DIY Cloth Napkins

It’s almost Earth Day…celebrate by ditching the paper napkins and making your own cloth napkins with “fat quarter” quilting fabric!

Confession time:  I have a quilting fabric addiction…and I’m not even a quilter! Something about the tiny floral patterns and the myriad of pretty colors is so attractive to me. I’m particularly vulnerable to the coordinated “fat quarter” collections. These are the cute little bundles of five or six 18″ x 21″ rectangles of fabric. Over the years I’ve bought quite a few bundles, for no other reason than because they were cute!

Well, about two years ago, in an effort to cut back on our paper waste, I decided to put my collection of fabric to good use and make cloth napkins. Here’s the step by step!

You’ll need:

Fabric
You can use what you already have in your personal stash, or you can select some from a fabric or craft store. These instructions are geared toward the “fat quarter” quilting fabric I mentioned earlier. Fat quarters typically measure (in inches) 18” x 21” or 22” give or take. These instructions will allow you to make two napkins per fat quarter. If you are concerned about dyes or chemical coatings on the fabric, select organic or non-coated varieties. If you’re feeling matchy-matchy, you can choose fabrics in color-coordinated bundles like the one shown above. My only advice would be to avoid fabric that is all white or very light, just because of the inevitable napkin staining that will occur. Oh! and sparkles. No one wants sparkles on their face, so steer away from glittery fabrics. :-)

Scissors
You can get fancy and use a rotary fabric cutter, but any old pair of scissors will do.

You’ll also need:
A sewing machine, thread that coordinates with your fabric, a ruler, an iron, ironing board, washer and dryer :-)

You might need:
A fabric pen or fabric chalk, straight pins

Step 1: Wash and Dry Your Fabric
I know this step seems annoying when all you want to do is dive in and get started on your project, but a pre-wash and dry is essential. This way, you get all the potential shrinkage out of the way before you sew, thus avoiding any yucky puckering on your finished product.

Step 2: Trim Threads off the Edges and Iron
When you remove your fabric from the dryer, it will probably look something like this:

Carefully untangle your fabric pieces and trim away all the straggly threads. Once you have them all cleaned up, give them a thorough once-over with the hot iron.

Step 3: Measure and Trim
Lay your fabric on a flat surface. Find one of your 18” edges and situate it up top. Fold your fabric lengthwise like so:

Trim your fabric along the fold. You don’t have to be super exact with this project, so I just place my scissors in the fold and cut. If you’re concerned with measuring, instead of folding, measure in 9” and draw a line down the length of the fabric with a straight edge and a pen, marker, or fabric chalk. Then cut along the line. You will end up with two 9” x 21” strips like this:

Step 4: Fold and Iron
Take your fabric from the bottom edge and fold up to the top edge, so that your pattern is inside the fold and the wrong side is facing out like so:

Your folded fabric should now measure approx. 9” x 10.5”. Iron your fold into the fabric.

Step 5: Time to Sew
Place your folded edge up top (away from you) and sew down one of the open edges, about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch from the edge like so:

Flip your fabric so the folded edge is still furthest away and sew down the next edge. I’m holding the fabric weird in the photo below so you can see where the edge you just sewed should be. Sewing the opposite sides first like this, moving away from the fold reduces puckering as I sew without having to take the time to pin. Clear as mud, I know. :-)

Step 6: Sew Open End, Leaving an Opening
Now you should have your folded edge, two sewn edges, and one open end opposite your fold. Sew your open end, but leave about 2-3 inches unsewn at the corner. This is how you’ll turn your napkin right side out…but don’t turn it yet, first:

Step 7: Trim Your Corners
To avoid any bulky corners on your finished product, carefully snip away the point of all four corners, taking care not to cut your stitching, like so:

Step 8: Turn Your Napkin Right Side Out
Initially, it will look more like a rumpled pillow case and decidedly un-napkinlike. I find it helps to use a ruler or straight edge (even a chopstick will do) and run it along the inside edges to get a nice, crisp line all the way around like so:

Step 9: Fold in the Open Edge and Iron
So now you still have to do something about that unsewn portion. Carefully fold it in like so, creating an unfrayed edge:

Iron this fold in so it doesn’t slip out again. If it’s being pesky, you can pin it until it’s sewn. Take the time to iron the whole napkin once more so you keep those nice, crisp edges.

Step 10: Sew Along the Outside Edges
I find this makes all the difference in the finished product. This way, your napkin has a nice, finished look and won’t get all “pillow case” and puffy looking. I find it also reduces the chance that the napkin’s shape will distort with repeated washings. So, take the time to sew a neat line of stitches all the way around the napkin, about 1/4 inch in from the edges. Start with the open edge you folded in and take care to trap that open bit with your stitches.

That’s it! Make as many as you like! Once you get on a roll with these you can crank out enough to last you for at least a week before washing them in your laundry.

A Side Note: The instructions above use all of the fat quarter piece and create a rectangle napkin, i.e. not a perfect square. If you like to make pretty triangle folds with your napkins, you will want to make your napkins square instead. If that’s the case, replace Step 3 with the following:

Square Napkin – Step 3: Cut and Trim
Place your fabric on a flat surface. Grab the corner closest to you and fold up to create a triangle like so:

Cut off the edge that remains – you can make napkins rings out of it! LOL

Unfold your triangle. Then fold your square in half, and trim along the fold. Or measure in half way, draw your line down the center and trim. You will have to strips like so:

Now pick up with step 4 above and fold up your edge, only your folded fabric will now be square instead of the dimensions previously mentioned.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and will try your hand at cloth napkins! Happy sewing!

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24 thoughts on “DIY Cloth Napkins

  1. I won some fat quarters as part of a bundle of sewing goodies, and have been wondering how best to use them. I think this is the answer… thank you! :-)

  2. Well, we do use cloth napkins (we havn’t used paper in years) but I sure did not make them! So more power to ya, Becky! I bought mine with a Bed Bath and Beyond cupon (they’re reversible) and they match the quilted cloth placemats we use (also reversible), and I’m delighted with the whole set–that looks great and can be thrown into the wash. You’ve done a lovely job with yours. :-)

    • That’s great! It would be a good craft for a church retreat, since it’s simple and you can still chat while working on it – no heavy duty concentration required! LOL

  3. I thought i was the only one! i love the cute little bundles of fabric tied all cute with a little bow! I dont quilt either always look at the bundles though thinking one day…….this gives me the perfect excuse to buy them now! Thanks! haha

  4. My best friend is an avid quilter so I often find myself accompanying her into quilting shops (she does the same for me, only it is garden centers). I too find myself drawn to the fat quarters. Now I can’t wait to buy some and make the napkins.

  5. Becky, I share the same strange addiction to quit fabric and do not quilt either. I am excited to try this project!

  6. lol…I’ll have to borrow a sewing machine to complete the project. I don’t think stitch witchery will hold up in the laundry for very long. Does this make my addiction even more peculiar…I love the fabric and don’t even sew!

    • Unpaper towels! Brilliant! I’ve been pondering a good paper towel alternative. T-shirt fabric and fat quarters sounds like a perfect combo! Thanks so much for posting.

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