Until recently, we’ve always been a paper napkin kind of family. But with napkin after napkin destined for the trash after just one dab at the mouth, I’ve started to prefer having washable linen napkins at the dinner table instead.
The only problem with this new affinity is that big box stores tend to have only so many options in terms of colors and pattern. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands — as is tradition — and I DIYed my own napkins using hand-picked fabric swatches from the fabric store. Costing only a couple of bucks a swatch, this technique just can’t be beat.
It all starts with a handful of “Fat Quarters” from the fabric store. These small sections of fabric are inexpensive — again, just a couple of dollars apiece — and come in all sorts of prints. For my own DIY linen napkins, I chose a modern gray and yellow pattern that seemed neutral enough to match a number of tablescape options but still vibrant enough to suit my eccentric taste.
To make your own, first grab an ironing board and iron, and set it to the cotton setting. Iron the entire piece of fabric to get rid of any wrinkles set in from the packaging, and then use the iron to create the shape of your hems. To ensure that my ironed edges came out as crisp as possible, I used a thick piece of cardstock paper as a template. Simply push the edge of the paper up to the fold in your fabric and iron right on top.
Iron all four edges of each piece of fabric twice, first to get an even edge (because the cut of the fat quarter is not perfect) and then folded over and ironed again so that the hem is clean (the ends would fray if I left them exposed on the back of the napkin).
After the fabric is ironed, you may use pins to keep the fabric in place, but after realizing that I was fresh out of pins, I proceeded without and didn’t run into any problems. The ironing allows you enough control over the fabric.
With all of my sides ironed and pressed, I set down to business with a needle and thread. For this particular project, I wanted the fronts of my napkins to look as pristine and professional as possible, so I chose a simple blind hem stitch. This technique is used when you want to hide the stitch on the front.
In case you’re more of an in-motion learner (like I am!) watch this video, which I used to perfect the stitch. Essentially, with the back of the napkin facing you, pull the needle through the back of the hem (not through the front of the napkin). Then bring the thread diagonally down and over, right at the bottom of the hem, and grab one or two threads from the front of the napkin to bind the two. Moving up and over this time, pull the thread through the back of the hem again (as in step one).
Ultimately, you won’t see this stitch from the front, because it will be hidden by the hem. As for the corners, fold the tip in on one side of each corner and sew with a regular straight stitch.
I’m more than a little hooked on this technique, which, once mastered, ended up taking just half an hour or so per napkin. Now I have complete control over the look of our tabletop with my favorite patterns in a completely washable, completely reusable form that I can customize to our taste. Dinner — and style — is served!
Carrie Waller is the writer, designer and stylist behind the blog, Dream Green DIY. Photos courtesy of Carrie Waller.