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In this post: Pretty cotton or linen napkins can be such a stunning addition to a table setting. Here’s how to sew cloth napkins in 5 easy steps, plus a handy list of standard napkin sizes. 


Homemade cotton or linen napkins are a beautiful addition to any dining room or kitchen table. They’re also eco-friendly and completely customizable to your decor. And they are super easy to make, even for beginners! 

I love to use cloth napkins for holidays, hosting company, and for our own family’s Sunday Suppers.

After searching for napkins I love over the years – at a decent price point – I decided that I would find fabric I love and try my hand at making my own cloth napkins. I’ve don’t this a few times now, with different fabrics.

I still pick up napkins from time to time when I find some I love on sale too. This means I now have a lovely collection of cloth napkins, both homemade and store-bought, sitting in my buffet ready to use. 

Napkin and other dining room storage organized in a hutch

What size should my napkins be?

Before I get to the how to sew cloth napkins tutorial, is anyone else confused by napkin dimensions?

I mean, I didn’t grow up in a fancy sort of house, so learning about the appropriate sizes for dinner napkins vs. lunch & cocktail napkins wasn’t part of my life lessons.

But when I googled napkin size as an adult, I found many different answers. So I tried to simplify and use average sizes for my homemade napkins. 

Here are the approximate standard napkin sizes, in inches: 

  • Formal: 22-26 inches square
  • Dinner: 18-20 inches square
  • Lunch: 14 inches square
  • Tea or Kids: 12 inches square
  • Cocktail: 6-9 inches square
fall copper table setting window pane place mats

Can you make no-sew cloth napkins?

Technically, yes, you could.

You could try a non-fraying fabric and leave the edges raw or with a natural fringe. I have store-bought lovely burnt orange napkins with a raw edge that I love (photo above). They do however come out of the dryer with a mess of threads every time. This means I’m spending time trimming the threads before I put the napkins away again. 

You could also try to make napkins with iron-on hem fuse tape. However, the hem fuse tape may or may not hold up to the vigorous washing that reusable napkins require. 

So personally, I think that sewing napkins is the best option in the long run. 

What material should you use for sewing cloth napkins?

The best fabrics for making cloth napkins are cotton, linen, and sometimes polyester. Each has its plusses and minuses. 

Fabrics

I prefer to use either linen or cotton fabrics for my DIY napkins. 

Cotton. Fat quarters (often used to make quilts) are a fun and easy fabric for making napkins. They’re already almost the right size for smaller lunch napkins or smaller if you’re using “proper” napkin sizes. If you’re just using your napkins for casual family meals, then the fat quarters are great. The typical cotton of fat quarters also absorbs well. 

Linen. Like cotton, linen is very absorbent and gets softer with each washing. Linen is also surprisingly good at resisting stains. Linen is a touch harder to work with when sewing your own napkins though, so I may not be the best choice for your first go at making napkins.  

Polyester. You could use a polyester or polyester blend for making your napkins. These don’t absorb as well, but they are more wrinkle-resistant than cotton and linen. 

Sewing Thread

You’ll want to choose a coordinating thread for whatever fabric you choose. 

You can choose a contrasting color if you’d like. But this will amplify any stitching mistakes you make rather than hide them. 

rustic table setting idea #2

How to get the fabric you love for less

I purchased some white cotton napkins recently, but really wanted a linen fabric look for Easter/Spring.

Fortunately, I had about 3-4 meters of summer linen blend in my fabric stash (which I must say is TINY compared to some peoples’!).

I had paid $3 a meter for it last fall at Fabricland because they don’t tend to stock much of it in the winter months and they really wanted to get rid of it. 

So, if you want to make cloth napkins, look for beautiful fabric at the end-of-season sales…like linen in the fall! Or shop around for it online. 🙂 

How to sew cloth napkins with mitered corners

Before you begin to create your cloth napkins, you need to wash, dry, and iron your fabric.

  • Throwing your fabric in the washing machine and drying it will help to reduce future shrinkage, prevent colors from bleeding, and to remove chemicals.
  • Ironing your washed and dried fabric will make it much easier to work with while sewing. 

This process is something you should do before any sewing project.  

Materials

  • 2-6 meters fabric of choice
  • thread of choice

Tools

Directions for DIY Cloth Napkins

Cut your fabric

Decide on the size of napkin you want to make. Next measure your napkins and mark them on the fabric with a pencil, including a 2-inch hem allowance. Then you can use either scissors or a rotary cutter (with a ruler and self-healing mat) to cut out your napkins. 

Tip: I found that using a straight edge helped me to get square cuts.

How many napkins you can make from each yard/meter of fabric depends on the width of your bolt of fabric and the size napkin you choose to make. For example, if you have one yard/meter of fabric (about 36 inches long) and the bolt is 42 inches wide, you can make only two smaller dinner napkins from a yard/meter of fabric. But if you make 14-inch square lunch napkins you can make four. 

