How to Make Cocktail and Dinner Napkins

comments (11) October 30th, 2008     

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MaryRay Mary Ray, contributor
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Beautiful, generous, easy-to-sew dinner napkins add a special elegance to your holiday table.
Give your linens a personal touch with painted designs using fabric paint like Lumiere by Jacquard.
A stack of cocktail napkins you’ve crafted yourself makes a perfect hostess gift.
Beautiful, generous, easy-to-sew dinner napkins add a special elegance to your holiday table.

Beautiful, generous, easy-to-sew dinner napkins add a special elegance to your holiday table.

Photo: Mary Ray
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Beautifully hemmed cloth napkins make any table special, whether the style is formal or casual. And it’s easy to make them part of your holiday décor—add a hand-painted motif, some decorative stitching, or let the beautiful hem provide all the detail. Sew up some generous dinner napkins or scale them down to cocktail size. I’ll show you how to master the miter and give you some ideas for embellishing table linens for any occasion.

  Give your linens a personal touch with painted designs using fabric paint like Lumiere by Jacquard.

A stack of cocktail napkins you’ve crafted yourself makes a perfect hostess gift.

Choose the perfect fabric.
I suggest using linen (perfect for a more formal table), cotton, or a blend of the two. Synthetic fibers, like polyester, make ironing easier, but it’s very hard to remove stains from poly and poly blends—and napkins will definitely get stains. For more casual napkins, check out your local quilt shop for some great cotton holiday prints. You can skip the embellishment with a print, but a mitered hem is a great finishing touch on both solid and printed fabric.

Cut accurately.
1. Determine the size of the finished napkins. Measure some you have that seem just right or use the dimensions I used for my cocktail and dinner napkins: The cocktail napkins are 9 inches x 9 inches finished and the generous dinner napkins are 21 inches x 21 inches finished.

2. It’s important that you start by finding the exact grain on the fabric. Do this by pulling a thread across the width at one end or square up a line from the selvage. Tearing across the width of cotton fabric will also give the straight grain.

3. Cut a square for each napkin, using the established grainline as a guide, that’s 1 inch larger on each edge than the finished napkin size. (For a 9-inch cocktail napkin, cut an 11-inch square). To form the hem, turn in and press 1 inch all around. Then press under 1/4 inch on each edge.

Turn in a 1-inch hem, then turn in the raw edge 1/4 inch.

Miter the corners.
1. Mark the point where the inner folded edges intersect with two pins.

With two pins, mark the point where the hem edges intersect at the inside corner.

2. Open the hem, keeping the 1/4-inch fold in place, and turn right sides together, matching pin marks.

3. Mark a line from the outside corner of the hem to the pins (the inside corner) and pin the two layers together.

Draw a line from the outside corner to the inside corner (the point where the hem edges intersect).

4. Stitch diagonally along the marked line.

Sew along the line.

5. Turn the corner to the right side to check that the miter fits.

Always check to be sure the miter is just right before trimming away the excess fabric.

6. Turn inside out again, then trim away the excess fabric, making a 1/4-inch seam allowance.

Trim the seam allowance to 1/4 inch.

7. Press this seam open. Turn right side out and press.

Press the seam open. (This is the perfect time to use a point presser and pounding block that I wrote about last week).

8. Sew the hem in place along the inner fold and admire your miter!

Sew the hem in place along the inside fold, pivoting at the corners.

Hand-paint an image at the corner of each napkin using fabric paint. Do this freehand or cut a stencil to use as a guide to paint the shape, then add detail with a small brush.

For uniform hand-painted designs, cut a stencil from posterboard or mylar to use as a guide.

Use a decorative machine stitch, like the blanket stitch, to sew the hem in place. Variegated thread expands the design.

A simple blanket stitch, sewn with variegated thread, is all you need to create an heirloom detail that's pretty on both sides of the napkin.

If you like to embroider—by hand or machine—add an embroidered design.


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Comments (11)

Jaimemx writes: Hi! Enjoyed all the comments, but I am new to all this and would like to know if someone can tell me how to do this stitch: I saw napkins that were sewn and next to the stitch were holes. I thought I saw a vid on line where they sewed napkins and one of the stitches showed where a hole was made while sewing. I know it was made by the needle, but now I can't find out how to do it. Please help. I have noticed in stores this pattern on beautiful plain napkins. Straight stitched, mitered corners, but with this little hole running along side the stitch. I am new to all this and just bought my first zigzag machine. Always used straight stitch machines before. I am excited to try new things. Thanks for your help.
Posted: 3:05 pm on November 13th
HunterMama writes: This may be an odd question, but how did you do the blanket stitch positioned like that on the dinner napkins?
Posted: 4:25 pm on November 10th
kenhott writes: Thank You so much for the tips. Moved to a new town and can't find my table linens. Rather make my own.
Posted: 7:37 pm on February 15th
nanaof24 writes: What type of linen did you purchase and where did you purchase???

Posted: 8:11 pm on December 17th
OldDusty writes: I made Christmas napkins from fat quarters for an Elegant Dinner we had at church. Everyone was amazed. It was not that hard. I used two different prints and they looked great. I also crocheted napkin rings which added to the elegance. Thanks for providing the instructions and pictures.
Posted: 9:23 am on December 24th
bitchinstitch writes: Thanks for the great tutorial! I've included it in my Hemming Roundup.
Posted: 11:14 am on July 21st
Cyndiella writes: These are lovely! I have been wanting to make some cloth napkins. Sometimes they seem too plain, but if you use too much embellishment it gets in the way of using the napkin. As well as being pretty, a napkin needs to be functional. Your mitered corners and decorative stitch are a nice balance of pretty and functional. I plan to make some of these.
Posted: 11:47 am on November 6th
Jen1964 writes: What a winner! And so simple... & elegant. I could see it as a gift idea for some, too. For us, in our little city, cloth napkins are one of those things that sets the atmosphere, and cheers up the tiny space. They're the over-the top welcome for people who come to your table. (Yes I assume the food's already great, and the people happy to have you.) That and flowers or candles. In fact, don't ever underestimate the power of a pretty table to draw teenagers back to the family dinner. We aren't above migrating, napkins & candles and all, to the T.V. once in a while, too. Bend to the mood of the family, and they'll make room for each other better. Treat them like your best company, and they'll always feel welcome and loved.
Posted: 6:34 am on November 4th
ModernDaySeamstress writes: Thank you for this great pattern and idea! I have been wanting to make some napkins to try to cut down on paper products, now I can make them with style!
Posted: 6:02 pm on October 31st
MaryRay writes: I used Sulky Blendable Thread, 100% cotton, 30 wt.
There are other brands of blendable or variegated thread -- for example, YLI has one and so does Superior Threads (called King Tut). I love the blendables for quilting and embellishing. It's such as easy way to add pizzaz!
Posted: 9:53 am on October 31st
paintchipgirl writes: Mary, these are beautiful! What kind of thread did you use on that blanket stitch -- just an all-purpose thread or something special? I have a regular sewing machine (not an embroidery machine) and want to be able to use the special stitches functions. But regular thread looks too unspectacular. Thanks for a great tutorial.
Posted: 9:00 am on October 31st
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