Making DIY cloth napkins are quick and easy when you use a serger sewing machine. This tutorial will show how to make cloth napkins using a serger rolled hem and stretchy thread.
The stretch thread helps to cover the edge completely and gives the napkin a nice finished look.
We selected some Christmas holiday fabric for our napkins, but these could be made for any holiday or as everyday cloth napkins. Select some fabric to match your decor and make a stack to use everyday!
These napkins are a great way to save money on paper products and start to go zero-waste. They are a super simple project to make with your serger and make a great beginner sewing project.
If you don't have a serger sewing machine, we have a tutorial for making cloth napkins with a sewing machine.
Keep reading this article for a full photo tutorial. If you would like to see a video tutorial, click the link below to view our tutorial on YouTube.
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WHAT YOU NEED To sew the napkins
- Cotton or Linen Fabric - purchase extra to consider preshrinking
- 1 yard will make 4 napkins 18"x18" in size (or my preferred size of 18" x 20").
- 1 yard will make 9 napkins 12"x12" in size.
- Coordinating Serger Thread - 2 spools
- Coordinating Serger Stretch Thread - 1 spool
- Serger or Overlocker Sewing Machine
- Cutting Mat, Ruler & Rotary Cutter
See the end of this tutorial for links to specific recommended products.
What is Stretch Thread?
Maxi-Lock Stretch thread is a textured nylon thread that is soft like yarn. It is used to sew stretchy fabrics like swimwear or fitness clothes. It creates a smooth seam that can move with the fabric.
The recommended needle size to use when sewing with this stretch thread is 90/14. There are many colors available to coordinate with your sewing project.
When sewn with a rolled hem seam, it can create a nice finished edge.
How to make a cloth napkin
Step 1: Fabric Preparation
For the best results, you should prewash/preshrink the fabric. If you want to prevent fraying when you wash the fabric, check out our tutorial.
Once the fabric is washed, iron the fabric to remove wrinkles.
STEP 2: Cut Fabric Squares
Our napkins were made with 18" squares of fabric and are the standard size for an everyday cloth napkin.
For more formal tables, the napkins are 20" squares. Lunch napkins are 14" squares while kids' or tea napkins are 12" squares.
If you are using standard 42"-43" wide sewing fabric, consider how much to buy to get the most napkins from your fabric.
- For 18" square napkins, 1 yard will make 4 napkins using precisely 36".
- For 20" square napkins, purchase fabric in multiples of 20" so you won't have small amounts left.
- For 12" square napkins, 1 yard will make 9 napkins using precisely 36".
It's recommended to purchase an extra inch or two in case the fabric is not cut straight from the bolt and to accommodate for the preshrinking. Or, simply make your napkins a bit smaller as nobody will notice!
Cut your fabric using the rotary cutter, mat and ruler to the size of the napkin to be made.
STEP 3: Serger Rolled Hem Stitch
Set up the serger machine for stitching a rolled hem stitch. I have a Bernina L450 overlocker machine so the instructions will work for the L450 or L460 machine.
Your overlocker machine probably has similar settings and adjustments but you may need to look in your manual for instructions on setting up a rolled hem stitch.
The rolled hem stitch uses three threads for the overlocking stitch. Remove the right side needle and thread from your overlocker. Slightly tighten the screw for the removed needle and put it aside.
If you have three thread overlocker, do not remove any thread or needles.
Set your stitch length to 1. The standard stitch length is 2.5 so this length is less than half the normal length.
Pull the rolled hem selection lever towards you. This lever retracts a small point that the loops are formed over.
When this lever is retracted, it causes the fabric to roll or fold over while stitching creating the rolled hem. In the photo below, my finger is showing the lever.
Next, adjust the tension knobs as follows. Before making adjustments, write down your original settings so you can return to them after finishing this project.
- The left thread (yellow) with the needle is set to 5 which is a little looser than normal.
- The thread with loops (blue) is set to the lowest setting at 1.
- The thread at the top of the loops (red) is set to the tightest setting at 9.
STEP 4: Thread the Serger with stretch thread
The stretch thread will be threaded as any other thread and placed on the position that has the loops. For my machine, this is the blue thread.
If your machine isn't threaded already, thread your machine following the instructions in your manual. Thread only the three threads being used and skip the thread for the removed needle.
Please note that there is a specific order to thread a serger and if you do not thread in the correct order, the machine may break threads or not stitch properly.
Step 5: Test and Practice Corners
Using a piece of scrap fabric, serge an edge and make sure the machine is stitching correctly. Sergers can be difficult to get threaded correctly so testing is necessary.
The stitch should appear similar to the photo below. If the stitch does not look similar then check the machine settings and adjust as necessary.
I recommend that you practice sewing the corners of the napkin with a scrap piece of fabric before trying on your napkin fabric. The corners take a bit of practice to get lined up correctly.
Follow the steps below on your test fabric before starting with your napkin fabric.
Step 5: Sew Overlock stitch around the napkin
It's time to sew the napkin!
Start on one corner of the napkin fabric placing it under the presser foot.
You will be cutting a small amount off of the fabric as you sew, only 1/8"-1/4".
Sew down the side until approaching the first corner. Stop stitching just as the needle goes off the edge of the fabric by only one stitch.
Move the needle to its highest position using your handwheel. Lift the presser foot and gently pull the fabric towards the back of the machine to release it. Do not pull out thread.
Turn the fabric 90 degrees and shimmy the fabric under the presser foot along the second side.
Align the stitched end of the fabric so the first stitch will go into the fabric just inside the edge. The needle shouldn't go off the edge of the fabric or it will create a bump of thread in the corner.
When the fabric is in place, put the presser foot down. Continue stitching along the second side of the napkin.
Stitch the remaining two corners in the same way.
Check out our tutorial on How to Serge Corners and Secure Seams for more information on how to sew around the napkins.
Step 6: Cut off the beginning thread tail
When you approach the first corner, hold out the thread tail so it will get cut off. Stitch off the end of the napkin and create a thread tail.
Cut the tail about 1/4" from the side of the napkin.
Pull the threads of the tail and it will knot and secure in place.
Trim the pulled thread close to the napkin edge.
The napkin is complete! Once you get set up and cut the fabric, these napkins can be sewn very quickly.
Closeups of Finished Seams
Below are some closeup photos of the finished seams and corners.
Fold the napkins in half and then fold them in half the opposite way. One last fold will create a folded napkin as shown below.
I hope you enjoyed learning how to use your serger machine and Maxi-lock Stretch thread to make cloth napkins for a holiday or everyday use.
To complete your table, don't miss our plastic canvas napkin ring patterns. The Pine Needles & Berries Napkin Ring is perfect for your Christmas or holiday table. Or we have the Thanksgiving Leaf Napkin Ring pattern.
This year I have moved to using cloth napkins daily instead of using paper napkins. I found a good sale on fabric at my local quilt shop and purchased several yards of different fabrics and made napkins.
I cut my napkins at 18" x 20" to get the most out of the yardage. This wastes less fabric since it's usually around 42"-43" wide and 18x2=36". So, from 1 yard of fabric, I can get 4 napkins.
For the summer patriotic holiday, Independence Day, I stitched up some napkins using a blue stretch thread.
The flag fabric is perfect for a July 4th picnic. The flower fabric is wonderful for both summer and patriotic holidays since it has red/white & blue theme also.
What kind of napkins will you make?
If you have any questions about this project, contact us through the YouTube Video
comments or our Contact Us page. We respond to questions in e-mails and YouTube comments regularly.
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