Sewing how to sew cloth napkins for your kid's lunch box

Published on November 21st, 2011 | by Julie Finn


How To Sew Cloth Napkins for a Waste-Free Lunchbox

How-to Sew Cloth Napkins for a Waste-Free Lunchbox

Check out how to sew cloth napkins that fit nicely into my children’s packed lunches. And, as a bonus, I sew my napkins with a double thickness, so that they have extra absorbency for mopping up spills…not that your kids are messy, of course.

Out of all of my mom friends with kids who attend schools, I don’t know any of them who have their children buy the school lunch. They say it’s pretty pricey, for one thing, and it’s certainly not nutritionally superior or better tasting than lunch brought from home, and so my friends pack their kids’ lunches.

Even my little gang of homeschooled girls have their own lunchboxes, and although they don’t eat in a school cafeteria daily, they do eat a packed meal several times a week–breakfast in the public library one day, lunch at the creek another day, dinner in the car on the way to gymnastics on Thursdays, etc.

Here at CAGW, we’ve been sewing our own cloth dinner napkins for a while (check out Becky’s DIY cloth napkin tutorial for a good example). You don’t really need a full-sized dinner napkin in your little kid’s bento box lunch, however. Instead, check out how I sew lunchbox-sized cloth napkins that fit nicely into my children’s packed lunches. And, as a bonus, I sew my napkins with a double thickness, so that they have extra absorbency for mopping up spills…not that your kids are messy, of course.

How To Sew Cloth Napkins for a Waste-Free Lunchbox

How-to Sew Cloth Napkins for a Waste-Free Lunchbox

The most important (and most fun!) part of any sewing project, for me, is choosing my fabric. If you’re looking to your fabric stash, choose two pieces of cotton fabric that are about 9.5″ square, but especially with kids, and ESPECIALLY with picky kids, sometimes a special fabric can make all the difference in an eaten lunch and a used napkin. Although the dimensions will work out to be slightly different, I really like to make these lunchbox cloth napkins from two fat quarters, so if you know of a local store that sells novelty cotton prints cut into fat quarters, then feel free to grab your kid and head on over.

Iron your fabric, then lay both pieces out on your cutting table, right sides together. If you’re using two fat quarters, trim all the edges with your rotary cutter to square them, then cut your fat quarters right in half in both length and width, so that you have four identical pairs. Remember, they’ll be rectangles, and the dimensions won’t be 9.5″ square, but they’ll still be a great size and you’ll have four of them–one more and you’re good for a week!

If you’re using stash fabric, you have more choice about sizing, and you may want to sew your napkins a custom size so that they fit perfectly in your bento box, but I find that a 9″ square napkin is a good size, larger than a paper napkin but small enough to be manageable for a kid.

Cut your napkin 1/2″ longer on all sides than the finished dimensions, to make room for hemming and turning.

How-to Sew Cloth Napkins for a Waste-Free Lunchbox

With right sides together, pin your two napkin pieces all the way around, but use chalk to mark off a 5″ length in the middle of one side that you’ll leave unsewn.

Starting at one end of that 5″ length, sew around the entire perimeter of your napkin. Stop when you get all the way around to the other side of that 5″ length.

How-to Sew Cloth Napkins for a Waste-Free Lunchbox

Clip all four corners of your napkin, then turn it right-side-out. Use a dull pencil or a chopstick to poke the corners out nice and crisp.

Iron your napkin so that it’s straight and the hems are nice, folding that 5″ length under and ironing the crease.

Choose a thread that looks well with your fabric and top stitch all the way around the perimeter of the napkin, sewing that 5″ length closed with your top stitching as you go.

Are you staring at the rubber band on my sewing machine? My seven-year-old daughter is helping me sew these napkins, and putting a rubber band around the sewing machine serves as a fabric guide to help her keep the proper seam allowance.

How-to Sew Cloth Napkins for a Waste-Free Lunchbox

Now, I know that you don’t want to have to iron these napkins, so the last little thing that you need to do is quilt them a bit, so that they don’t go all wonky in the washing machine. You can do this simply by just top stitching a couple of horizontal and vertical lines across each napkin, but it’s also fun to use the print on one side of your napkin as a guide–I quilted this tiger-print napkin by following the curves of the tiger stripes, and put the quilting foot on my sewing machine to sew loops around the mushrooms of another napkin.

And when you’re finished with that—go eat lunch!

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About the Author

I'm a writer, crafter, Zombie Preparedness Planner, and homeschooling momma of two kids who will hopefully someday transition into using their genius for good, not the evil machinations and mess-making in which they currently indulge. I'm interested in recycling and nature crafts, food security, STEM education, and the DIY lifestyle, however it's manifested--making myself some underwear out of T-shirts? Done it. Teaching myself guitar? Doing it right now. Visit my blog Craft Knife for a peek at our very weird handmade homeschool life; my etsy shop Pumpkin+Bear for a truly odd number of rainbow-themed beeswax pretties; and my for links to articles about poverty, educational politics, and this famous cat who lives in my neighborhood.

9 Responses to How To Sew Cloth Napkins for a Waste-Free Lunchbox

  1. megan says:

    The Chopstick is my favourite trusty turning tool! Made something like this and use them for cocktail napkins… brightens up the party and rather than throw away when done… wash a reuse next time.

  2. Great post Julie! Thank you so much for this. Just shared it with all my fans. 🙂

  3. Carolyn Childs says:

    Great way to use small pieces of cool fabrics, and save a few trees. [I teach public school, and most days, every one of my students has school lunch, because they either receive it free or at a reduced price. Wish their parents could make a change in this area]

  4. Laurie says:

    A rubber band!! GENIUS!!!

  5. Pingback: How to Sew a Reusable Snack Bag

  6. Laura says:

    Thank you so much for these directions. I don’t understand the chalk at the 5″?

  7. Pingback: DIY: Cloth Napkin Tutorial - Parenting in Moments

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