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How To Make Beautiful Zero-Waste Napkins | Madam Sew

How To Make Beautiful Zero-Waste Napkins | Madam Sew

How To Make Beautiful Zero-Waste Napkins

Cloth napkins with mitered corners and decorative stitches.

So, for a while now I’m trying to take steps towards less waste in my household, especially less plastic waste. My next step is replacing paper napkins and disposable towels with cloth napkins. Cloth napkins have a reputation to come with a lot of fussiness. To make them a success as a zero-waste alternative they need to be as easy as the paper ones. So I like them to be pretty, casual and practical. Not too big, colors that fit together, easy washable and no need to iron. I found different tutorials online and decided to make them with mitered corners.

Mitered corners reduce the excess of fabric at the corners when hemming two edges that meet and makes an elegant, neat and tidy look. Perfect!

I used one of our fabric bundles ‘FISH’ and combined them with some plain fabric scraps. The plain fabrics, I decorated with rows of decorative stitches. I used my regular sewing machine (my Pfaff Smarter 140s) and a border guide foot to get nicely spaced parallel rows. Check it out!

What You’ll Need 

  • Matching cotton fabrics.. some fat quarters can do the trick. If you want the official napkin size, you can use 18” x 18” inch for one napkin or even 20” X 20”. Mine are a lot smaller. 
  • Matching threads for the hems 
  • Contrasting threads for the decorations. If you use very fine embroidery thread, like I did, you’ll need a fine needle as well 
  • A rotary cutter, ruler & mat, scissors 
  • A fabric marker
  • Pins & clips 
  • A Sewing machine 
  • Big help for this job: a border guide foot & an edge joining foot

1. Cut the fabric

Cut some rectangular or square pieces out of your fabrics to create your napkin set.

13”, 18” or 20” squares are common but I also cut smaller ones for my kids and some rectangular pieces as well.

Whatever suits you best!

2. Add decorations to the fabric

At first it was difficult to get the decorative stitches right with my light weight polyester machine embroidery thread (135dtex/2). The only good advice I can give you for the moment is to test with some scraps with your own machine and specific thread until you get the stitches right. I changed my needle to a really thin one and from then on it went better.

I used the “bridging stitch”, which is not a decorative stitch, really. It’s for overcasting, sewing on elastic, darning tears and inserting patches, my machine's manual says, but I have never used it before.

I also tried the ‘federstitch’ and ‘open scallop’ with golden thread on black fabric

Put your needle close to the edge, but don’t start your rows too close to the raw edges, you still have to hem the sides (1”). Now stitch one row.

If you want parallel rows, I advise you to use a border guide foot for the next rows.

The border guide foot is a clear foot. It has wings with red guides that help you make perfectly rows of decorative stitching. You can sew without measuring and marking. The horizontal line matches the needle drop point and the small red mark the design's center.

The border guide foot is a snap-on foot. You just snap it on and of your presser foot holder. If you have a Pfaff, a Husqvarna Viking (some models), you’ll need the low shank snap-on adapter. If you have a Bernina, you’ll need the Bernina adapter + the low shank snap-on adapter

So, as you sew, watch the guide lines, not the needle to keep your fabric going straight

Your previous line of stitching is between the two vertical red lines, so keep your eyes on the stitching between the red lines

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3. Hemming the edges and making mitered corners

1. Press all raw edges 1/2" to the wrong side of your fabric. This is half your hem allowance. Press the same hem amount (1/2”) again. This is the second fold. At the corners it will be bulky.

2. Unfold the second fold at one corner. Fold the corner in towards the wrong side so that the creases line up with those from the second fold. The two legs of the corner measure 1 inch. Unfold the corner and trace the crease with a fabric marker. I used my heat erasable gel pen.

3. Fold the corner into a point, right sides together, making sure that the ends of the drawn lines meet. Pin the corner into place.

4. Now stitch along the marked line or the crease, backstitch at beginning and end. Cut off the excess and clip the tip of the corner off.

5. Turn the corner right side out and make sure the tip is pointy.

6. Press and pin down the second fold

Repeat this for the 3 other corners. 

 7. Now edge stitch the second fold around all 4 sides, backstitching at the beginning and end. I used my edge joining foot for this edge stitch. 

Put your needle off center (left or right depending on where you position the edge joining foot and where you want your stitches) and put the guide next to your hem. In the corners you have to push the guide up the fold and stitch until you reach the diagonal crease. 

Then, put your needle in the down position, turn your fabric and continue stitching.

Your napkin is ready! 

Now, repeat for all the remaining cut squares and you’ll end up with a whole set! Nature will be grateful! I will start using my set today and hope that we will use less disposable towels and napkins at home.

I’m really curious to see what you are making, just send me your pictures and we can show off on our facebook or instagram page :-) 

If you have any more questions or hesitations about this post, just send me an email 

You can download this tutorial in PDF here


Sewing aficionado and keen sewing blogger/vlogger, 

An is Madam Sew’s dedicated creative brain, writing and filming insightful, inspirational content for the sewing enthusiast. 

PS: DO share this blog post - just give clear credit to MadamSew, including our original blog post link.

1 comment

  • Place mats can be made by using the same method for napkins.

    M5 Peterson

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