A Pollyanna Tutorial: Make Your Own No-Sew Everyday Napkins

Hi, Anna-Liza here. Frugalista and craftista that I am, I don’t like spending money on throwaway items, and I do like making stuff. When making stuff actually saves me money, is low-stress, and lets me reduce my negative impact on the environment, and makes my life feel more luxurious, all at once, that’s Happy Dance time.

So without further ado, Making Your Own No-Sew Everyday Napkins.

First off, there are some choices you’ll need to make – size of napkins, and what they’re made of. Remember, these are meant to be used every day. It feels all fancy to be using cloth napkins for everyday meals, which is a really nice feeling to have. At the same time, they cost hardly nuthin’ to make and to maintain. So, while there are some practical considerations which I’ll explain directly, also consider what you like – colors, graphics, feel.

I tend to make my napkins small – between 13″ and 15″ square, depending on the fabric. My kids seem to have an easier time with that size, and it’s more than adequate for wiping mouths and hands. However, it’s a little small for full lap coverage. If you want a napkin that will entirely cover your lap, you’ll need something at least 18″ square. How many napkins you’ll get from a width of fabric will depend on a few things, not least will be the actual width of your fabric! Keep in mind, you’re not likely to get exact dimensions.

The next choice has to do with what kind of fabric you choose. Obviously, you want something that’s machine washable and dryable. For this particular project, an even-weave, not-too-heavy cotton or cotton/poly blend will work best. Go for a blend with more cotton than poly. You will want to avoid knits, very heavy fabrics, or weaves that don’t rip evenly along a straight thread.

As far as color goes, dark, busy prints hide stains best. Solid colors will be the worst for stains showing. (Of course, I will be demonstrating with a light floral with a lot of white background, just to be ornery. But hey, the fabric was free).

Sometimes, there will be things that won’t come out completely in the wash, usually oily stuff. Unless you want to be throwing away your napkins and making more pretty frequently, which sort of defeats the purpose, something that hides stains is definitely better.

If you want to be really frugal, use an old sheet. I have some that don’t fit any of the beds I currently own, as well as some that are worn too thin to use in some spots, but have a lot of good fabric left. These will make excellent napkins, and odd-shaped leftovers can be used as rags or patches for mending things.

If it’s a sheet, you’ll need to trim off the bits. Elastic and corners if it’s a fitted sheet, hems if it’s flat. Whether it’s a sheet or yard goods, you’ll need to take off the selvedges. The easiest way is to snip about an inch into the fabric next to, and parallel to, the selvedge edge. Then just rip the thing off. Square up the ends the same way – snip and rip.

If the fabric isn’t pretty much rectangular at this point, snip & rip some more to take off any odd flaps or tags that are left. Once you have a rectangle, roughly measure it to see what you have to work with. Or, not.

Next, fold the fabric lengthwise, either in quarters or in thirds. Sometimes I’ll fold it in half and then in thirds, if it’s wide enough. Whatever gives you approximately the size you want in a napkin.

Folding lengthwise in thirds

Snip & rip, making your snips right at the folds.

See? Thirds.

Snip ...

... and rip!

Last, more of the same, but this time you’re folding, snipping and ripping in the direction perpendicular to the way you were before. There will be more folding.

Don’t go all superhero on yourself and try to rip more than four thicknesses of fabric at a time. First, the snips might not line up so well and you’ll get more size variation than you might want. Second, you might hurt yourself! Nursing wrist or shoulder injuries is no way for a craftista to be spending her valuable time.

Better than therapy!

You’ll need to tidy up hanging threads and stuff, then you’ll want to wash and dry your new napkins. This will get rid of any last bits of thread or lint, plus “finishing” the edges nicely. You don’t need to do anything to the edges at all, but you can hem them if you’re really that much of a masochist you want to.

Washed, folded, ready to use. No hemming required.

I’ve been using my first set for several years now, and I’ve only recently needed to make new ones. The first ones haven’t worn out, but they’re getting a bit dingy. I’ll keep them to use when we have spaghetti or something else that stains, but I’ll use my nice new ones for everything else.



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