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How To Make Cloth Napkins, A Step By Step Guide

How To Make Cloth Napkins

Making your own fabric napkins is a great beginners sewing project. It is also a super easy sewing project that can save you money and is environmentally friendly.

Think about how many millions of paper napkins that we buy globally. Add to that, the rolls of paper towels that we purchase annually.

Doesn't it make sense from a green point of view to make your own cloth napkins that can be reused over and over?

The added benefit of cloth napkins is that they are more personal and they add a decorative touch to a table setting at any meal unlike paper napkins.

Perhaps you are asking skeptically about now

  • "Why would I want to go to all that trouble?" or
  • "Isn't it a big project to make your own cloth dinner napkins?" or
  • "Who wants to go to all that expense?"


In answer to those questions:

  • Making your own fabric napkins (a set of 4-6) can be polished off in less than an hour
  • If you buy fabric on sale, you can make your napkins for pennies - my 4 napkins cost under 50 cents each
  • As beginners sewing projects go, anyone can do this and be happy with the outcome
  • It's a great beginners sewing project so even kids can do it!

Let's take a look at how easy (and economical) it is to make your own dinner napkins.


What You Need to Make Cloth Napkins

Sewing Machine

Ironing Board and Iron

Scissors or Fabric Cutter

Measuring Tape, Ruler or Measuring Board

Lightweight Fabric of 1-2 Yards

Coordinating thread

Straight Pins (optional)



Wash, dry and press fabric

Wash, dry and press fabric

Step 1:

  • Wash and dry your fabric to remove any finishing materials. This step can be skipped although it is best to start with washed and dried fabric to prevent shrinkage.

Scroll to Continue
  • TIP: Throw in a Shout Color Catcher sheet to retain color of fabric especially if dark colors are used.


Cut your dinner napkins out

Cut your dinner napkins out

Step 2:

  • Press your fabric, lay out on a table or measuring board and cut pieces of fabric to size.

  • TIP: Cut pieces 17 inches x 17 inches or 18 x 18 inches. Perfect size for dinner napkins.


Hemmed edge

Hemmed edge

Step 3:

  • Once pieces are cut out, move to the ironing board and press under a hem on all sides of the fabric 1/4-1/2 inch. Then turn another 1/4-1/2 inch and hem again.

  • TIP: This prevents material from fraying later on after repeated washings.


Double hemmed edges

Double hemmed edges

Step 4:

  • You can pin the hemmed edges with straight pins or you can simply press your double hemmed sides with the iron.

  • TIP: Your double hemmed edges will stay in place as you sew if they have been ironed properly.


Sew your napkin all the way around

Sew your napkin all the way around

Step 5:

  • Sew your napkins on a sewing machine. You can either sew the napkins with your fabric right side up (lining up your thread to sew through your hemmed border as you go) or you can turn the fabric to the underside and sew.

  • TIP: Beginners favor turning the fabric over to the underside so that you can see the hemmed portion easily.

Finished napkin with top stitch showing

Finished napkin with top stitch showing

Step 6:

  • Sew all the way around your napkin.

  • TIP: Back-stitch a bit to prevent the thread from unraveling, cut threads and remove.


4 napkins for under $2

4 napkins for under $2

Step 7:

  • Press napkins with an iron when all are complete.

  • TIP: You can add a bit of fabric sizing when you press the completed napkins. This will give them more resilience if you want to fold them into shapes and also protects them a bit from staining.


Money Saving Ideas for Making Cloth Napkins

** Only buy fabric on sale

** Have a coupon and save even more

** Check close-out bins for fantastic deals

** Check designer decorating fabric aisles

** Buy fabric on line

** Buy coordinating thread in large spindles

** Buy a sewing machine on sale

** Buy a sewing machine on line

Easy Sewing Projects and How To Make Dinner Napkins

Depending upon the width of your fabric, you can make 4-6 napkins from a yard of fabric.  (See chart below for napkin size and yardage needed)

Fabric yardage comes in 36 inch, 45 inch, 54 inch, 60 inch bolts, etc.

For as many fabrics as there are out there, the sky's the limit. You can make dinner napkins in all kinds of patterns and colors.

You can use designer fabrics for a truly elegant look and whip up a set of napkins in under an hour. You can make Christmas napkins or springtime napkins in all colors.  The possibilities are endless and only hampered by your pocketbook and your time.

