A couple of summers ago, my family headed to the West Coast to visit family in Portland, Oregon.  We marveled at the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. (Seriously, I didn’t realize so many gorgeous shades of green could exist together in one place!) And we enjoyed some great time exploring the city together. (They have a bookstore there that takes up an entire city block.  Bestill my book-lovin’ heart.)

Portland has such a relaxed and hip vibe–it almost made this middle-age, Midwest mom feel like she was “cool” for awhile.  One of the Portland trends I adored was their obvious zest for recycling and caring for the earth.  One of man eco-friendly habits I noticed showed up at the dinner table of our hosts: They used cloth napkins for every meal.

Beginner Sewing ProjectAs I dabbed my mouth with a cloth napkin one afternoon at lunch, I thought about how many napkins my little family must throw in the trash every year. And then I thought how relatively easy it would be to sew a few squares of material into napkins that wouldn’t kill trees or fill up landfills.  It would be a pretty cheap way to be a little more eco-friendly.

Plus – they could be really pretty, right?

Inspired to do my small part in the care of our planet, I set off to the fabric store a few weeks after our return from Portland.  Let me just put this disclaimer on the post right now:  For fabric lovers, this craft project might be dangerous!  Because it’s really easy for your plan to make eight napkins to become slightly modified when you start pulling bolts of fabric from the shelf.

(I may have left the store with six different fabrics:  Four coordinated shades of blue to match my dinnerware, and two kid-friendly patterns I intended to make into napkins for school lunch boxes.)

I washed and ironed the fabric and set to work zipping out napkins that very afternoon.  And now, many, many months later, we continue to enjoy these cloth napkins in our home.  Recently, I decided to sew up a few extra napkins in checkered blue (to match some quilted placemats I’m working on) and I decided to take pics and put together a little tutorial so you can try out the charms of cloth napkins for yourself!

A Quick Note About How We Use Cloth Napkins In Our Home

For those of you who might think the idea of cloth napkins is nutty-nutkins for a growing family, let me just share how we make it work for us. I do not wash our napkins after every use. Usually, they only pick up crumbs and small dirty spots at a meal, so I just shake out the crumbs, re-fold them so a new side is facing out, and toss them in the drawer for future meals.

To work through the whole “How do you know whose napkin was whose?” issue when you re-use them, you can either take the “Who Cares? We share germs all the time anyway” approach or try this:  I labeled clothespins with each person’s name and clip them on the edge of the napkins until it’s time for them to go through the wash.

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  • 1 yard of fabric for every 4 napkins you plan to sew
  • rotary cutter and cutting mat
  • sewing machine
  • all-purpose thread
  • pins
  • ironing board and iron

How To Make:

  1. Gather your supplies.  Wash and iron your fabric before you start. (*Note: I don’t have the sewing machine and thread pictured in supplies below, but you will need them!)

Sew Cloth Napkins

2. Cut squares from your fabric. I cut mine to 17″ x 17″.  (To create a finished napkin about 16″ x 16″).

Easy Sewing

3. Flip the edge of each side over by approx. 1/3″. (A little more than 1/4″ so you’ll have room for the seam allowance when you sew.) Iron the edges.


(This picture shows how your corners should look.)Cloth Napkin Tutorial

4. Flip the edges over again (so unfinished edge is no longer showing), and press in place.  *Note: If you want mitered corners, do step 5 in place of this step.* Use a small pin to secure the corners.

Easy Sewing Project

5. If you want fancier, mitered corners, you need to do the second round of folding in a slightly different way. Before you fold the edges the second time, fold the corners up at an angle. (See below) It’s hard to explain with words, so hopefully these pictures will help!  Secure your corners with pins.

Easy Sewing Project

Easy Sewing Project

6. Sew a straight seam along each edge of the napkin, leaving a 1/4″ seam allowance.

Easy Sewing Project

Cloth Napkins Sewing Tutorial

7. Cook something tasty (or pick something up) and enjoy using your new, eco-friendly cloth napkins!



Beginner Sewing Project