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How-to

How to Make Cocktail and Dinner Napkins

Here’s an easy way to personalize your holiday table–and learn to miter a perfect corner.

Nov 09, 2018
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Beautifully hemmed cloth napkins make any table special, whether the style is formal or casual. It’s easy to make them part of your holiday décor. Add a hand-painted motif, some decorative stitching, or let the beautiful hem provide all the detail. Sew up some generous dinner napkins, or scale them down to cocktail size. Learn how to master the miter, and see some ideas for embellishing table linens for any occasion.

hand-painted cocktail napkins
Give your linens a personal touch with painted designs using fabric paint like Lumiere by Jacquard.

Choose the perfect fabric

I suggest using linen (perfect for a more formal table), cotton, or a blend of the two. Synthetic fibers, like polyester, make ironing easier, but it’s very hard to remove stains from poly and poly blends—and napkins will definitely get stains. For more casual napkins, check out your local quilt shop for some great cotton holiday prints. You can skip the embellishment with a print, but a mitered hem is a great finishing touch on solid and printed fabric.

Cut accurately

1. Determine the size of the finished napkins.

Measure some you have that seem just right, or use the dimensions I used for my cocktail and dinner napkins: The cocktail napkins are 9 inches x 9 inches finished and the generous dinner napkins are 21 inches x 21 inches finished.

2. Find the exact grain on the fabric.

Do this by pulling a thread across the width at one end or square up a line from the selvage. Tearing across the width of cotton fabric will also give the straight grain.

3. Cut a square for each napkin, using the established grainline as a guide.

That is 1 inch larger on each edge than the finished napkin size. (For a 9-inch cocktail napkin, cut an 11-inch square). To form the hem, turn in and press 1 inch all around. Then press under 1/4 inch on each edge.

Miter the corners

1. Mark the point where the inner folded edges intersect with two pins.

With two pins, mark the point where the hem edges intersect at the inside corner.

2. Open the hem, keeping the 1/4-inch fold in place.

Then turn right sides together, matching pin marks.

3. Mark a line from the outside corner of the hem to the pins (the inside corner)

Then pin the two layers together. Draw a line from the outside corner to the inside corner (the point where the hem edges intersect).

4. Stitch diagonally along the marked line.

5. Turn the corner to the right side to check that the miter fits.

Always check to be sure the miter is just right before trimming away the excess fabric.

6. Turn inside out again, then trim away the excess fabric, making a 1/4-inch seam allowance.

Trim the seam allowance to 1/4 inch.

7. Press this seam open.

Press the seam open.

Turn right side out and press.

8. Sew the hem in place along the inner fold to complete the miter.

Sew the hem in place along the inside fold, pivoting at the corners.

Embellish

•  Hand-paint an image at the corner of each napkin using fabric paint. Do this freehand or cut a stencil to use as a guide to paint the shape, then add detail with a small brush.

For uniform hand-painted designs, cut a stencil from posterboard or mylar to use as a guide.

•  Use a decorative machine stitch, like the blanket stitch, to sew the hem in place. Variegated thread expands the design.

A simple blanket stitch, sewn with variegated thread, is all you need to create an heirloom detail that’s pretty on both sides of the napkin.

•  If you like to embroider by hand or by machine, add an embroidered design to your napkins.

Go to “How to Machine-Embroider Lace Napkin Rings” for a tutorial on holders for your napkins and “Quick-Sew Table Runner” to learn how to create a complementary table topper.

This article by Mary Ray was originally published on CraftStylish.com.

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