Saturday, August 30, 2014

Eco-Friendly Cloth Napkins in a Gazillion Quick and Easy Steps!

The true beauty of my cotton prints from India is that they have been printed using the most natural of dyes. In fact, the whole process is completely natural from start to the finish, when the yards and yards of printed and boiled fabric are finally hung and left to dry in the sun. There is no weird chemical sizing or surface sheen added and the natural, rather than synthetic, fibers are wonderfully absorbent. For these reasons, there was no way I could not offer cloth napkins made from this beautiful fabric in my shop. And what fabulous napkins they are! I dined with one just last night and I am in love.

The problem I face, is that they are somewhat time consuming to make. Not difficult, once you get the hang of it, but the word "tedious" does come to mind! Time consuming, but simple, items are very hard to price and harder to sell at even a minimal profit. I am selling the napkins, in sets of two, for $15. That is $7.50 per napkin, of course, and $30 for four. I'm worried that might seem too expensive for some, and since I'm really more in the fabric selling business than the napkin sewing business, I want to offer this tutorial on napkin making so that you, if you purchase my fabric, could make a set of four for only $12.50(plus shipping)! I will teach you to make mitered cornered napkins, which is the nicest way to do it in my opinion.

I'm going to try not to be too chatty with this since there are quite a few steps and it does require a certain amount of razor-sharp concentration to even figure out what it is you are seeing in each photo! I speak from experience because I learned how to make these by searching the internet for the best tutorials and was very confused most of the time. Hopefully I can add a small piece of clarity to the situation!

Here are the basic materials required, although I will mention a few other helpful items along the way. 

cutting mat with grid
rotary cutter
ruler or straight edge

The hera marker really cuts down on the time and tedium when it comes to mitered cornered napkins! It will also make your folds and borders much more uniform.  I have found this little tool so useful in so many projects, I urge you to get one for yourself! No, I don't sell them…but perhaps I should (note to self)!

Another thing that is super useful is just a simple paper square (mine is actually bristol board) cut to the size you are going to begin with. This is even more important if you are going to make lots of napkins because you won't have to carefully measure everything out with your ruler or cutting board. In this case, we are starting with an 18" square so that we can get four napkins out of one yard of fabric. It could be a smaller square, but it can't be larger (18" + 18" = 36", or one yard)! Mark the vertical and horizontal centers of the square so that you can have the fabric placed on your napkin the way you want it.

Fold your yard of fabric in half, bringing the two selvedges together. Trim and tear selvedges, same distance from each of their edges. You can tear both selvedges at the same time. Then clip and tear down the center fold. You will then have two pieces of fabric instead of one! Take each, fold the long way, and clip and tear at the fold. This gives you four fat quarters, or four approximately 18" x 22" rectangles. You can actually make your napkins from the rectangles or these could easily be mitered cornered placemats! However, we are going to trim on down to the 18" square. Square napkins are nice because then you have the option to fold them into nice triangles for your table setting. 

If your fabric print has any sort of geometry or direction to it, you will need to find the center of your napkin using the handy paper square with the lines on it. The vines on this particular fabric print create almost undetectable vertical stripes. However, they are detectable enough that I want those evenly centered on the square. 

Use your ruler on top of your paper edge to trim all around with your rotary cutter. You could also mark it and cut with scissors if you don't happen to have a rotary cutter. 

Now, we prepare to use the hera marker. Turn your fabric so that the wrong side is facing up. Hard to tell with this fabric because both sides look almost the same, which is another reason they make great napkins!

With a mitered corner border, you need the size of the actual border and the size of what you are going to fold under the border so that you don't have the nasty raw edges. In this tutorial, the turn-under will be a half inch and the border will be one inch. Mark the half inch point all along each side of the napkin. The photo shows which edge of the hera marker to use, but you do need to pick that up and use it like a pencil or cutting tool along the ruler edge. The hera marker makes a visible crease to help you see where you need to sew and it also folds easily on that mark when it's time to iron.

Next, you will mark again one inch in from the mark you previously made. Or, in other words, an inch and a half from the fabric edge. This is where the gridded cutting mat is so very essential! Continue to mark all four sides. 

Not to distract you, but there is a short cut for the marking. You COULD fold your fabric into a triangle  (right sides together) and simply mark two sides instead of four. Not the folded edge, but the other two. First edge as seen above….

…and then the other. It saves time but the marks won't be quite as visible on the layer beneath and will be on the right side rather than the wrong side of the fabric. The marks aren't such a problem, but they will not want to fold quite as easily.  I have done it this way, and worked with the obstacles, but prefer the "long way", to tell you the truth. When it is time to iron, the "long way" pays off. 

