Somehow the cloth napkins must have been given away when I moved a few years back and I have not had any reason to need them until just this weekend. I thought it would be pretty easy to just run down to the store and pick up a set. However, it was snowy so I did not want to travel far and the nearby stores I visited did not sell cloth napkins. I realized it would be much faster to make a set than it would be to continue to search, I had a lot of things to do before a special dinner for a relative so I ended up at the local fabric store.
Step 1: Here Is What You Need Before You Get Started
Cloth, you can use linen. I opted for a cotton fabric that is easy to care for. Pick a washable fabric in a color that you like. I was using a black table cloth with white china so I wanted a printed black to go with the table cloth. One yard of 44 inch wide fabric will make four 18 x 18" blocks before you finish the edges. Since I had 12 place settings 3 yards was enough. If you only need 4 settings then one yard is enough. If you wanted you could use fat quarters, but it is more economical to purchase whole yards.
Scissors, or rotary cutter. If you are using a rotary cutter you will need a cutting mat, straight edge ruler and a protective glove for the hand that is not holding the rotary cutter.
Thread, match thread color to the fabric. I have included a contrast thread color in the photo, for a hint I will give you later. The thread you use does not have to be contrasting, for this step.
Needle, unless you plan to hem your napkins by hand stitching then you only need this needle for the hint that I promised above. I have a couple of different needle threaders shown above. These are optional, but make it much easier to get the needle threaded.
Sewingmachine or Serger machine.
Narrow hem presser foot. This is optional, depending on how you plan to finish the edges. I will tell you how to use it later.
Step 2: Cut Your Fabric Into 18x18 Inch Squares
I did not take any photographs of this step, but because I was using three yards and a rotary cutter instead of scissors, I folded the fabric into an S shape so that it was a flat three layer, one yard stack of fabric. Next I cut along the very edge of the outer part of each S shape so that now I had three one yard pieces of fabric stacked. With my ruler, I measured 18 inches and cut the full width of the fabric, now there are two stacks of 3 layers of fabric that measure 18x45 each. Make the next two cuts 18 inches from each edge on each stack. There will be 12 pieces 18x18 each and 12 remnants that could be used later for quilt scraps, doll cloths, or hair scrunchies, or even napkin rings, but that would be another Instructable.
If you do not have rotary cutters, mats and straight edges, just measure 18 inch squares and cut them with scissors. You will still get 4 per yard. It will just take a little longer to cut out the pieces.
Step 3: Finish the Edges With a Serger
I was in a hurry to finish the napkins so I used my serger and sewed a serged edge on all four sides of each of the 12 napkins. Sergers sew fast so the 48 18 inch seams took about 15 minutes. If I had had more time I would have used the rolled edge serger settings for a very neat hem, but I just changed the thread to match the napkin and used a fairly standard serged edge. This finish is shown above.
Step 4: Finish the Edge With a Narrow Hem Presser Foot on the Sewing Machine
A more professional finish can be accomplished with the narrow hem presser foot and a regular sewing machine. The presser foot has a spiral arm that guides the edge of the fabric under and holds it in place while the machine sews over it. To use this finish, place the right side of the fabric down, lift the edge and place it into the spirals of the presser foot. The first image shows the foot. The fourth image shows a good start and how the fabric rolls.
Hint: To make the fabric easier to feed through the foot, you can tie a little piece of thread on the corner of the napkin. See the second photo above. Use the string to help pull the fabric into the foot. See the second and third photos above. By tugging gently you can help coax the fabric into the foot. Once the needle catches the fabric it gets easier. Then you only need to be sure the little edge of fabric continues to feed into the presser foot, see the fourth image above. Use the scraps to practice before you begin work on the napkins.
Step 5: Hand Finish the Edge
If you do not have a sewing machine,or serger but would like to make cloth napkins, press the edges under and hand stitch a hem. It will take longer but still be a beautiful edge.
No matter how you finish the edges on your napkins, they can perfectly match your decor and cost you much less than the ones offered in stores. There are many choices for colors and fabrics so you can even make special napkins from "novelty print" fabrics for special occasions like birthdays, your favorite holidays, or other themes.
To save even more purchase your fabric when there is a sale, or use store coupons and purchase all fabric in one cut. By this, I mean a 50% off coupon will only apply to one cut of non-sale price fabric, so do not ask the store to cut your squares. Most stores will not do it anyway but if they did, your 50% discount would only count for one of the pieces of fabric. Purchase enough fabric to make all of the pieces you need at the same time.