At our house, we’ve been exclusively using cloth napkins for a while now.  I typically use quilting cotton for our “regular” napkins, so when I received the cotton and linen yardage from Britex, I almost felt guilty for using such incredible, beautiful fabric essentially for wiping dirty hands and mouths.  But as I worked with the linen in particular, I came to the realization that I wasn’t making a throw-away, disposable item; well-made table linens, from high-quality fabrics are the type of item one might inherit.  That thought made me especially happy since I chose the linen fabric to coordinate with a set of German breakfast dishes handed down to me from my grandmother.  How fitting!

Napkins come in all shapes and sizes, for all occasions.  For more “casual” napkins, I sew a narrow hem and little mitered corners.  For formal, special occasion linen napkins, I use a wider hem and the traditional sewn mitered corner.  This tutorial shows you how to make both!

For either type of napkin, you will need some supplies:

  • rotary cutter, straight edge, and self-healing mat

  • scissors

  • clear quilter’s ruler

  • fabric marking pencil

  • seam gauge

  • tiny crochet hook or point turner

  • spray starch

    *

    Casual Cotton Napkins

    *

    Formal Linen Napkins

    Casual miter-corner napkins

    First up, the casual napkin.  I usually make these out of medium-weight cottons, that can withstand repeated machine washings.  For these napkins, I used cherry red oxford shirting from Britex.  The size of the napkins you want obviously determines how much fabric to buy, but to maximize the fabric usage, I typically make my napkins around 17″ square.  This way, I can get 4 napkins out of a single yard of fabric.  Fat quarter bundles work great for this size.  For today’s tutorial, I made cocktail-size napkins at 9″ square, and could cut 8 napkins from 3/4 yard (58″ width).

    For the casual napkin, if you want it X inch square, you must cut your fabric X+1 inch square to allow for 1/2″ hem allowances on all sides.  Iron the fabric carefully and cut the fabric precisely square.

  • Using steam, press 1/4″ around all four sizes of your fabric square.  I often eyeball this, but use the seam gauge to be more accurate.  If your fabric does not press well, try using spray starch.

  • Next, fold over and press 1/4″ again around all sides.

  • Sorry, I need a manicure!  Then, open out the corner.  You should have some nicely pressed crease lines to guide the next few steps.  (I’m using the seam gauge just to hold down the corner; it’s not measuring anything!)

  • To reduce the bulk and get rid of the unwanted point, cut from corner to corner as created by the second crease lines, as shown.  You may want to mark the line (in blue, below), but I usually don’t bother!

  • Next, fold the fabric at the first pressed crease line on both sides.

  • Then, fold the tip of the triangle down to the intersection of the second pressed crease line.

  • The creases on the folded-down tip should line up to the second crease lines.  Then, fold each side along the second crease line to create the miter.  In the first image, below, only the right side has been folded.

  • Press carefully, and pin if needed.  Then, repeat on the other three corners!  Press again, using starch if needed.

  • Stitch around the very edge of your hemmed sides.  Be creative with your thread color and stitch selection! At the corners, pivot in the ditch created by the miter.

  • After stitching, press again.

  • Voila!  Beautiful and functional napkins, with a neat mitered corner.

Formal mitered corner napkins

  • Next up, the formal mitered corner napkin.  Linen is usually the fabric of choice for formal table linens, so I went with this lovely pale wheat-colored fabric.  For the size of square to cut, there are a couple of decisions to make: the size of your final napkin and the desired width of the edge hem.  For my napkin, the final size is 15″ (luncheon size) and the edge width is 1″.  So, add 15″ + 2″ + 1/2″ (for a 1/4″ double hem on all sides) and the final length of each side should be 17 1/2″.  Measure and cut carefully.

    As with the casual napkin, start off by pressing 1/4″ around all four sides of the square.  With linen, which has a more open weave, I found that spray starch is a necessity for keeping the fabric from distorting.  Use liberally, following the directions, of course!

  • Then, fold and press the width of your edge hem around all sides (1″ for my napkins).

  • Open up the corner to reveal the fold lines.  Do not unfold the 1/4″ crease line.

  • Next, fold the square in half, diagonally.

  • Match up the crease lines created from the second pressing and the edges of the napkin.  Pin in place, if needed, but do not press.

  • Line up the edge of your ruler and the edge of the diagonal fold, positioning the corner of the ruler at the intersection of the crease lines (see below).

  • Draw in the 45 degree diagonal line.  This is your sewing line.

  • Sew along the marked line.

  • Trim the corner as shown below, which reduces the bulk right in the tip of the corner.

  • Turn right side out and use your point turner to make a nice sharp corner.

  • Open up the seam allowance inside the mitered corner to press.  This will help the corner lie very flat.

  • Repeat for the other three corners!  Then, topstitch close to the edge, pivoting in the ditch at the corners.

  • So pretty! I hope my grandkids appreciate these :)

  • Many thanks to Britex Fabrics for supplying the cotton and linen fabrics for this project!