Whichever way you choose, you should have  a barely visible version of the same four intersecting lines, making a square, seen above. 

And now you really do need to fold your napkin into a triangle with the right sides together. The wrong side of fabric with the marks should be where your eyes can see it! Observe in the photo above how two lines are coming together right where the fold is. Those are very important lines! You are going to make THE MOST IMPORTANT mark starting there! A common mistake is to make that most important mark where the half-inch turn-under mark is and you must be careful not to do that. The mark is made where the two one-and-a-half-inch border marks meet the fold of your folded triangle.

But first you have to fuss with the edges a bit. This is the half inch fold-under once we get things turned around the right way. With the hera marker marks, especially if you did it the "long way", they should fold right up. We need to get them folded up because we are going to sew them down. What? Are you still with me? Concentrate! Also, see how I have placed those very important lines right at one of the grid lines. There is a reason for that.

Place your ruler along that grid line. Run the hera marker along that ruler edge. I suppose you could be using a fabric marking pen or pencil for all of this but those don't help with the folding aspect of this project.

If you happen to have one, a plastic ruler eliminates the need for the gridded mat at this point. Just line up the lines  that run ACROSS your ruler with the folded edge of your fabric triangle. Then put the vertical edge right where the two very important lines meet the folded fabric edge. Mark with whatever you are marking with (hopefully a hera marker).

No plastic ruler? You could also just use a business card, or any corner of paper for that matter, and do the same as above. The plastic ruler or paper corner methods are faster for this phase because you don't have to position your little triangle with all it's delicate folds exactly on the gridded mat. 

Whichever method you choose, there is your creased hera mark for the mitered corner. Long way to go for a picnic, right? 

Another very important moment. You must have your two folded "turn-under" edges matching up exactly. Stick a pin in it and you are ready to sew! Well, after you mark and pin the other three corners! Of course, once you mark the corner on the opposite side, you will need to re-fold your fabric triangle going the other way. 

Line up your needle with the marked line. Luckily you don't have to start on the very edge, but you do want to start somewhere on top of that folded "turn-under". Most tutorials do not sew that down and I have no idea why. Make your first stitch, back stitch to lock, then sew that short little way to the other end of the mark. Back stitch at the end to lock that stitch. Repeat on the other three corners.

Clip all the annoying thread ends off neatly. Do you see how my scissors are hovering over one of those marked lines? Clip there but be careful to stop just short of the stitches. 

I think you can see here. Cut at that angle but not past the end of the stitched line because that is the very corner of your napkin, as you will soon see. 

Clip again, parallel to and about 1/4th inch away from the stitched line.

Like so.

Use your fingers to open the seam allowances (the ones you just clipped). Just sort of hold them open….

….as you flip the corner right side out. Do that on all four corners.

Use your favorite pointy tool (chop stick, end of paint brush, pencil) to push the points of your lovely corners out so they are as pointy as can be. In the photo, I am using what is called a bone folder. It is a book binding tool that has just the right amount of point. It will make things pointy without poking a hole in the fabric! You want to avoid making a hole after all your hard work!

Before I go over to the ironing board, I like to find all my hera marked folding guides and fold them by pinching (finger pressing) so they will be easier to find when I am ironing. Doing that while ironing tends to result in burned fingers.

Now we are at my very flowery ironing board. Good idea to press the corners first, that sort of works to stabilize the sides somehow.

Then iron the outer edge. Ironing the inside edge, with the half-inch turn-down, is the trickiest part so it helps to have the other elements in place first.

Now we have a fifteen inch square with a one inch border and nicely mitered corners. At this point, you could cut a square of sturdier fabric, or even batting covered in fabric, to fit inside the "frame" - especially if you stuck with the 18" x 22" size - and call it a placemat! But, for now, we shall complete the napkin…

Most people would insist on top stitching on top, but actually if you have the tension, needle size and thread right, your stitches should look the same on both sides. If you edge stitch along the inner edge of the border, you can be sure to have that looking a little more even. Here, I am lining up the inside edge of the border with my 1/8" tape marker on the left side of my presser foot. The tape is a little hard to see in the photo, I realize.

But, of course, we can also do it the "right way"! Since the border is one inch, just find some guide on your sewing machine to help you sew a border that is about 6/8ths of an inch wide. That should have the stitches landing easily within the border on the reverse side.

And that's all there is to it! Except you need to make three or five…..maybe seven more…. help!

or you could purchase them from

No comments:

Post a Comment