Make your own reusable fabric napkins!

And now, for something completely different – owl-print fabric napkins! I keep calling them ‘Hootlet’ napkins, after the Hootsuite owl. (Anyone else think the Hootsuite owl is incredibly cute?) Remember this fabric from last week’s trip to Spool of Thread? I made these napkins up yesterday and I’m pretty pleased with them.

Ok, saying ‘napkins’ is a bit of a stretch, as I only finished one. Narrow hemming is slow! But I had to choose to finish the napkins or write up the tutorial, so I picked the tutorial. Just for you!

LisaB wanted tips on making napkins without a serger, and I know not everyone has one, so I’ve done my napkins using only a regular sewing machine.

Aren’t they cute?

Here’s how to make your own! Wouldn’t this be a nice hostess gift for Christmas? (Goes well with holiday baked goodies!)

You’ll need:

  • a yard of cotton fabric. I used two yards to make 28 napkins, one yard will give you 14 small-sized napkins.
  • matching thread
  • ruler and marking pen
  • scissors

First, pre-wash your fabric. Technically, you don’t have to since we’re not concerned about fit, but I like to pre-wash and dry everything to remove any sizing, so the fabric’s nice and clean.

If you’ve pre-washed your fabric, iron it out to remove the wrinkles.

Next, carefully trim off the selvages. This will give us as much usable fabric as possible! If you have white selvages, trim right along the white line.

If your selvages are printed, trim where the fabric changes texture (seen in the photo below:)

We’ll check to make sure our cut ends are on-grain as well. Often when you buy cotton fabric, the salesperson will tear the ends instead of cutting, which I prefer. You can do the same thing at home. Make a snip about an inch from the cut end, and pull! (I’ll show you how to do this, later on in this post…) Or if you prefer, use a square ruler to draw a line at a right angle to the selvage and cut across the line.

After trimming the selvages and evening out the cut ends, we’ll divide up the remaining fabric into our napkins.

Measure the length and width of your fabric piece. Mine is 41″ across, and 77″ long. I want my napkins to be small, so I’m going to make them approximately 10″ by 11″. This will give us twenty-eight napkins!

First, I’ll measure the 11″ along the selvage edge. I’ll measure down 11″, make a mark, and then measure 11″ from the previous mark.

If I’ve measured correctly, my last section should measure eleven inches from the mark to the end of the fabric – and it does!

Now, I’m going to tear the fabric into sections, because it’s faster and guarantees our lines will be along the grain. It does stretch out the edge of the fabric a little but we’re going to be hemming them anyways. Make a snip into the edge of the fabric at the pen mark, and tear!

Here’s the snip, made at a right angle to the cut edge:

Snip about half an inch into the fabric.

Pull each side of the fabric gently to tear the fabric.

Continue tearing until you have a separate strip of fabric.

Repeat with the next marking, for the second strip of fabric.

When you’re done, you should have seven strips of fabric, each 11″ wide.

Next, we’ll divide up each fabric strip into quarters. Measure the halfway point along the long edge, and mark this point. Divide the two halves in half again, and mark these points as well.

Measure along the bottom edge, and connect these markings with a ruler.

Cut along the marked lines.

Now we have four napkins ready for hemming!

Repeat with the other strips of fabric.

We have 28 napkins cut and ready for hemming now! There’s a couple of ways you can hem these. One is to use a serger and do a rolled hem. Or, you could do a machine-stitched narrow hem. A serger would be much faster, but I know a lot of you don’t have sergers yet. I’m going to show you the narrow hem method – no serger required!

Take your first napkin piece and give it a quick press with the iron.

Now, stitch 1/4″ along one edge of your napkin. I like to use the edge of my presser foot as a guide. Do just one edge at a time.

Press the stitched edge under so the stitching is just barely rolled to the inside, approximately 1/16″ from the fold. The photo explains it better than words!

Here’s another photo with my finger and a tape measure, to give you an idea of scale:

Now trim the seam allowance as closely as possible to the line of stitching.

Now, fold the edge in again, along the trimmed edge, and press. You should have a very narrow pressed hem, approximately 1/8th of an inch.

Edgestitch along the fold. Hold onto the thread tails when you start, so the machine doesn’t eat your napkin edge!

Here’s a close-up of the narrow hem, while it’s being stitched. You can see both the right side and the wrong side of the fabric. The goal is to have it look nice from both sides!

Success! One edge, all hemmed.

Repeat with the opposite edge of the napkin.

And repeat with the other two edges.

Voila! A narrow-hemmed napkin. It looks tidy and neat, and professional. Best of all, it’s sturdy and will withstand lots of washings.

Repeat with the rest of the napkins. I finished one, then I wrote up the tutorial. Only twenty-seven more to go!

It’s a bit of work now, but I’ll never have to buy paper napkins again. And because I’ll have so many, I won’t find myself resorting to paper napkins because the fabric ones are in the wash. Like a lot of eco-friendly solutions – lightbulbs, fabric shopping bags, etc – it’s more expensive at the start, but will quickly become way cheaper, and easier on the planet.

Some tips for making fabric napkins as gifts:

  • Bigger napkins means longer hems, but less actual napkins to do!
  • Tie a contrast colour ribbon around four (or six or eight) and add them to a plate of homemade goodies, for bringing over to parties.
  • Use a couple of different fabrics to create variety packs as gifts! Even using two different fabrics, a print and a solid, would be a nice touch.
  • On that note – mix a Christmas print with a solid colour, so that the solid colour napkins can be used all year round.

