How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels

September 19, 2019

I don’t know about you, but I personally prefer fabric napkins over paper. They work better, you only need one per meal, they don’t kill trees and they don’t add to landfills. What I don’t like is how most fabric napkins are not absorbent or really useful at all. When you go to a fancy dinner out, and put that napkin on your lap, you know it will keep your lap clean since nothing absorbs into it. It just sits on top. So what to do? I am always on the lookout for good kitchen towels too because it is hard to find any that function properly. When I find good kitchen towels I tend to buy a few extra packs. I then turn them into fabric napkins. This is a great project for the beginner sewer and it doesn’t require many fancy tools. Keep reading if you would like to learn how to make fabric napkins!

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pinning fabric to make a fabric napkin
How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
Plain old kitchen towels.

Whatever kind of kitchen towels you like and think works well would make a good choice for fabric napkins, except maybe super-duper thick terrycloth with large loops. I’ve done these with thicker flour towel material (no loops, tightly woven) with good results but this time I decided to go with thin terry cloth on one side and a tight weave on the other. I bought two packs of two.

Now, something I will admit I didn’t think about when buying these towels for this purpose was making a hem with the thicker terry cloth loops. You’ll see why soon. This is what the original edges looked like:

How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
Woven, manufacturers edges.

Kitchen towels are tooooooo big to use at the table and they’d probably make more of a mess if you accidentally knock over your chocolate milk with the end of the towel.

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How do we make these into fabric napkins?

We simply cut them in half. Since these towels are not made very straight to begin with, I’m not worried about measuring as precisely as usual. When you’re making a quilt, you need very VERY precise measurements. This project, not so much. In fact, I’m not even bringing any measuring tools out to figure out the size of the napkins. It’s just half a towel and the easiest and quickest way to find half is to fold it in half. Take the short edges and match them up while on a flat surface. I used a pin to mark the edge, the halfway point.

How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
Halfway point on previously hemmed edge.

I did pull out my cutting mat, clear quilting ruler and rotary cutter for this, it was quick to cut through the four towels and then put it right back away. If you don’t have a rotary cutter, mark the cut line on the towel well, use really sharp scissors and it will work just fine.

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A little messy, but no worries.

On my towels, because of the terry loops, it was shedding like mad. I just brushed off my cutting mat and kept going. Since it’s shedding and it’s a cut edge that we don’t want to see when they’re sewn up, we will fold the cut edge over twice to make a nice double hem. What is a double hem, you ask? It is when we take a small edge of the fabric and fold it over twice keeping the depth of the fold the same for the entire length of the item we want to hem. Folding it over once (like the picture below) is called a single hem. Kinda self-explanatory. If you don’t have terry loops and the towel is very tightly woven it probably won’t shed very much but you’ll still want to do the double hem. Makes it look nice and pretty…


How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
Single hem, still looks untidy, which is why we fold again for a double hem

Fold the cut edge over about ½ an inch or something similar to the manufactured edge on the other side of the towel. The thicker the towel, the wider the hem should be. It’s difficult to sew a thin hem with thick fabric, especially for a beginner. You can pin the edge as you go on this first fold, or you can fold a few inches worth of the edge in that ½ inch and then fold it in again, lining up the ends so your fold doesn’t go over the manufacturers end. I personally can’t stand when the hem goes over the edges they are supposed to line up with.

How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
After folding over the first time and holding in place, fold the bottom edge again and secure the end with a pin. Make sure the folded edge does not go over that bottom edge.
How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
You don’t have to do it all at one time, you would need four hands to do that. As long as you are consistent with your hem depth (the amount folded over) you can just fold and pin along down the length of the fabric.

Thick hems are a little tricky to pin, they require a little finesse. Try to grab the fabric from the absolute right hand edge (if you’re a righty and this is how you normally pin) and then try to make the pin go all the way under to the opposite edge and just barely catch that side with the pin as you come up and out of the fabric. If you try to grab too little of the hem, the needle will want to bend to accommodate the thickness of the towel. If you don’t like to pin in the position shown, just flip the fabric the way you need to to pin, just remembering to grab just the edges.

How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
Be careful pinning such a thick hem.
How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
Go from edge to edge to have as much fabric on the pin as possible, almost the entire hem.
How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
That bottom edge of the hem as seen in this picture, does not go over the bottom, perpendicular edge. This is a good thing and what we want.

If you feel like this thick edge is too tough to pin, you can always turn the pins to run parallel to the edge as seen below. Key here is making sure the head of the pin (in this case the little flower) is facing you and the point is facing away from you when putting the towel into the machine to sew. That way you can pull out the pins as you go. We’ll talk about sewing with pins in a little bit. Plus the pins aren’t sticking out as far, pins hurt when you stick yourself with them, this just puts them in a position where you are less likely to bloody your project… (I speak from personal experience.)

