adventures in domesticity, crafting, home, natural living for normal people

Make Your Own Cloth Napkins

I suppose I should preface this post with a disclaimer: I can’t really sew. I mean, I can sew but not very well. For some people, sewing is a welcome escape and an opportunity for creative expression. For me, sewing is a time for weeping and gnashing of teeth.

My biggest success has been cloth napkins. They are easy to make and don’t require that much time. In fact, as with most sewing projects, the actual sewing takes very little time at all; it’s all of the ironing and pinning that makes this an afternoon project.


So set up your sewing gear, put on a marathon of some terrible show you can’t get enough of (for me it was “Murdoch Mysteries,” so no judgment here), and let’s get started!

What you’ll need:

  • Fabric*
  • Thread
  • Scissors
  • Straight pins
  • Sewing machine
  • Iron & ironing board
  • 12″ x 12″ cardboard square (optional)

*Ideally, each napkin will be 12″ x 12″, but I rarely end up with that measurement exactly, so feel free to adjust as needed.

I always wash and dry fabric before sewing with it so that I don’t run into problems with shrinking. Use the same washer and dryer settings you will use to wash your napkins.

I usually just cut these out free–handedly, but you can use a square piece of cardboard as a pattern if you’re into that sort of thing.

As far as choosing fabric is concerned, I bought seasonal/holiday fabric at Hancock the first time I made cloth napkins. I wanted to be able to change out sets as the seasons changed and holidays arrived.

I’ve found that seasonal/holiday fabric goes on sale right after the holiday is over, which I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it goes on sale two months or so before the holiday as well, then returns to full price as the holiday nears. I guess the idea is that you’ll see it and start coming up with ideas for that holiday early, notice that the fabric is on sale, and buy it so you can get started.

You can also join your local fabric store’s email list so that you can keep up with sale schedules.

I’ve also started using leftover fabric from past sewing projects to make some other cute napkins.


The wine fabric is left over from matching aprons I made for my parents (they are seriously too cute, the aprons and my parents, I mean). The sushi fabric is left over from pajama pants, and the apple fabric is left over from a classroom bulletin board.

But notice this…


One of my dirty little secrets. Because these were made from leftover fabric, it wasn’t possible to make them exactly 12 x 12. Oh, the horror! But get this: It turns out napkins don’t have to be square to work. In fact, rectangular napkins work just as well as square ones. Can you believe it? Consider this your science lesson of the day. ; )

What to do:

So now that you’ve gathered your supplies, go ahead and iron the whole piece of fabric. This will make it much easier to cut (and cut straight, which I rarely manage to do).

Now cut the fabric into napkins. Remember, they don’t have to be square! Use that cardboard square if it’ll help. Regardless of the shape and size you’re going for, leave about an inch of fabric all around so you’ll have room to hem.


Iron down the edge of the fabric on all four sides. I recommend doing top and bottom first, then left and right…


…so that you’ll end up with four little squares in the corners.

Cut the edges of the corners off. It should look like a little triangle. I drew a red line exactly where you’ll want to cut:


Fold the hem so that the raw edge of the fabric is sort of tucked up into the fold you ironed in earlier. I recommend folding it under twice to avoid fraying. You’ll sort of have to tuck the corners as you iron to keep them in place. Use a few pins to keep everything together.


I find it helpful to pin the corners in place.


The rest is easy! Start sewing in one corner and work your way down one side of the napkin.


Raise the foot of the machine and turn the napkin 90 degrees.

I’m using a zigzag stitch here, but you can use this or a straight stitch or really whatever you want.

Continue until you’re back where you started. Sew back and forth a few times to finish off the hem.

People who sew and are unfortunate enough to be reading this post are asking themselves, “Did she really just write a tutorial on how to hem a square?” And my answer is yes. Yes, I did.

And there you have it! A delightful, earth–friendly, money–saving cloth napkin!

Turns out I’m always using a zigzag stitch with napkins.

We used to use paper towels or paper napkins every time we ate, which gets pretty wasteful, even with only two people. I know the trade–off is that you have to use water and energy to wash the cloth napkins, but this hasn’t been a problem. I usually wash a load of towels once a week or two weeks, and I just toss the cloth napkins in with the same load. Even for a two-week load, they never add a significant amount, certainly not enough to change the water level or amount of detergent.

While it can be a bit time-consuming to sew your own cloth napkins, I definitely think it’s worth it. If you’re a minimalist, make just enough to last you between washings. If you want to get all cute–sy and make holiday sets, go for it. I’ve got some adorable Christmas fabric on deck for my next set.

Obviously, you can buy cloth napkins, too. I got these at World Market six years ago, and I love them! Look at that cute rickrack:


Any other cloth napkin users out there? Did you make your own or find a great set somewhere?

Leave a Reply

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