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Cloth Napkins

I think there’s something really special about using cloth napkins. And these days it’s not only special but it’s smart. Less paper napkins in the landfill is a good thing, right? So last week I set out to make some cloth napkins for my family.

I gathered my supplies: fabric, iron, rotary cutter, cutting mat.

I pressed the fabric.

I cut the fabric into 15″ squares.

Finally, I was ready to sew!

I set up my serger to execute a rolled hem. This was easier said than done because my serger, like so many sergers, can be cranky. The thread kept breaking until I got the tension right. And then the thread kept breaking until I changed the needle.


Before long, though, all was well and I chugged right through all those napkins. I “chained” them much like I do when piecing a quilt. Basically you just keep feeding them in until you don’t have any left. Cut them apart and then feed them into the serger so that the opposite edge gets hemmed. Then do the final 2 sides, first one side and then the other. By doing it this way I got nice square corners.


In about 2 hours time (one hour for pressing and cutting and one hour for serging) I had 24 fabric napkins. And even though these will be washed in the washing machine, and that uses energy, I can just throw them in with any load we’re doing. It’s got to be more green than buying and throwing away paper napkins.

I do have one problem, though. They are too pretty to use!

This Post Has 49 Comments

  1. Growing up we always used cloth napkins. My mom has beautiful napkin rings that have been passed down in the family, each is unique. We use the napkin rings to know who’s napkin in who’s. For less messy meals we just roll them back up & put them in the drawer to be used again later. This saves on washing. Meals always feel a little more special with cloth napkins.

    Yours are beautiful!

  2. Awesome! I’m trying to figure out how I should do it with just my plain old sewing maching and not have it look like crap. 🙂 I have a bunch of scrap fabric I’ve been envisioning as napkins…
    We’ve been using cloth napkins for years, and I have one little piece of advice: Either soak them before you wash, or wash them with a hot towel load…cloth napkins tend to get a little greasy and funky after a while just like kitchen towels.

  3. Carole, those are great. I’ve made a few sets myself. Another thing that’s “green” is using hankies instead of boxes of tissues. I like using the colorful batiks in pima cotton. They’re colorful, reversible and soft. (Also, as bandannas.) I don’t have a serger, but like to use a plain buttonhole stitch. Sergers are better, though, because you don’t have to trim all those little threads afterwards!

  4. I do this with holiday prints. I suggest a drop of Fray Check on each corner of the serging. And by all means, use them! They fare well in the washer.

    And yes, they are very pretty. You “did good”, my friend.

  5. We use cloth (ours aren’t as pretty as yours) and I thrown them in the wash with everything but towels. I hate picking off the little fuzzies.

  6. As you know, we only use cloth. Yours are prettier than any I’ve ever had. LOVE the Asian print. They’ll wash up nicely sweetie…use them!!

  7. I love cloth napkins! I inherited (and then picked up more at yardsales) ivory cotton damask napkins that I can bleach the heck out of if need be, and we use them all the time. Your fabrics are gorgeous, so I don’t blame you for not wanting to use them – lolol!

    But yes, I think you’re right – they’re much more “green.”

  8. Napkins was almost my N is For…! I’ve been making serged cloth napkins for years. In fact, that is the reason I got my serger and pretty much all I ever use it for. Gorgeous fabric, by the way.

  9. I’ve been an avid 100% (well, maybe 98%) cloth napkin user since we got married, way back in the early ’80s. I don’t make them, though — I buy them. Some are new and some are vintage and some are bona fide antique linen. I’ve got so many I can’t even believe it.

  10. That sounds lovely. (Almost made me wish I had a serger. Until I got to the part about it being cranky.) I can’t be as green as Dave, though – the idea of carrying a cloth hanky just gives me the heebies.

  11. Those came out great! I totally want to switch to cloth napkins ASAP but I’m finding some resistance from the boy. You are making me wish I could sew… almost. 😉

  12. i agree, there’s nothing finer than cloth napkins. wait, so all sergers are temperamental? that rolled hem looks so professional.