Let me know if you have any questions on the tutorial. If you make your own fabric napkins, let me know. I’d love to see them!

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30 Responses to Make your own reusable fabric napkins!

  1. Karin November 24, 2010 at 6:13 am #

    Cute fabric!

  2. Sarah November 24, 2010 at 6:45 am #

    Thanks for the tutorial. I’ve been meaning to make some to take with me to work so that I’m not always using the paper napkins. Now I have no excuse not to make some.

  3. Rebecca November 24, 2010 at 6:46 am #

    So cute! Thanks for the tip on trimming the edge of the seam before refolding and stitching. I just love the fabric you’ve used.

  4. CGCouture November 24, 2010 at 7:12 am #

    I love the owl print, too cute! Thanks for the tutorial, but how do you deal with the bulk when doing the two remaining sides? Is it a bit deal?

  5. Trisha November 24, 2010 at 7:18 am #

    Cute! I make my own fabric napkins (with no serger), but I do mitered corners. I think it’s a nice touch, and a less bulky corner. If you’re interested, I’d be happy to tell you how I do it!

  6. CGCouture November 24, 2010 at 7:20 am #

    @CGCouture: Oops, meant *BIG*, not *bit*. Sorry!

  7. lizajane November 24, 2010 at 7:22 am #

    I’m a cloth napkin user myself. Thanks for that tip about holding the thread tails when starting an edge. I always wondered how to keep the fabric from being sucked in when starting an edge like that.

  8. Patty The Snug Bug November 24, 2010 at 7:25 am #

    That’s some nice stitchin’!

  9. Caroline November 24, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    Awesome, but — mitering the edges and going all the way around in one go is easier (to me) and looks pro. For some reason I have handmade napkins with stupid things printed on them, like multicolored cartoon bobby pins. But it breaks the ice when I pull out the handmade napkins. Yours are cuter.

  10. Casey November 24, 2010 at 8:41 am #

    Very cute–I love the fabric you picked! I keep meaning to make a large batch of them, and perhaps some nice linen ones as well for fancier meals (like when we have company). My mom did this years ago and we loved them. Maybe I should set a deadline for myself with this project, as I’d really like to stop using paper napkins altogether (even though I used recycled ones at this point)!

    ‚ô• Casey | blog

  11. Debi November 24, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    Tasia…you totally demystified the narrow hem for me! Thanks! I love this tutorial. I made a bunch of napkins and matching placemats as a gift for my sister back in March and it was loads of fun!

  12. Kristie November 24, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    Thanks for the tute! I’m definitely going to make these. I like the idea of switching over from paper napkins, also great gift ideas! Thanks Tasia

  13. learningnewtricks November 24, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    A lot of ladies from my sewing class just recently made handmade napkins for their holiday presents — they serged the edges. I, too, thought that mitering the edges would be another good option. Love your tutorials, as they show every step in such detail.

  14. Darci November 24, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    Love those hooty owls! (and running to FabDepot after work to get my own!) Thanks for the helpful tute! I love, love, love reusable napkins!

  15. Stephanie November 24, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    I recently made cloth napkins too. To skip the cutting and measuring stage, I just purchased fat quarters and made one napkin from each fat quarter. It does make a large napkin but with a 2 and 4 year old I like how it covers there whole lap or I use mitten clips to make it into a bib if needed for my 2 year old and it still covers his lap as well.

  16. Sue November 24, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

    What a lovely idea, and a lovely tutorial, I can see me using this for some presents this year,
    Thank-you :)

  17. PetitePear November 24, 2010 at 1:02 pm #

    Cute napkins and a very nice tutorial. I notice that you only tear the fabric in one direction (cross-wise) but cut in the other. Is there a reason for that? Couldn’t we tear it length-wise as well? I’ve done that before (but for something that didn’t matter) and am wondering whether I should stop doing it!

  18. Venus de Hilo November 24, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    Excellent narrow hem tute: your photos make it very clear, and the owl print is adorable.

    I, too, make napkins with mitered corners, using a 3/8″ double-fold hem. Don’t know that it’s any easier or quicker, but I like the look and it eliminates the trim-next-to-stitching step and some of the corner bulk.

  19. Jodi November 24, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    Why do you stitch the edge the first time?

  20. Lauren November 24, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    Thanks for a thorough tutorial. Even though napkins can seem intuitive to make, I like that you gave such detailed steps so finished product looks polished.

    Perfect for difficult person people too, like recipients who have everything. I have some Amy Bulter fabric in store for my in-laws Christmas present, and now I know what to do with it!

  21. LisaB November 26, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    Yay! Thank you – can’t wait to try making some myself!!

  22. amber December 2, 2010 at 10:29 am #

    Great tutorial! thanks!

  23. Catholic Bibliophagist March 30, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    @Jodi: This is a rather tardy reply, so I don’t know if you’ll see it. But the reason you do the first line of stitching is because it makes it easier to fold over and iron the fabric. The stitching acts as a guideline.


  24. Chris June 2, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    What kind of fabric is best for napkins?

    • Mary Ann Weideman June 26, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      Really interested on the kind of fabric, is there a little heavier cotton fabric for this sewing project?? Can you get cotton linen in prints that aren’t real expensive?
      Where would the fabric be available. Thanks.

      • Tasia June 26, 2013 at 9:43 am #

        I bought this fabric at Spool of Thread in Vancouver, and I’ve seen them stock cotton-linen prints and heavier cottons as well. Hope this helps!

  25. Sheryl August 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Do you have to iron these?


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