The only caveat to making your own fabric napkins is to make sure the fabric you choose is washable. You can buy other fabrics that need to be dry-cleaned but that pretty much negates the idea of being eco-friendly or of saving money.


Measurements for Fabric Dinner Napkins - 4 Napkins

Finished Napkin Size

Cut This Size Square

44" Fabric Needed

54" Fabric Needed

16 x 16

17 x 17

1 yard

1 yard

18 x 18

19 x 19

1-1/4 yards

1-1/4 yards

20 x 20

21 x 21

1-1/4 yards

1-1/4 yards

22 x 22

23 x 23

2 yards

1-1/2 yards



More Beginners Sewing Projects

I have all kinds of different dinner napkins in all kinds of fabrics and colors. I find that this is a very inexpensive way to make a table look beautiful no matter what the occasion.

The sky's the limit when it comes to fabrics to choose from and for just pennies, you can contribute in a real way to saving our resources. Think of the paper products not manufactured if we used more cloth napkins!

My fabric dinner napkins have lasted for years and been washed and rewashed, folded and refolded.

Many times, people will come for dinner or lunch and say that they'd rather not get the napkins dirty because they are so pretty. That always makes me smile because that is exactly what I want them to do - use them!

You can also take this beginners sewing project to another level and make smaller napkins for luncheon napkins or cocktail napkins - usually 9 x 9 or 13 x 13 size but again, whatever size you want them to be they can be!

You can also do what I do and make coordinating dish towels for pennies as well. A yard of fabric will make 4 good sized dish towels.

Remember that there is no "fixed" size for napkins (or dish towels for that matter) and let creativity be your guide.

TIP: If you don't like measuring with a measuring board or ruler, you can always use freezer paper or tissue paper to make patterns for your napkins. Simply pin to the fabric and cut out.

I've personally found that this one simple little sewing project is a very satisfying one. It saves money and in a small way helps to save the environment.

It also is a tremendous way to make your meal presentation very personal and lends a warm touch to entertaining or just the every day table setting.

TIP: A set of homemade napkins or two is a great gift. Pair them with some unique napkin ring holders or some round placemats.  You'll get rave reviews!

For more ideas on making your own napkins, see the great sites below.


More Sites on Making Your Own Cloth Napkins

More Hubs by This Author


Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on August 04, 2012:

Thanks for stopping in, Carol~!

carol stanley from Arizona on August 04, 2012:

Well done in explaining how to sew. It will tempt many people to try this project. Great step by step instructions. I voted up for interest and awesome.

Debra Allen from West Virginia on January 10, 2012:

I added your link to my Choosing a Sewing Machine and Learning Hot To Sew. I also rated you up.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on May 23, 2011:

Cross stitch - thanks so much for stopping by and yes, indeed it is a bargain to make them for less!!

Dolores - I know - it's a great thing to pass the time come dreary winter days, too!

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on May 23, 2011:

Hi, Audrey - what a great idea for a gift. And it's not much of a stretch to make matching place mats as well. I love to make Christmas gifts and this is a good one for all the folks who enjoy home made crafts.

Cross stitch on May 13, 2011:

This is a very good and detailed hub. Making 4 napkins for under $2 is a bargain. Thanks

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on May 06, 2011:

Thanks nicolerkilpatrick - glad you liked!

nicolerkilpatrick on May 06, 2011:

Amazing hub, Thanks for information.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on May 05, 2011:

Wonderfully perceptive he was! My hubby often says that himself though - if the guys' is bad...don't GO there - literally!

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on May 05, 2011:

You're most welcome! btw, his assessments were pretty accurate, given that he could only go into the guys' restroom. If he found it clean and stocked, his sisters and I usually weren't disappointed with the ladies' loo. But if he gave the men's loo a thumbs down, his sisters and I would wait for a better one further down the road.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on May 05, 2011:

How hilarious! Thanks for the morning chuckle!

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on May 04, 2011:

That's not the half of it. When he was little, no matter where we went, he'd make a beeline for the restroom. Said it was research for "John's Travel Guide to Johns" he intended to publish someday. We're still waiting... ;D

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on May 04, 2011:

Sounds like something I did, JamaGenee - I'm wondering NOW how the heck I found the time! I do what I can here and there.....too cute on the cloth toilet paper!

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on May 04, 2011:

lol! When my kids were little, I made their clothes (including knitting or crocheting sweaters and stocking caps), also curtains and throw pillows. But the only project that survives from that era are what we call the "John napkins" (his first name, NOT cloth toilet paper!).