(I made our napkins in the smaller dinner napkin size, so the finished size is 18×18 inches, with a half-inch double folded hem. This means that I cut each raw napkin to 20×20 inches.)

how to sew napkins cut the fabric

Fold and iron the hems

Fold over edges 1/4 to 1/2 inch. If your fabric has a “right” and “wrong” side fold the edges towards the back of the fabric so the hem will be on the “wrong” side. Then fold over again. Iron as you fold. 

folding and ironing napkin hems
(Excuse the yellow towel, the ironing board was out of commission so I needed another ironing surface.)

Cut the mitered corners

Open the corners on each napkin. See the 4 square fold lines? Trim from corner to corner. This removes the bulk in each corner of the napkin when you’re sewing. Refold.

cutting the mitred corner on diy napkins

Sew the hems

Pin all four corners of your napkin.

Then using a sewing machine, sew around the napkin near the outside edge and then again near the inside edge of the hem.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. And repeat some more if you’re making a lot of napkins – I made 12! Then you’re done!

cloth napkin corner detail

That’s it! Easy peasy! Now go set a pretty table!

More home craft ideas

How to sew cloth napkins video tutorial

Step-by-step printable DIY napkin tutorial

how to make cloth napkins, layered table setting with gold flatware, scalloped charger white and green plates, cloth napkins

How To Sew Cloth Napkins

Yield: 8-12 napkins
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Homemade cotton or linen napkins are a beautiful addition to any dining room or kitchen table. They’re also eco-friendly and completely customizable to your decor. And they are super easy to make, even for beginners!

Materials

  • 2-6 yards/meters of cotton fabric - washed, dried, and ironed
  • Sewing thread

Tools

  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors OR a rotary cutter, mat and ruler
  • Straight pins
  • Iron
  • Ironing board
  • Ruler or tape measure
  • Straight edge (optional)

Instructions

  1. Decide on the size of napkin you want to make. Next measure your napkins and mark them on the fabric with a pencil, including a 2-inch hem allowance. Then you can use either scissors or a rotary cutter (with a ruler and self-healing mat) to cut out your napkins.
  2. Fold over edges 1/4 to 1/2 inch. If your fabric has a “right” and “wrong” side fold the edges towards the back of the fabric so the hem will be on the “wrong” side. Then fold over again. Iron as you fold.
  3. Open the corners on each napkin. See the 4 square fold lines? Trim from corner to corner. This removes the bulk in each corner of the napkin when you’re sewing. Refold.
  4. Pin all four corners of your napkin.
  5. Then using a sewing machine, sew around the napkin near the outside edge and then again near the inside edge of the hem. Repeat, repeat, repeat. And repeat some more if you’re making a lot of napkins – I made 12! Then you’re done!

Notes

How many napkins you can make from each yard/meter of fabric depends on the width of your bolt of fabric and the size napkin you choose to make. For example, if you have one yard/meter of fabric (about 36 inches long) and the bolt is 42 inches wide, you can make only two smaller dinner napkins from a yard/meter of fabric. But if you make 14-inch square lunch napkins you can make four.

Did you make this project?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

Do you prefer paper or cloth napkins? Have you ever made your own cloth napkins? Do you have a favorite spot to purchase pretty napkins – cloth or paper?

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home made lovely book on table with get it now text button

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32 Comments

  1. Oh the napkins look so beautiful, love that fabric! Thanks for the handy size chart (I didn’t know that…) and looking forward to seeing your dining room reveal – I’m sure it will look gorgeous!

  2. That napkin template is such a good idea! Could I ask where you got your material from? (I really like the little bursts of colour).

    1. I wish! No, Bonnie, I bought the napkin rings from Chapters. They were originally $4.95 each – which I wasn’t about to pay. However when they went on sale for $2.50 each – I bought a bunch!

    1. Hi Janelle! We use paper more frequently too – three kids times three meals a day is a lot of napkin washing!

  3. I love cloth napkins, but am afraid I wouldn’t have the patience to make my own. If I did I probably wouldn’t let anyone use them for fear they got stained! Yours, however, are lovely! The colour is awesome and summery.

    1. It was a little boring to sew 8 identical napkins…I’m not much good with production jobs! But they are so adorable in the end. Absolutely worth it!

  4. Cloth napkins add such an elegant touch to everyday meals. Love how simple projects can have such a big impact. 🙂

  5. Thanks for the tutorial! I appreciated the graph showing napkin sizes, too. I recently bought a lovely set of monogrammed napkins ( estate sale) that measure 26 x 26. I had never seen any so large! Barbara

    1. I was so happy to find the fabric at our local fabric shoppe – usually only ugly fabrics or kids prints!

  6. I was wondering – the 2 yards requirement was enough to make your 8 napkins (the 22″x22″)? I’ve got a request to make 20 for my girlfriend who does a lot of entertaining and I’m trying to estimate yardage!

    1. It was, yes. But it depends on the width of your fabric. Just make sure whatever fabric you choose is wide enough.

  7. I’m confused about the fabric requirements. Eight 22″ napkins would require a width of 66″ – where did you find this width?

    1. You would need extra wide fabric like decorating fabric or you would need a little more than 2 yards/meters of fabric. If you want extra wide fabric do a google search for “extra wide fabric.”