How-to: Make Cloth Napkins

Pirate Napkin and Ships
My friend Shannon and I made a set of pirate-themed cloth napkins to go with the mini cork pirate ships that I shared with you guys not too long ago. The whole thing was for a pop up picnic, and I have to say that our table totally rocked! Shannon brought this remnant fabric for us to use, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Organic hemp is excellent for napkin-making, too, if you don’t have anything suitable in your stash.

Paper napkins are a huge waste of resources. Not only does it take energy and trees to produce all of those disposable napkins, but once the meal is through, you have to toss them in the trash, since you can’t recycle that food-soaked paper. Cloth napkins might feel like a fancy-dinner-party-only sort of thing, but that doesn’t have to be true at all! It’s easy as pie to whip up a batch of cloth napkins, and you can make yourself a bunch if you like, so you have some for every day use and a set for special occasions.

A few of tips for making and caring for cloth napkins:

  • Choose a busy and/or dark fabric. You want to choose a pattern that won’t easily show stains.
  • Go with fabric that’s sturdy and machine-washable. You want these things to last, and you want them to fit into your real-life routine.
  • Soak them. If you have a particularly greasy or messy meal, you can prevent your napkins from staining by tossing them into a bucket of water to soak until you’re ready to throw them in the washing machine. Even better: use the water from the bucket to water some plants instead of pouring it down the drain when you’re done with it!

napkins pinned
It hardly takes any supplies to make napkins. Just like when we made those pirate ships, I’m going to give you instructions to make one napkin, and you can scale this project up to make as many as you like! Here’s what you need to get started:

  • 10″ x 10″ square of fabric
  • Sewing machine or needle and thread
  • Iron
  • Straight pins

There are lots of ways to do this, but here’s the super duper quick method that Shannon and I used:

1. Iron your square of fabric, then fold one unfinished edge over by 1/4″. Fold that same edge over one more time, so you’re tucking in the unfinished part. Iron and pin (see the photo at the top of this page).

2. Repeat step 1 on all of the other sides of your napkin.

3. It’s time to sew! Start at the middle of one side, leaving 1/8″ between the stitching and the edge of the fold (not the edge of the napkin). Make sure to backstitch before you start sewing, so your stitches won’t unravel. Sew around all four sides of your napkin, backstitching again when you get back to where you started.

napkins stitched back

4. Iron again to set your stitches, and you’re ready to use your brand new napkin!

5. Repeat as many times as you need to make a whole slew of napkins.

napkins stitched front

Have you guys made your own napkins using any other methods? Share away in the comments!

[Image Credits: Miniature Ship photo by Jenny Sun, all other photos by Becky Striepe]

7 thoughts on “How-to: Make Cloth Napkins”

  1. Pingback: How-to: Sew Lunchbox Cloth Napkins for Waste-Free Packed Lunches

  2. I am going eco-green in my kitchen and am in the process of making napkins. However, I am going to serge them instead fo putting a stiched heim.

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  6. I find it easier to fold under 1/2 inch, iron the fold, then fold in 1/4 inch. It ends up the same but for me the edge is more even and it’s easier to fold in 1/2 inch than a 1/4 inch. Thanks for sharing.

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