cake squares and edge on either side with 3 half layer cake squares. That is both wider and longer, but still forms that pretty point on either end. Another option is to cut the squares yourself (rather than using a pre-cut layer cake) and make them large enough to give you the width you want. It will require a little basic math, but you can get the size you want. The basic instructions will apply, but you will need to adjust your measurements as you go. You can use newspaper to cut and assemble your design to see if it works before you cut into your fabric.
    Diane from Lakeland, FL said:
    Diane from Lakeland, FL's picture
    A beautiful project! Putting thi at the top of my to do list!
    If I want to make one a little wider, could I add another row??
    Lady.Ferrari said:
    Lady.Ferrari's picture
    Love this!
    I love table linen, so delighted to have found this website and get some more great tips and ideas, thank you x
    stitchappy said:
    stitchappy's picture
    smilies/cheesy.gif Such a pretty and practical project! We always had these beautiful cloths on our dressers. We called them dresser scarves. They were made by Sicilian matriarchs who sat together to create these, pillow cases, and sheet borders. They made eyelet by hand. If you were getting married, they would come together and make coordinating sets for you (always in white.) These beautiful projects could revive the old tradition in a fresh colorful way. Thanks so much for the projects and the trip down memory lane.
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
    I'm so glad there are so many other dresser cloths fans out there like me. Send me a picture of how yours turns out! smilies/grin.gif
    Ooty said:
    Ooty's picture
    Thanks!!This is great , I will have to try make something with all the little pieces of fabrics that I've got =)
    Connie O. said:
    Connie O.'s picture
    Love this! I have some beautiful MODA fabric from another collection/colorway just waiting for the right project!!! I, too, will be making this on my Janome 6600 :-) May even make another one with antique linens from my great grandmother :-)))
    Rene Sharp said:
    Rene Sharp's picture
    Another gorgeous project. I have been doing some research on where to get similar fabric and I have found 2 on-line shops here in SA that sell some of the Moda fabrics. Yay!! Tonight I sewed my first square patchwork cushion front and it was SO much fun!
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
    Hi Debbie O .... antique linens and weddings ... a PERFECT match. Congratulations.
    Debbie O said:
    Debbie O's picture
    I love it!! I would love to use antique or antique linens for my wedding
    Debbie O said:
    Debbie O's picture
    I love it!!! I love antique linens myself! I want to use for my wedding
    treva p said:
    treva p's picture
    I love the dresser clothes. Until a few years ago, I use to hand embroider them and give them for gifts. This is such a simple but easy and attractive project! Love it!

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