I’ve been meaning to make these cloth napkins FOREVER. Every time I use a paper towel as a napkin, I feel super guilty for killing trees and producing waste. Before I got around to making these, Taylor and I tried to go napkin free, but that didn’t work very well. Finally we have some soft daily use cloth napkins!
Here are a few different ways to make cloth napkins for any occasion. It’s a really easy project, even for beginner sewers. Of course if you don’t sew but still want to have pretty cloth napkins, there’s always Etsy.
- scissors or a rotary cutter and cutting mat
- wide ruler or square cardboard template
- iron and ironing board
- sewing machine
- washing machine
Step 1: Acquire fabric.
Any soft cotton will work. Don’t use synthetics because they won’t absorb well. Since this is a blog about green living, I don’t encourage you to go out and buy any old quilting cotton. The way I looked at my napkin project, I had three options for fabric:
1. Buy naturally dyed organic cotton. You can get four napkins out of 1 yard.
2. Upcycle a large piece of fabric, such as an old sheet.
3. Use some of the random quarter flats I already own to make mismatched napkins.
I picked option #2. Even though the fabric isn’t organic, it’s dirt cheap and old sheets are easy to get at thrift stores. I used a crib size flat sheet with a fine print that I wore once in college to a toga party.
Step 2: Wash fabric.
No matter what fabric you are using, make sure you wash it before sewing so that the fabric won’t shrink, distort, or bleed after you’ve sewed it. Do this even if you are using an old sheet, because who knows where that thing has been. And of course use an eco-friendly fragrance free detergent.
If your fabric is wrinkly after washing, press it.
Step 3: Cut out squares.
You can make your napkins any size or shape you want, but I recommend cutting squares between 16″ and 22″. I usually shoot for 18″. If you are using a sheet, it’s easiest to cut off or ignore the hemmed edges, but if you want to get the most out of your fabric, you can rip the seams out and press them open as well.
Making a square carboard template simplifies cutting, especially if you are going to make a lot these. I just used the ruled edge of my cutting mat and a 3″ wide clear ruler to measure out a square on my fabric. It doesn’t have to be perfect. To cut the fabric, fold up it into a few layers and cut around the edges of your template or draw and cut out squares. I folded my crib sheet in half and then thirds to give me six layers of fabric, and then cut out an 18″ square for a total of 6 napkins.
Step 4: Finish the edges.
Here are a few options I like:
1) Fringe the edges. I did this once for a set of thanksgiving napkins. Works best if you have a coarser weave fabric, but you could do it with any old cotton with a shorter fringe. If you want to try the fringe method, follow this lovely tutorial from the purl bee.
2) Hem the edges. This takes a bit more time but they look nice and will hold up well. This is how I did my sheet napkins, so keep reading for directions.
The ironing step is the most important one, so don’t skip it! When I was first learning to sew, I always thought that ironing was so boring, and my hems came out terrible. Now, I spend extra time pressing so that I don’t even need pins to hold my hems in place, and sewing is a breeze.
Press under just shy of 1/4″ on one side, and then fold that under and press another 1/4″ so that the raw edge is hidden. Press each side, unfolding the corners as you go and pressing them from both sides.
Corners: I would highly recommend mitering the corners. It makes the fabric lie smoother and looks pretty, but does take a little practice. Follow this tutorial to learn how to fold mitered corners. I tend to skip the trimming step because I am lazy. Once you have folded them, press well with lots of steam so they will be easy to sew. The alternative to mitering corners is just to fold them under. I tried both options on my first napkin and found mitering to take about the same amount of time but lie much flatter.
Step 5: Sew the hem closed.
With the wrong side of the fabric up and the hem folded neatly under the presser foot, backstitch and sew along the first folded edge of the hem, just less than 1/4″ from the edge of the fabric. Don’t worry if you don’t sew in exactly a straight line. When you get to the corner, make sure it is folded nicely like you pressed it. Sew right to the middle of the corner, lift the presser foot with the needle still down and turn the fabric 90 degrees, then keep sewing. If you go a little too far, a back stitch or two won’t hurt. When you get to the end, backstitch, trim the ends, and you’re done!
I’m so excited about making cloth napkins. I’m going to make a set of cream colored organic cloth napkins for my friend’s wedding in a few weeks, probably with hemmed edges and some decorative stitching.
I learned this napkin fold for last Thanksgiving. (Thank you Pinterest!) Here’s the tutorial.