Tutorial...Cloth Napkin for School Lunches

Here's a tutorial for an environmentally friendly, cost effective, fun cloth napkin for a school (or work) lunch.

Supplies for one napkin:

  • 1/2 yard or fat quarter of cotton fabric
  • thread, either matching or contrast
  • iron
  • Dritz EZY-Hem tool (kinda expensive--buy it with a coupon at JoAnn's)
  • sewing machine
  • rotary cutting mat
  • rotary cutter
  • rotary cutting ruler

Step 1:  Choose a cotton fabric that you like.   Prewash the fabric before you start.  This is very important!  Prewashing will help remove any chemical residues left on the fabric from manufacturing as well as preshrink the fabric and make sure that the fabric doesn't run.

Step 2:  Measure your fabric to see what the biggest dimension can be. For this napkin, I used a fat quarter.  Fat quarters usually measure 18 x 24 inches. After washing and drying this fabric, I only had 17 inches left. After squaring up my edges, the biggest size I could get was 16". Because this is a lunch napkin, the finished size is not super important. That being said, I generally don't cut any smaller than a 16" square because it can be a little skimpy.  If you can swing it, 18 x 18 is a really nice size, especially for dinner napkins.

Step 3:  Square up your fabric and cut out a square.  Be very careful to get as close to a perfect square as possible.  Make sure you trim off the selvedge (the sides of the fabric that are more tightly woven and usually either have little holes through them or a white band with writing on it) before cutting out your square.

Step 4:  Using your iron and EZY-Hem tool, turn up hem 1/2" and press on all four sides.  If you don't have the hemming tool, you can find a printable hemming tool at The Scientific Seamstress' blog.

All four sides pressed.
Step 5:  You will notice that after pressing, there is a little square that is formed in each corner.  I have place a pin on the inside corner to make it easier to see.

 Step 6:  Cut off the corner leaving 1/4" from the pin to the outside.

Step 7:  Turn in each corner 1/4" and press.  The fold should be right across where the pin was.  Do this on all four corners. 

Step 8:  Fold each raw side under 1/4 inch twice.  An easy way to do this is to fold the raw edge up to the 1/2" mark you ironed in earlier, then fold it under again.

Step 9:  Make sure your corners line up nicely.  You can adjust the fold a little and then iron when you get a nice miter.  My corner here is not perfect, but both sides match up.

Step 10:  Place the napkin under the presser foot on your machine.  Your sewing machine may have a 1/4 mark on the throat plate and/or you may have a 1/4" foot for your sewing machine.  In the photo below, you can just barely see the 1/4" mark just above the 1 on the text.  I also have a 1/4" foot on my machine.  I highly recommend this foot.  Anyway, if you don't have a 1/4" to line up to, just line up the needle and foot close to the folded edge and topstitch.

Step 11:  When you get to the corner, make sure that you take care to catch both sides in your stitching and try to pivot right at the corner where both folds meet, or as close to that intersection as you can.  In the photo below, I have raised the presser foot so that you can see the needle at the corner.

Step 12:  Continue to sew all the way around the napkin, making sure to line up your stitching where the beginning and end meet.  Do a little backstitching to make sure your seam is secure.  You are done!

To make a set of four dinner napkins to use at home, buy 1 1/8 yards of cotton, prewash and dry, and cut out four 18" squares.  Follow above directions.