Sunday, February 1, 2015

How to Make Cloth Napkins (Unpaper Towels)


One of the ways I started off my whole green journey was to switch from using paper towels to cloth napkins. At first this felt a little funny because I found myself not wanting to get them dirty, but once my paper towel stash ran out, I dove into to using cloth napkins and have never looked back.

In the beginning I bought a lot of cloth napkin sets off Etsy.com because I love supporting the shop owners there and since I didn't know how to sew, this was a perfect option for me.  But over time I started looking closer at the napkins (literally) and one day I thought, "Wait a minute, that doesn't look too hard...maybe I can make these myself."


After borrowing my mother-in-law's serger, and a little trial and error, I figured out how to make them.  Since then I've made several sets and I love not only the savings I get from making them myself, but it's also kind of fun to pick out your own fabric and know you made them yourself.

In case you're wondering, here's a little breakdown of the price savings:

Make them yourself: 1 yard of fabric (snuggle printed flannel) for $4-6= 16 napkins

Buy them on Etsy.com: 16-20 napkins= $20-30 + shipping costs

As you can see, by making your own cloth napkins you can save around $20 and that's just for one set of napkins!

Just a head's up, these napkins do require a "serger"...so if you don't have one (like me) you might ask around to see if you can use a friend's or a family member's for this project.  you could try this project without "serging" the edges, but they would start to unravel soon after you put them in the laundry

Check out this week's video to see how to make the napkins:


No time for the video? Check out the pictures below!

Step 1: Get your fabric.
At Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Store I get "Snuggle Printed Flannel" (follow the link to see all the prints available).  The best part of Jo-Ann is that they have sales often, so as you can see by the picture below, the fabric was %40 off when I bought it so the price dropped from $6.99 a yard to $4.19 a yard. 
My fabric shopping partner.

As you can tell there were lots of choices (they had
2 full aisles of the snuggly flannel fabric in all colors
and styles). 
Here's the ones I chose for this time around. Word of caution:
I try to avoid fabric with large areas of white, I find it's hard to keep the white
looking, well...white! So I stick to other colors instead.

2. Assemble your supplies/equipment.
As you can see the main piece of equipment you'll need is a serger. I personally don't have one, but my mother-in-law does so whenever I need to make cloth napkins I always head over to her house.

Her serger is similar to this one on Amazon. 

Other equipment needed:
a yard stick
fabric scissors
(Really you could get by with a yard stick and fabric scissors
 if you needed to, the other equipment just makes for quicker
measuring and cutting, but it's not required.)
Here's my mother-in-law Cheryl who so kindly let me borrow her serger and
other sewing equipment (oh and who taught me how to use the serger!).


Step 3: Cut the fabric
So this is the step that freaks me out the most, I'm not sure if it's because I'm worried I will mess up and waste fabric, or because I feel like I never seem to cut fabric in a straight line...either way, I've been working on being more "brave" with my fabric cutting.

When it comes to cutting one yard of fabric, we are going to cut it into 16- 9x9 inch squares, here's how we'll do it...
1. Start by folding your yard of fabric in half and then in half again.
You'll be left with a 1/4 section like the one shown above.
You could cut off the selvage or just leave it (we will cut it next)
2. Next count over 18" (inches) from the left-hand side  of the fabric and using the quilter's
ruler, make sure the measurement matches at the bottom and the top of the fabric.

3. Now using the rotary cutter, cut the fabric. 

4. Now you'll be left with an 18 x 18" square. Next we will cut it in half
to give us 2-9" columns. So measure over 9" from the left-hand side of the fabric,
line up your quilter's ruler and cut the fabric.

5. Next we will cut the 2 columns in half to give us 4-9" squares. So measure
9" up from the bottom of the fabric, line up your quilter's ruler, and cut the fabric.

6. Now take your fabric scissors and cut along the areas of fabric that have been
folded.

Here's the freshly cut napkins...whew, I'm glad that part is over!

A side note: here's the extra fabric you'll have left after cutting it. You could
sew these into small cloth napkins if you wanted. Or instead of getting 1 yd.
of fabric you could get 1 1/2 yds. and be able to make another couple of napkins
and not have to waste this much fabric...I'm going to try that next time.
I'll keep you posted how it works.

Step 4: Round the corners of the napkins
Rounded corner are much easier to "serge" than straight ones, so now we'll cut the corners to be rounded.

1. Pre-rounded corners, you'll want to use some fabric scissors.

2. Fold the napkin in half, then in half again, and cut the corner slightly
to round it off.

3. It will look about like this. I try to double up the napkins
when I cut them so it doesn't take as long.

Here's a finished stack of rounded napkins and the leftover corners.

Step 5: Serge the edges
Okay now it's "go time"...you can do this! I always get a little anxious before I start the first napkin, but once I get going, it's actually really easy.

Luckily my mother-in-law got the serger all set up for me with white
thread so all I had to do was sit down, line up my napkin, and start sewing.

As you can see here, I line up the edge of the fabric with the edge of the "presser foot"
which basically holds the fabric in place...then off I go.

I find I can speed up a little on the straight edges...

...but then I always make sure to slow it down when nearing the corners.

It takes a little prep to start turning it before it's actually there, but after some
practice it gets easier.

Then you're back to the straight lines (my favorite part).

Say "hello" to her cute cat, Olaf. Be sure to watch the end of the video for
some outtakes with him. He was a my sewing buddy that day.

To finish off the napkins, return to the spot where you started and "serge"
over it about 1/2 inch to an inch then start to veer off the fabric.

Here I've "veered" off the fabric and now I have a little "tail" of the thread.

Then cut the thread as close as you can to the napkin.

It will look about like this when it's done. I'm sure there's a fancier way to
finish off the edges, but for now this one works for me.  Maybe on my next
round of napkins I'll experiment with a new finishing technique. 
Now you're ready to start on the next napkin and repeat the steps listed above
15 more times...or for me 47 more times! 

Here I am working on my last napkin! I love how relaxing sewing can be, but
sitting in one place for 3 sets of fabric can be a bit tiring, so be sure to take
some breaks (I know I did). 

Last, you can iron them if you want. I usually do this if I'm giving them to someone
as a gift. But if they are just for me, I toss them right into my cloth napkin
drawer and start using them right away.
The finished napkins...

Here's a closer look at the finished napkins...can you guess which one is for
Avery?  ( :



If you guessed pink, you're right! As expected,
she put it to use right away as a blanket for
her pink teddy bear. 
Want to learn more about my favorite uses for cloth napkins, as well as how I clean and store them? Check out this post: "How I Use, Clean & Store Cloth Napkins"

Click here to read more.

So that's how I make my cloth napkins/unpaper towels. Have you ever tried making cloth napkins before? If so, how did you do it? What fabric did you use? 

If you end up making a set, be sure to tag me on Instagram @ashleysgreenlife. I'd love to see them!

Happy sewing greenies. 

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