  13. I would love a serger – just for this very purpose! Someday… 🙂

    Your napkins are lovely, and these things have a way of spreading around the internet. Maybe you’ve done more than reduce the paper use in your own house. (I love the power of the blog).

  14. So pretty – and I agree, I love cloth napkins, and have used them all my life. We only break out paper towels for extremely ‘gooey’ meals (like ribs) but otherwise its cotton all the time.
    Now I wish I had a serger (grins)

  15. Wonderful! I’m a huge fan of cloth napkins. They just feel so good to use. I embroidered a few last year and love, love, love them. I love yours too. Serging is such a great tool.

  16. Those are great. I have tried on occasion to make the switch but old habits are hard to break. I’ll have to give it another shot when everyone gets home.

  17. That’s a great idea! I wonder if I still have my sister’s sewing machine… and if I’m up for doing battle with it. (Sewing machines hate me.)

  18. Wow, I think Dave really liked your napkins! ;o)

    I do too, and I’m really impressed that you used dark fabrics. Built-in stain resistant!

  19. What a great idea! I’ll have to dig through my stash and see what I have… I was just complaining (whining) the other day about paper towels. How I can’t live without them (we have 4 messy kids) but I hate spending money on them and then of course the fact that they end up in a landfill. I considered buying cloth napkins but the cost was too much. It never occured to me to make them myself!

  20. Isn’t that funny how we hate to use our “nice things”? I have lots of fabric napkins and don’t use them. You’re motivating me to get them out!

  21. We have always used cloth napkins, and yes they need washing, but they are quick to line dry. The fabric store near my mom’s house has a huge section of half off cottons. I use a rolled hem foot on my Bernina since I don’t have a serger.

  22. these are really pretty. a good reminder that i should scrap our paper-towel-napkin habit and make some of these.

  23. Oooh, they ARE pretty! We’ve used cloth for over 20 years. I usually buy vintage. Sometimes it’s a vintage something else that I turn into napkins (or a dishcloth, depending on size and type of fabric) — a worn or stained tablecloth, etc. I definitely “make” them the lazy way, though! I rip and let ’em fray.

  24. I switched to cloth napkins a year or so ago – love them! I just have some plain ones from Target, though. I do want to start sewing… do you have recommendations for fabric that makes good napkins? I figure they’d be a nice easy learning project and could be made out of remnants…

  25. Oh, they are too pretty not to use! Think of how much prettier the landfill will be with your contribution. Also, napkins do not have to be ironed (saves on electricity).

  26. I have serger envy. (And napkin envy too, but a mostly serger envy since I can afford to buy napkins, but not a serger!)

  27. That’s wonderful! Although I don’t make mine :), I love using cloth napkins, it feels much more civilized and elegant somehow.

  28. Carole dear…NOT too pretty to use! Enjoy them!
    Aside from the logical, cloth napkins are a simple, satisfying way to wrap oneself in a little hug of comfort & beauty in an ordinary day.

    I have made napkins to suit all seasons and decor and are a quick and lovely gift as well. I especially like to make Christmas-print cocktail-size napkins for gifts. Also, I’ll make napkins to match the new decor for a housewarming gift. They are much appreciated!

    I find the rolled hem cloths are pretty sturdy in the washer and dryer. I put a dot of ‘Fray Check’ on each corner for good measure. Haven’t had any fall apart over twenty-some years.

  29. I have been making zipper pouches like nobody’s business. What is it about sewing? I’ll always be a knitter first, but lately, I’ve really been enjoying quiet time spent at my sewing machine. Is it the instant gratification of simple projects? The gorgeous fabrics that are on the market now? Memories of learning to sew as a child? Your napkins are lovely—too pretty to use.

  30. I am way behind on my blog-reading, but I had to comment that I just love it that you made the napkins you want! The print is so rich. I have used cloth ones for two decades, thanks to the influence of a friend and former business partner, and so glad my kiddos grew up with that ethic.

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