One Thing Leads to- well- Napkins
August 14th, 2017 by Wendy

Although I made cloth napkins for my son while he was still in college (he’s now 30 and still has them), we have been steadily using paper napkins. Recently, he asked me why. That question led to- napkins.

Lots of napkins. I decided to raid my collection of mostly Japanese contemporary home decorative weight fabrics, some cotton, some linen, some a blend. I heard the voice of my high school sewing teacher telling me to “pull the threads, don’t cut”. So I did- I pulled threads to outline the 17 3/4″ squares that would become napkins.

Why 17 3/4″ Because most of the pieces were 1/2 yard cuts, and they frayed in the washer/dryer, and this number was the largest I could get. The result: 16″ square napkins, with mitered corners and machine topstitching.

I started with 3 napkins from one of the fabrics. I figured I’d use this fabric experimentally, working out the kinks and errors as I went:








Then I started on the set of ten new napkins for my son and girlfriend, to go with their Fiestaware table settings. The place settings and accessories are all different (solid) colors, so I thought prints would be delightful. They are!










I’m going to say it: it’s not that hard to do! The truth is, the second five went a LOT faster than the first five. Around napkin 7 or 8, I thought, this is a breeze! By napkin number 10, I thought: no more napkins… ever!!! But I am still making napkins for us, so one of these days…. Meanwhile, here are the steps I took.

I did not document one napkin from start to finish because- honestly– I kept forgetting to take step-by-step photos. However, by the time I finished all ten napkins, I had snapped a photo of all the steps:

1) pulling threadsLR

2) mark line 3:4LR

3) fold to the lineLR

4) 1st fold- 3:8LR

5) 2nd fold- marked line 1 from outside edgeLR










ONE: Pull a thread across the fabric- it will bunch and gather up, which is okay. Flattening it out will make it stand out from the other threads. If the thread breaks- either use a pin to pull up that thread again OR cut along the line you can see, then pull out the next thread to pull. Repeat for all four sides. Don’t iron at this stage- you don’t want to stretch it. 

TWO: Mark the first “hem” line with chalk. My first fold is 3/8″, so I marked the hem line at double that- 3/4″. Repeat for all four sides. (Adjust for your hem allowances. Keep in mind, the hem is folded twice.)

THREE: Fold to the chalk line and pin along each of the four sides. Press. I used a pressing cloth and placed the iron right over the pins, with my wooden clapper to trap the steam, of course.

FOUR: Work in batches. I made 5 napkins at a time, repeating each step with all five. It’s Assemby Line Time!

FIVE: Draw the next chalk line for the second fold. I drew the next line at 1″ from the outside edge. I folded over each side, pinning as I went, then pressing (with a press cloth). The corners get mitered, so they don’t have to fold neatly or prettily at this point.


6) folded, pressedLR

7) open up, crease miterLR

8) trace crease with pencilLR

9) sew seam, marked lineLR

10) trim seamLR










ONE: Now that the sides have been folded, pinned and pressed, you are ready to “miter” the corners.

TWO: Open up the corner t0 the first folded edge, then fold the point over to make a “half square triangle”. It’s easy to line up the point with the intersection of the chalk lines. Finger press the crease of the fold. (I tried pressing the crease- didn’t work for me.)

THREE: Open up the corner again. I lightly drew a pencil line on the fold so I could see it better.

FOUR: Fold the corner of the napkin right-sides-together, lining up the pencil/fold lines. If you pin the sides together first, it makes the pencil lines match up better. Sew a seam along the pencil/fold lines. (If you’ve read about my Pin Poke method- use it here to match up the fold/pencil lines.)

FIVE: Trim the seam allowance. I also cut off the tip of the seam allowance (NOT shown in this photo) but be careful- it would be easy to cut through the seam line.


11) turn RS outLR

12) poke out corner, finger press, pinLR

13) basting on foldLR

14) m. topstitching from frontLR

15) M_topstiching, looks on backLR










ONE: Finger press the seam open and turn the edge right-sides-out.

TWO: Gently poke out the corner. I use semi-pointy scissors. If needed, I’ll use a pin to pull out the final fabric in the point. Pin on either side.

THREE: Using a long running stitch and basting thread, baste (by hand) along the very edge of the fold. Consistency is important.

FOIR: Turn over the napkin: It’s magic! The thread basted stitching lines give you x-ray vision! Okay, not quite. But the stitched line shows you where the fold/edge is on the wrong side of the napkin. By sewing just to the right of the basting stitches, you’ll also be sewing right next to the fold/edge on the wrong side.

FIVE: Check to make sure the stitching catches the edge on the wrong side. Remove the basting thread. Press the napkin, fold as desired, and announce “Ta Da” to the cat sleeping near the sewing machine. Now you know what I did as I finished each napkin!!!

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