Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cloth Napkin Tutorial

If you've read my post Dinner Napkins, then you already know I love using cloth napkins. Most of what I already own are purchased napkins. Some of which are really nice; too nice for me to want to use for everyday dinners. But I still wanted some pretty napkins for weeknight meals that were inexpensive and easy to care for. 

This week, I decided to start making some of my own. That way I could pick the fabric myself, make them the size I wanted, and keep the costs down to something more reasonable. Also, I plan to have my two younger daughters practice their sewing skills by making some with me! It's a great project for beginners because they can practice both straight stitches and turns, however it requires almost more time at an ironing board than the sewing machine!

When choosing fabric for napkins, keep in mind a few things:

1) How easy is the fabric to care for? Will it hand press nicely or must it be ironed every time? (Remember, this is for family night, not company, otherwise I'd recommend ironing for sure!) Tip: If they tend to wrinkle and it bothers you, try gathering them from the center point and slipping them in a napkin ring.

2) Is the fabric soft to the touch? Since it will be used on the face, you will want it to be gentle to the skin.

3) Will the fabric hide stubborn stains easily? A solid fabric will show stains and wear faster than a busy print. It may not be everyone's style, but it's something to consider.

4) How much fabric do you really need per napkin? I chose to make mine about 15 - 15 1/2 inches because more fabric costs more money and these fit nicely on the ironing board if I choose to iron them and I only have to move them once while ironing in order to do the whole napkin.

The cheapest fabric isn't always the best choice. Consider the time you will invest making them as part of your decision. Once you've made one and understand the process, making them in an assembly line fashion will save you some time.

Steps For Making Cloth Napkins

Cut your fabric so that it is the size you wish plus an extra 2" for the length and the width. The extra fabric will be turned under, so make sure that you allow for these seams by adding the extra two inches. (Save those scraps for a scrap quilt!)

Next, make a triangle template (something that you can reuse several times out of card stock or other sturdy paper). This will be used to press a corner down to make a miter without having to measure every single time. Speed is helpful when making lots of corners! My triangle was 2  1/8" on the long side by 1  1/2" on the two shorter sides. I came up with this by folding down the fabric and sides until I found what worked best (it's a bit complicated to explain in writing, but I basically did one corner and then made a template to match). You can see my white template on the wrong side of the fabric below...

Press the corner over the template...

And then start pressing all four sides toward the wrong side. I turned under about 1/2" to 3/8" seam. On a project like this, I honestly don't measure much, I just make sure I do it the same all the way around. This is the kind of project I want to do quickly and I'm not necessarily looking to do it perfectly. However, if they were a gift or I was teaching my girls, I'd certainly measure!

Going back around, turn under a second time the same amount and press again...

Now you need to trim the excess from the corner (can you see it in the photo above sticking out from the mitered corner?). To do this, make a mark with a quilting pencil, open up the edges you previously ironed, and then draw a line across. Cut across the line to remove the excess fabric. (As I did this several times, I noticed that the iron had made marks that guided me perfectly in this, so I just ended up using these press lines to make my cut instead of marking them). 

Update 5/17/11: I now just fold this extra tip under a second time and press, then sew. It is perfectly hidden and not too bulky. And it saves a LOT of time!

Update 5/17/11: Instead of cutting this, just fold it under again and press! No need to cut it!

Pin around the edges...

And stitch as close as you comfortably can to the inside edge of the fabric...

Stitch all the way around and be sure to back stitch once you've crossed over where you began so it won't come unstitched. You now have a finished napkin!

Update 5/17/11: If you want the top stitching to be even with the edge on the front side, flip the napkin over to the right side to sew and use the edge of the napkin as your guide on one of the markings on the silver plate of your machine.

I thought it would be fun to make some that were similar in color but mismatched. That way if one is lost or has to be discarded to the rag pile, another can take it's place. As these are used and washed, I hope they become even softer and more enjoyable!

Trust me when I say that I didn't go for perfection on these. Speed was important because I want to make a big basket full so we can start using these nearly every day instead of once a week. I think a big wicker basket would be perfect for housing a bunch in various colors for every day use!

Is anyone making or using napkins for everyday, too?


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