Napkins are the most frequently used table linen, and should therefore be made from durable and easy-to-clean fabric. Although there are no rules about what size a napkin should be it is seen recommended that a napkin size should correspond with the event. A small napkin is adequate for informal occasions and light meals, while a large napkin is more suitable for dinner parties and more formal events. There are plenty of robust, colourful fabrics to choose from, meaning that you can make napkins that contrast or match with your other table linen. Napkins can be made ina number of ways, with a number of decorations, with decorative trimmings such as bindings or scallops.

Plain Napkins

When choosing materials for small napkins consider using scraps from other soft furnishings; as this will obviously save money and the napkins will also match the soft furnishing, this is good if you use scraps from a tablecloth you have made. Napkins can be made in any size you wish but as a rule they should be no smaller than 30cms squared (12inches). When cutting out the material make sure that you match the grain of the material and cut the corners perfectly square so that they do not because rounded and uneven. To make up a simple napkin you will need to use a suitable fabric type and a basic sewing kit.

When you have chosen the fabric that you are using you will need to mark the fabric, when marking you will need to make the fabric 3cms (1.2inches) larger than you intend the napkin to be. This is to account for turning up for double hems at each side of the napkin so you really must ensure that you achieve the perfect square. Fold a 1.5cm (5/8 of an inch) double hem on all sides and press. Unfold the edges and mitre corners along the first fold line, and press. Unfold the corners again and then cut across each corner carefully. Refold the edges and finish mitring corners. Slipstitch the hems and mitres, or you could top stitches these, however, using a sewing machine. You have now finished making a plain napkin; all you need to do now is to press it before use.

Bound Edge Napkins

For this technique you will need: napkin fabric, edging fabric and a basic sewing kit. Cut a square piece of fabric to the size required and also cut two binding strips to the length of the napkin adding 2cm (3/4 of an inch) extra to the length of the napkin to account for turnings, by double the depth of the edging required. Cut two more binding strips to the length of the napkin but this time adding 4cms (1 and ½ inches) by, again, double the edging required. Fold the binding strips and press 1cm (3/8 of an inch) from the edge.

Open out the longer binding strips. Place all four strips onto the edges of the napkin with the same lengthen strips opposite each other. Match the raw edges of the strips with each other, pinning, tacking and sewing these together as this will create a seam. To reduce the fabric from bulking trim any over hang that you can see from the napkin. Fold all the now raw stitched edges of the napkin over to reveal the finished side, which will need to be pinned, tacked and sewn to create the finished napkin. Sew along the edges to fasten the materials together firmly, once this is done you will need to press the napkin before it can be used.

Sheer Napkins With Scallops

This type of napkin edging is produced using a simple hand sewn technique and it works best with lightweight and sheer fabrics. For this technique you will therefore need: lightweight or sheer fabrics and a basic sewing kit. Cut out the material to the size required adding on 1.5cms (5/8 of an inch) all around to allow for scalloped hems. On the wrong side of the fabric use a vanishing-ink pen or a pencil that can be rubbed out to mark on the hemline – which should be 1.5cms (5/8 of an inch) all the way around. Fold along each of the marked out lines tacking and pressing each. To secure the corners of the fabric you will need to start at one corner, over sew across the corner, then securing it at the wrong side of the fabric with four or five small stitches.

When starting to scallop you should insert the needle at the outer edge of the hem near the corner. Push the needle diagonally to the inside of the hem, the wider you make the diagonal the larger the scallop will be, you will need to repeat this across the whole of the hem to complete the scalloping process. A scallop can also be achieved with a simple cutting technique too. To do this you will need to mark out the curved line that you wish to have as your edging and then follow the same process to secure it as if you had hand sewn your scallop. Once you have done this process along the whole of the hem the hem will need to be stitched. This should be done by simply stitching around the edges of the now curved napkin with a neat running stitch, however this can also been done using a sewing machine if one is careful and has the skill to do rounded edges on their sewing machine.

With help from:
The Home Decorating book, By Nick Barnard,
My textiles teacher: who went into great detail of how to make a napkin.

Nap"kin (?), n. [Dim. of OF. nape a tablecloth, cloth, F. nappe, L. mappa. See Napery.]


A little towel, or small cloth, esp. one for wiping the fingers and mouth at table.


A handkerchief.



Napkin pattern. See Linen scroll, under Linen. -- Napkin ring, a ring of metal, ivory, or other material, used to inclose a table napkin.<-- paper napkin, a disposable napkin made of paper. -->


© Webster 1913.

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