Waste Not: Make Cloth Napkins and Rags from Your Stash

You might not think of sewing as a way to change the world, but when you use your skills to make cloth napkins, dish towels, and rags, your impact is huge.

You might not think of sewing as a way to change the world, but when you use your skills to make cloth napkins, dish towels, and rags, your impact is huge.

You might not think of sewing as a way to change the world, but when you use your skills to make cloth napkins, dish towels, and rags, your impact is huge.

Set the table for supper, slide a napkin under each place setting. Make a mess, grab a paper towel to soak it up. We go through these motions several times a day, and the impact of all of that paper is astounding. Here in the U.S. alone, we use more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels per year, and when you add in the cloth napkins we use, we’re talking about over a million additional trees just so we can wipe our countertops and our faces.

Not only do paper towels and cloth napkins waste money and resources, but they’re not recyclable. That means they add up to more organic waste in landfills. Organic waste is any sort of plant matter, and when it breaks down under landfill conditions, it creates methane, a greenhouse gas 72 percent more harmful than CO2.


That’s the bad news. The good news is that anyone with even the most beginner of sewing skills can make cloth napkins and dish towels. And anyone who can wield a pair of scissors can make paper towel-replacing rags.

This crafty tip is part of Jen Gale’s 365 Ways to Change the World project. She’s teaming up with bloggers all over the world, and each day a different crafter is sharing one small change that adds up to a big impact. It’s like she made me a project, so I was thrilled when she asked Crafting a Green World to participate! You can see all of the world-changing ideas by following the hashtag #365waystochangetheworld on Twitter!

DIY Cloth Napkins

How to Make Cloth Napkins and Dish Towels

We have shared a couple of methods for making cloth napkins, and you can translate those tutorials into dish towels easily. The methods is the same, you’ll just need more fabric for a dish towel. You can make cloth napkins from new fabric, but this is also a great project to bust your fabric stash, if you want to reduce your impact even further.

Method 1 – Hemming – These are your more traditional cloth napkins. You cut your fabric to the size you want, plus about 1″. That gives you 1/2″ seam allowance for hemming. Get the basic cloth napkin instructions here, and feel free to experiment with the size to make dish towels or custom-sized napkins.

Method 2 – Two-Ply – This method uses more fabric, but it also creates an even more absorbent napkin or dish towel. The other benefit to this method is that it’s fast. Rather than fussy pressing all around the edge of your napkin, you sew, flip, top stitch, and you’re ready to go. Get the tutorial here!

How to Make No-Sew Rags

Dish towels are good for light messes, but for super icky spills, absorbent rags do a better job at replacing paper towels. Making rags is the easiest thing ever, you guys. My husband made us a huge set of absorbent rags. Here’s how:

1. Raid the linen closet or thrift store. Look for towels that are torn, stained, or just plain ugly.

2. Cut them up! 6″ square seems to be a good size for rags, from our experience.

I’d love to hear your experiences with replacing disposable paper products with reusable cloth ones. Share away in the comments!

Image Credits: Paper trash image Gertan / Shutterstock.com; cloth napkins images by Becky Striepe and Julie Finn

1 thought on “Waste Not: Make Cloth Napkins and Rags from Your Stash”

  1. Thanks for this informative, practical and encouraging piece. When I was growing up, paper towels and napkins existed but our family was pretty low income so we relied on fabric equivalents. It’s been easy to forget that this is how its been done for so much longer than we’ve had access to the throw away stuff. I have friends who have a rag container in their house. It was grandma’s, then mom’s, then daughter’s. I remember scratching my head when I asked for paper towels and was sent to the clean rag bin, but hey, what a great idea!

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