Slip a handmade cloth napkin into a napkin ring for instant style.

Making Luncheon Napkins

by Fern Fischer

Forget wasteful paper napkins. If you can cut fabric squares, you can make your own reusable cloth napkins for family use. Easy-care cotton fabric is soft, washable and absorbent, making it a perfect choice for napkins. Find the supplies you need at any sewing or craft store. Plan on making four, 16- to 18-inch napkins from one yard of 44-inch wide fabric, or make 10-inch square napkins that are just the size for tucking into lunchboxes. Do not worry if you are not comfortable behind a sewing machine -- there is a no-sew method that is right for you.

No Sew Method

Measure and cut yarn-dyed check or solid color cotton fabric into 18-inch squares without prewashing the fabric. To cut accurate squares, use a ruler, fabric pencil and sewing scissors, or use a ruler, rotary cutter and mat. Yarn-dyed woven fabric offers the best choice for no-sew napkins because it looks the same on both sides.

Pull out the woven yarns along the edges of the fabric squares on all four sides to create a fringe about 1/2 inch wide on each edge. Kids can help make the fringe -- fingers are all you need to fringe most woven cotton fabrics. If the weave is tight, simply use a straight pin to nudge the yarns loose so you can pull them out.

Toss the fringed fabric napkins into a washing machine and set a normal cycle, then tumble the napkins dry. The agitation and tumbling actions tangle the fringe so the edges won't continue to unravel.

Rolled Hem Method

Prewash and dry cotton or linen fabric and iron it to remove wrinkles. Measure and cut the fabric into 16- to 18-inch squares.

Fold under and press 1/4 inch along each edge, then fold under again and press each edge to create a 1/4-inch rolled hem all the way around each fabric square.

Machine stitch or hand stitch the rolled hem in place. Personalize your napkins by applying some funky trim along the edges, or use a decorative machine stitch instead. Contrasting thread or variegated thread adds a special touch.

Reversible, Double-Layer Method

Prewash, dry and iron a variety of coordinating cotton fabrics. Measure and cut each fabric into 18-inch squares. You will need two fabric squares for each napkin.

Pin together two squares with right sides facing and edges even. Sew the squares together 1/2 inch from the edges, leaving an unstitched opening about 5 inches long on one edge. Turn the squares right side out through the opening. Press flat along the stitching line to create a smooth edge all around, pressing under the unfinished edges of the opening. Iron the double-layered napkin square. Ensure that both sides are flat and smooth.

Stitch around the napkin 1/16 of an inch from the edge to sew the opening shut and flatten the seam. Topstitch 1/4 inch from the edge using a straight or a decorative stitch.

Sew an all-over design through both layers of the napkin to anchor them together. Simple straight rows or meandering stitching lines are all that is necessary, but you can also sew simple outline shapes such as circles, flowers or hearts.

Items you will need

  • Yarn-dyed, woven check or solid-color fabric
  • Ruler
  • Fabric marker or pencil, optional
  • Sewing scissors
  • Rotary cutter and mat, optional
  • Washer and dryer
  • Print fabrics
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Sewing machine
  • Hand sewing needle, optional
  • Thread
  • Trims and embellishments, optional
  • Straight sewing pins
  • Serger, optional


  • A serger sews bound edges on a fabric square quickly and easily, or use the edge-stitch settings on your sewing machine, if available.


  • Store rotary cutters out of the reach of children with blade covers securely in place.
  • Keep common sewing supplies such as scissors, pins, needles and lengths of ribbon and trim out of the reach of children.

About the Author

Fern Fischer's print and online work has appeared in publications such as Midwest Gardening, Dolls, Workbasket, Quilts for Today and Cooking Fresh. With a broader focus on organic gardening, health, rural lifestyle, home and family articles, she specializes in topics involving antique and modern quilting, sewing and needlework techniques.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images