Cloth Napkins: Easy Sewing Tutorial
A couple of summers ago, my family headed to the West Coast to visit family in Portland, Oregon. We marveled at the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. (Seriously, I didn’t realize so many gorgeous shades of green could exist together in one place!) And we enjoyed some great time exploring the city together. (They have a bookstore there that takes up an entire city block. Bestill my book-lovin’ heart.)
Portland has such a relaxed and hip vibe–it almost made this middle-age, Midwest mom feel like she was “cool” for awhile. One of the Portland trends I adored was their obvious zest for recycling and caring for the earth. One of man eco-friendly habits I noticed showed up at the dinner table of our hosts: They used cloth napkins for every meal.
As I dabbed my mouth with a cloth napkin one afternoon at lunch, I thought about how many napkins my little family must throw in the trash every year. And then I thought how relatively easy it would be to sew a few squares of material into napkins that wouldn’t kill trees or fill up landfills. It would be a pretty cheap way to be a little more eco-friendly.
Plus – they could be really pretty, right?
Inspired to do my small part in the care of our planet, I set off to the fabric store a few weeks after our return from Portland. Let me just put this disclaimer on the post right now: For fabric lovers, this craft project might be dangerous! Because it’s really easy for your plan to make eight napkins to become slightly modified when you start pulling bolts of fabric from the shelf.
(I may have left the store with six different fabrics: Four coordinated shades of blue to match my dinnerware, and two kid-friendly patterns I intended to make into napkins for school lunch boxes.)
I washed and ironed the fabric and set to work zipping out napkins that very afternoon. And now, many, many months later, we continue to enjoy these cloth napkins in our home. Recently, I decided to sew up a few extra napkins in checkered blue (to match some quilted placemats I’m working on) and I decided to take pics and put together a little tutorial so you can try out the charms of cloth napkins for yourself!
A Quick Note About How We Use Cloth Napkins In Our Home
For those of you who might think the idea of cloth napkins is nutty-nutkins for a growing family, let me just share how we make it work for us. I do not wash our napkins after every use. Usually, they only pick up crumbs and small dirty spots at a meal, so I just shake out the crumbs, re-fold them so a new side is facing out, and toss them in the drawer for future meals.
To work through the whole “How do you know whose napkin was whose?” issue when you re-use them, you can either take the “Who Cares? We share germs all the time anyway” approach or try this: I labeled clothespins with each person’s name and clip them on the edge of the napkins until it’s time for them to go through the wash.
- 1 yard of fabric for every 4 napkins you plan to sew
- rotary cutter and cutting mat
- sewing machine
- all-purpose thread
- ironing board and iron
How To Make:
- Gather your supplies. Wash and iron your fabric before you start. (*Note: I don’t have the sewing machine and thread pictured in supplies below, but you will need them!)
2. Cut squares from your fabric. I cut mine to 17″ x 17″. (To create a finished napkin about 16″ x 16″).
3. Flip the edge of each side over by approx. 1/3″. (A little more than 1/4″ so you’ll have room for the seam allowance when you sew.) Iron the edges.
(This picture shows how your corners should look.)
4. Flip the edges over again (so unfinished edge is no longer showing), and press in place. *Note: If you want mitered corners, do step 5 in place of this step.* Use a small pin to secure the corners.
5. If you want fancier, mitered corners, you need to do the second round of folding in a slightly different way. Before you fold the edges the second time, fold the corners up at an angle. (See below) It’s hard to explain with words, so hopefully these pictures will help! Secure your corners with pins.
6. Sew a straight seam along each edge of the napkin, leaving a 1/4″ seam allowance.
7. Cook something tasty (or pick something up) and enjoy using your new, eco-friendly cloth napkins!
Hi Amy! Found your blog while looking for tutorials on sewing napkins. Excited to try this weekend. Thanks for the post!
Glad you found a fun project to try! Happy sewing. 🙂
Such a great idea and an easy tutorial for a beginner!
Is there a particular type of material that works best for these napkins? I don’t do a lot of sewing, but I think I can handle straight seams 🙂
I just used quilting cotton for my napkins, but I imagine they would turn out fine with linen or cotton/poly blend too. And yes, they are nice and simple with straight stitches! I’m a very basic seamstress myself, so it’s always simple projects for me. 🙂
This is amazing!! I’m getting married in October and pretty much everything is getting done by my bridesmaids and I. These will be perfect for dinner. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂
Congrats on your engagement! I hope your napkin project turns out great and everything goes well for the wedding. 🙂
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Great article! My family uses napkin rings. My husband and I use the rings we had when we were married and for the kids I bought several different ones from Pier 1 and each child chose their favourite to use, the others are for overnight guests.
I too favour cloth over paper.
I love the idea of different napkin rings for each kid to keep their napkins identified. So fun!
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The ‘whose napkin’ problem is solved at our house. We have napkin rings that are different for each family member. Back in the really olden days people always used napkin rings when dining at home. My husband’s family actually had napkin rings that were numbered and only Mum and Dad had their initials on the rings. We still use them. They are made from silver plate and I actually have one that has an ornate filigree pattern on it. I think the rings are more than 100 years old. Like you we use our cloth napkins for usually a week when they are washed.
Wow! That’s amazing. I love that you use different napkin rings to keep them apart, and I especially love that they have such rich family history!
Came across your blog article.
I think if the cotton material is plain a decorative stitch would look lovely and still be a straight stitch while stitching up mitered corners:)
I love this idea! It would add a pretty touch to the edges for sure.