One of the many reasons I was excited for my mom to come visit is that she knows how to sew. I do not know how to sew. I had borrowed a sewing machine from my friend, Jenn, and aside from some baby pants, the machine hadn’t gotten much use. I didn’t know where to start or what to make. So, the sewing machine gathered dust in the closet.
My mom has sewed for as long as I can remember. Over the years she has made me baby clothes, a pillow, and recovered a couch with sheets. They were Ralph Lauren sheets. That couch was awesome.
For my mom, it seemed like sewing came in waves. She would get into it for a while and then lose interest or get busy with
three kids other things.
Then I got pregnant. Then my sister got pregnant. My mom has been in a sewing frenzy ever since. Nursing covers, car seat covers, burp cloths, crib sheets…if it’s baby related she has probably sewn it.
With all this recent sewing experience under her belt, it was my hope that her visit would turn into a sort of Sewing 101. Maybe she could show me a few things so I felt like I had my feet on the ground with sewing and could proceed without her peering over my shoulder.
And that, my friends, is exactly what happened.
On our way out of Rocky Mountain National Park, we stopped at a quilting shop in Lyons. While browsing through the fabric, I started poking around in the bins of fat quarters. A fat quarter is a quarter yard of fabric that is cut the “fat” or wide way instead of the long way. I wondered aloud if I could use a stack of fat quarters to make some cloth napkins. Nothing fancy. Just some everyday napkins. Mom agreed that they would work well and that cloth napkins would be a good first project.
I chose this fabric. It is Cocoa by Monaluna for Robert Kaufman.
Once we got the fabric home, the first task was to wash it. You always want to wash your fabric before you do anything with it so that you aren’t foiled by shrinkage after creating your sewing masterpiece. Because dinner napkins are usually 18 or 20 inches square, we needed to wash the fabric to determine exactly what size the final napkins would be.
As we were unfolding the fat quarters, Mom noticed that some of the unfinished edges were already fraying.
Before we threw the fabric in the laundry, we ran a zigzag stitch as close to the unfinished edges as possible. This would help to conserve as much of the fabric as possible because once the cloth frayed to the stitch line, it would stop and not fray any farther.
This is what it looked like after it came out of the laundry.
See how much it frayed?
The next task was to “square” the fabric and trim it to the final size before sewing. I should have taken more pictures of this, but I’ll try and explain it as clearly as possible. First, fold your fabric in half and match up the opposing sides. Most likely the corners will be uneven.
Then, use a
cereal box straight edge ruler as a guide and trim off the uneven corners. Flip the fabric over and trim the uneven corners on the other side. Repeat the process for the other two edges. You will need to open your fabric and fold it in half the other way. Here’s a tutorial on squaring fabric if my explanation isn’t clear.
Once all the pieces of fabric were square, we measured what we had. The unfinished napkins measured about 18 inches. We figured my finished napkins would be about 17 inches square. We trimmed the napkins again so they were all the same size. Here’s where we had a bit of a breakdown and I learned a major sewing rule.
Repeat after me: Measure twice, cut once.
Someone, who shall remain nameless, did not measure accurately so our unfinished napkins ended up being 16 by 16. I blame grandchild euphoria. And, really, it doesn’t matter.
Repeat after me: We are not entering them in a contest.
Although these were going to be simple every day napkins, I still wanted them to look nice so we decided to do mitered corners. Fold your fabric right sides together into a triangle shape. Line up one of the bottom corners with the edge of your cutting mat.
Measure in from the edge and mark where you want depending on how deep your hem will be. We chose an inch since our napkins were already going to be on the small side. Pin the corner. Flip the fabric and mark the other corner.
Open up the napkin, fold it in half the other way and repeat the process for the other two corners.
Run a stitch from the fold to nearly the edge. Trim off the corner.
Turn your fabric right side out and use the blunt edge of a chopstick or crochet hook to get those corners turned all the way out. Then, fold your hem. We folded a 1/4 inch and a 1/4 inch again and pinned.
Press the hems.
Sew a straight stitch all the way around the napkin. Backstitch a few stitches when you meet up to the spot where you began.
Pat yourself on the back and do a little happy dance, you just made yourself a napkin!
Now, go set the table so you can see how awesome they’ll look!
UPDATED: I just wanted to add that the total cost for this project was around $17 for 8 napkins. The cheapest patterned napkins on sale at Crate and Barrel are $3.95 each. So, not only is this “greening” up our house, we also saved about $15. Holla!