This way is easier to pin, you can grab more fabric with the pin because you have the entire hem length to grab the fabric instead of just the width. However, I do not care for the wobbliness caused by the pins, see how the edges are not so straight.

How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
This is another way you can pin if having the pins stick out scares you.

Onto the machine:

After you have pinned your hem, bring the towel over to the machine. I chose a thread that matched the grey. It just so happens to be my mysterious ‘Manatee’ thread that I swear matches just about everything. You can read about it here.

How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
I have taken out the first pin and used the machine’s needle to hold the top of the edge.

I like to sew thick things in a little bit away from the absolute edge, there is a lot to grab so I want to make sure I’m actually grabbing it. Use an edge of the presser foot (the part of the machine that comes down and holds the fabric in place so you can sew without it shifting too much) to line up the left side of the hem. Sew all the way down the left side of the hem.

How to make it secure

I used some tacking stitches at the top (when you start a line of sewing, go about an inch, then put your machine in reverse to go back to the starting point, switch to forward again and sew all the way down to the stopping point.) and the bottom (To replicate the tacking stitches at the bottom, sew all the way down to your stopping point, put your machine in reverse and sew backwards about an inch, then stitch forward again to the bottom edge. This secures your sewing.)

Perfection rearing its ugly head, again

This one hem would suffice but I tend to be a perfectionist. I looked at the manufacturers original hem and was very flat. I just did the same procedure again, this time on the right hand side, using my presser foot as a guide. The second line holds the fabric down so the hem is flatter. I then went back and sewed a second line on the manufacturers hem to replicate the hem I just made. Overkill, I know.

How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
Second and final line of stitching.

Comparing hems

How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
Left: original manufacturers hem
Middle: my hem
Right: manufacturers hem with my second line of stitching

There really isn’t much difference between hems and that is what we are going for, we don’t want our hem to stick out like a sore thumb. (I need to look up where that saying originated. Sayings like that are intriguing and I tend to use them, often so I feel I should at least know their origin)

How to Make Fabric Napkins using Kitchen Towels -
Finished product

Enjoy your new fabric napkins! I like to use them for a full day and then I toss them in with laundry. Sometimes if it is not too messy of a meal I’ll throw them in with regular clothes, otherwise I wash them with the other towels. Enjoy the savings when you stop buying paper napkins, they are more expensive that you would think!

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A little something extra:

Pins: what to do with them as you’re sewing?

Do you sew over the pins, or take them out? It depends. The sewing machine manufacturers say to always take them out. I have friends who refuse to take them out and sew everything with them in. What happens when you sew over a pin? You can damage your machine by sewing over the pin. When your machine needle hits a pin, it will either slide to the side of the pin, since it cannot penetrate it, and go into the fabric a little off center. Or, it will hit the pin and the needle will break. Broken needles happen and yes they are a pain, but usually not a reason to stop sewing.

They stink because:

● you broke something that costs money and you can’t sew on a machine without one

● broken needles are sharp

● broken needles sound scary, like your machine is eating metal, which it sort of is

● broken needles sometimes break into several pieces, not just two

● you need to make sure you have all the needle pieces before continuing to sew

● you can damage the interior workings of the machine, the needle goes into the machine in a very precise way, to mess with it could make your machines timing go funny resulting in bad stitches

● you can scratch the needle plate (the place the needle goes down into the machine) and that can catch on your fabric

● you get the point, no pun intended…

So what do I recommend?

I recommend taking the pins out to keep your machine in good working order. So what do I personally do? This is one of those ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ moments, but let me explain. I take the pins out when I’m nearing the moving needle. I do however, keep pins in that were a pain to pin in the first place. You figure, if that fabric/seam/hem was giving me hard time pinning, it’s going to give me a hard time sewing it. I will generally slow down the machine so that it is doing single stitches very slowly. At this speed you can probably tell whether or not it is going to hit the pin.

I also like to use the hand wheel to go super slow, that way I can get the machine to the absolute last point before the needle would hit the pin and sink the needle into the fabric at the same time as pulling out the pin. Remember, the hand wheel in on the right side of the machine and you ALWAYS turn it towards you, NEVER away from you. This does take a little practice, but I don’t like the idea of breaking my machine so it’s worth it. I will admit I have sewn with the pins in place before and probably will in the future, but it makes me super nervous and I have broken needles. I kind of learned my lesson, let’s just say I take it on a case by case basis. At least I’m honest! Want to see what kind of pins I use? See the post about my Favorite Sewing Things (part one). I found them at good ole Joann’s Fabric and Crafts. (I am not an affiliate, I sadly don’t make any money when you buy from this link, I just like showing you where I get my goodiesw

Have any questions? Did I miss something or something doesn’t make sense, please email me!

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Pinning an edge getting it ready to sew

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