How to Sew Cloth Napkins
Making your own cloth napkins is fun, easy, and the results look fabulous! If you can fold, press, and sew in a straight line, that’s all the skill you need. If you’re feeling adventurous, decorating the edges with an heirloom hemstitch will bring your project to the next level.
I recently made myself a couple of linen shirts and ended up with a decent amount of fabric leftover. I didn’t have quite enough fabric to make another garment, but it was more fabric than I wanted to relegate to the “scrap-project” stash. Instead, I decided to make some lovely, decorative napkins for the holidays by embellishing the green linen with gold thread. Since my sewing machine has multiple heirloom stitching options, I decided to bring things up a notch with a decorative hemstitch.
I have to say, I couldn’t be happier with the results! Just follow the instructions below to make your own. You can easily complete this project in an afternoon. These napkins also make a wonderful and thoughtful handmade gift.
By the way, if you're looking for a sewing machine with the ability to do hemstitching, quilting and minor embroidery, my exact model, the Brother XR3140 isn't made anymore, but the Brother XR9550 is a worthy successor!
There are actually a few different ways to make cloth napkins. In the future, I will put together tutorials for double-sided napkins and napkins with a rolled hem. This tutorial covers how to make single-sided napkins with mitered corners.
To make four napkins you will need:
Enough fabric to make four 14 in. x 14 in. squares of fabric (sturdy, woven fabric like linen or cotton works best). I used this beautiful, eco-friendly linen that I found on Etsy.
Scissors or a rotary cutter & ruler
Matching or complementary thread
Pins and an iron for pressing and folding the edges
A Sewing Machine (You could sew these by hand too, but it’s much quicker with a sewing machine).
1. Using your scissors or rotary cutter, cut your fabric into four, 14 in. x 14 in. squares. I like to press the edge of my rotary cutter against a sturdy ruler to make sure my lines are perfectly straight. For this project, measuring accurately is very important in order for the mitered corners to come together properly.
2. Pick one edge to start. Fold over ½ inch and press well. Fold over another ½ inch and press well again. Repeat this process on all four sides.
3. Unfold the edges.
4. At the corners, the fold lines will intersect in two places: at ½ inch from the corner and at 1 inch from the corner. Snip the fabric at the corner at the ½ inch intersection. Repeat for each corner.
5. Fold the corner over, and then over again so that the edge of the final fold lines up with the 1-inch intersection mark. Press well.
6. Fold the straight edges over, and over again along the same fold lines made earlier.
7. The edges should come together nicely at a 45-degree angle at the corners. Repeat on all sides. Press well again. Use pins to hold each side in place as you work.
8. Sew all around the napkin along the fold (about ⅜ in-½ from the edge...just like sewing a double folded hem on a garment). You can sew with a regular straight stitch or jazz things up with a decorative hemstitch as you sew.
9. When turning the corners, leave your needle in the fabric, lift your presser foot, and turn at a 90-degree angle.
10. When you’re finished, press the entire napkin again to remove any wrinkles and to help set the stitches.
And that’s it! You can adjust the size of these napkins easily. Simply cut your fabric into a larger or smaller square, and remember to subtract two inches from the length and width to get the finished size (for example, and 18 x 18 inch square will result in a 16 x 16 inch napkins because you will be folding over one inch on each of the four sides).
A smaller square makes a great handkerchief or pocket square. Why not give a friend or loved one a lovely monogrammed handkerchief?
The possibilities are truly endless! Once you’ve mastered pressing and folding the corners, let your creativity take over. Experiment with different stitches, fabric, or embroidery designs. I love using my leftover fabric to make things that are both functional and beautiful!
If you’re looking for additional easy, low-waste sewing projects, check out my Big Bow Headband tutorial and my post on how to make rag-rollers so you can curl your hair perfectly without the heat!