To make time pass the last week before his birth, I cut several lengths of cotton prints into 15" squares, machine-sewed a line of stitching an inch or so inside the edge of each, then fringed each and every one by pulling the threads between the edge and the line of stitching while watching TV. A quarter of a century later, they're a bit faded but still in use!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 27, 2011:

I have no doubt that you could do it Om!! Go girl!!

Hanna - Good to know I could create good memories. I love it too - only wish I had more hours in the day!

Hello, hello, from London, UK on April 27, 2011:

I love sewing and used to do all my clothes and curtains. You brought bck some memory back.

Om Paramapoonya on April 27, 2011:

Oh how fun! I have to admit I'm quite inept when it comes to sewing, but with your easy-to-follow instructions, maybe I can pull it off! Rated up and useful. :)

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 26, 2011:

Thanks Carolyn - I love doing it just every once in a while to convince myself I still know how to sew!

carolyn59 from Gainesville, FL on April 26, 2011:

Great article! I enjoy sewing and I am always looking for ideas for gifts and ways to make holiday dinners special.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 25, 2011:

Thanks, Nell - I love getting back to basics and this little project is a great way to get there! Thanks for the read!!

Nell Rose from England on April 25, 2011:

Hi, you have made the impossible happen! I actually want to make these! lol seriously, I am useless at this sort of thing, but I felt even I could make them, it brought back memories of when I was a child, I used to love doing it then, great idea, thanks nell

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 25, 2011:

Thanks Simone!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 25, 2011:

Great guide! I'd love to develop sewing skills someday... and when I do, I can refer to your helpful tips and photos!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 25, 2011:

TS Sally - Great! This is actually what I started out with after many, many years too and it was really fun and I felt VERY successful! Then I moved on to making my own balloon curtains. It really is a lot of fun to just sew something once in a while!

Truckstop Sally on April 24, 2011:

Great hub! I took sewing lessons as a child and haven't done much with them lately. Thinking this is a great project to get started with!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 24, 2011:

Crewman - The "old school" would come from the "old lady" writing it! Ha ha - I've been sewing since I was 13 years old but really enjoy it now that I'm older. Not so much for clothes but just for making things I know I can make for way cheaper than if I tried to buy the things. I love designing my own things like balloon curtains so it seems only natural that I could 'whip up' some napkins....Bob is still wondering how many we need before the Royal Family comes to visit...he swears I'm still working on having enough for 500. That and the pillows.....yikes. I've now started giving them away as parting gifts! Do you think I might be a bit OCD? I'm beginning to wonder about this myself!!

Crewman6 on April 24, 2011:

Very interesting, and rather old-school, project. Perhaps not my cup of tea, but if I spilled my cup of tea, I could certainly wipe it up with home-made cloth napkins.

Thanks for the great suggestions!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 24, 2011:

BJ - Too funny - my son has been yelled at for using them as a handkerchief so that kind of rings true! Good lord...did he never learn manners 101?

Now you will notice, however, that I did not recommend making your own toilet paper.....I draw the line at SOME ways of saving money!

drbj and sherry from south Florida on April 24, 2011:

No, it can't be. You must be kidding, Audrey. Cloth napkins??? Well, I never. I know paper napkins intimately - they are my friends together with paper towels.

But cloth napkins. How can such a thing be? Oh, wait, I do recall those cloth thingies on the tables at fine restaurants. Those must have been cloth napkins. And here I thought they were extra substantial handkerchiefs. I'm so embarrassed. :)

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on April 23, 2011:'s definitely worth dragging it out! My Bob keeps asking me if the entire country is coming to dinner because I have so many napkins. I see fabric on super, super sale and usually pair it with a coupon and then I just simply 'have' to make a new set of napkins. Oh well! There are worse vices!!

Pamela - I know what you mean about the 'bug' of sewing hitting you. I love making napkins or dish towels because it is so simple to do and I save a lot of money doing it - and it's not overly time consuming.

Thanks so much gals for the read and Happy Easter!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 23, 2011:

I used to sew everything including the drapes in my living room but for some reason I just haven't gotten around to it lately but your hub is inspiring to make napkins and even a small tablecloth. Rated up.

SilverGenes on April 23, 2011:

I just love this article! You have inspired me to get out my sewing machine instead of just planning to do it one day. :)

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