Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Home-sewn cloth napkins, dish towels, and handkerchiefs

Making cloth napkins, dish towels, place mats and handkerchiefs and feminine needs are all easy projects.

They can be made from various materials, but the most absorbent ones will be 100% cotton. The higher the polyester content, the less absorbent your final item becomes.

Over the years, I have acquired a bunch of fabric that either I had bought or that had been given to me. I had no idea which were 100% cotton and which were blends. So I went online and found a trick for telling if a material is a natural fiber or a man-made one. That trick I shared with you in a post last week. I have different lengths of fabric, in different patterns. I also have a set of sheets that a friend gave me. They are too big for my bed and she doesn't want them back. They will make a nice kitchen set for this dear friend who has done so much for my family. The computer I'm typing on is her old one. She bought a new one so that I could have this nice one. Without it, you wouldn't be reading this blog! lol

I washed my material in hot water, with no fabric softener in the washer - I used vinegar in the rinse and dried it in a hot dryer, again with no fabric softener. Fabric softener, over time, makes material much less absorbent. I used hot water and a hot dryer so that the fabric would shrink about as much as it was ever going to shrink, I tested my material for cotton content and picked out a bunch of pieces for napkins, handkerchiefs, dish towels, place mats and feminine needs. I will write about feminine needs at another time. I'm going to concentrate on napkins, dish towels, place mats and handkerchiefs, because they are all made the same way, just of a different size.

After I picked out my final materials I then sat down and figured out the size I wanted my finished items to be.

I have a napkin swap on another blog and those are to be 10" x 10". That's a nice size. I also have one cloth napkin I got in a tray for Mother's Day. I love it. It's 17" x 17". I want my hankies to be 9" x 9", I want my dish towels to end up being 12" x 18" and my place mats to be 14" x 24". I got these dimensions by measuring existing place mat, napkin, and dish towel. The hankie I was just arbitrary with. I have allergies so I sometimes sneeze a lot and need more to my handkerchiefs that a thin little piece of 6" x 6" cute linen!

The next thing I did was to make myself templates out of old cardboard boxes. I would start in one corner of the box measure over to where I wanted that template to end and make several marks from the edge so I'd get a straight line with my ruler. Then I'd go to the side and measure over several times. This way, I had a square template. They were a pain to cut, but they are sturdy and will last a long time. When I made my templates, I added an inch to one long side and an inch to a short side to allow for a 1/2" seam all around. I then marked on each template what it was for. Don't count on remembering which size was which. I made templates on Fri and by tonight (Mon) I had to look at what was written to know what I wanted that particular template for!

My next step is to iron the materials flat, decide which will be what item, and find my washable fabric marker. I can use chalk or soap if I want to mark the fabric, but a fine-tip, washable marker will make my finished project a little easier to sew up. I'm ironing the fabric so that it will be flat and easier to cut squarely. (I'm a person who loves short-cuts, so if I iron, it REALLY needs to be done - unless you're using a polyester fabric that just plain doesn't wrinkle, so it doesn't need ironing ever.)

Next step will be to place the template over the wrong side of the fabric and draw around the template. If you're fortunate enough to own a rotary cutter and mat, this step will be a breeze. You can stack your material or fold your material and cut several thicknesses at a time. For the rest of us, we have to mark each piece and then individually cut them. Or you can try a steel straight-edge and an Exacto knife (craft razor/knife), but watch your fingers, make sure that you cut on something that can't be damaged and don't make your stack too thick!

Ok, now we have a bunch of squares and/or rectangles cut out.
We will need a couple of items to do make these cloths up:
  • An iron and an ironing board or place to iron
  • A sewing machine and thread or needle and thread.
  • A ruler or a second set of templates 1" shorter on one long side and one short side. (So it's the finished size you want your item to be. Make this template just like you did the first set, only use thinner cardboard - like what comes in a shirt. It should be rather flimsy, so that you can iron over it and make a sharply creased fold. You need to decide if you want squared-off corners or mitered corners. If you want squared off corners, do nothing else to the templates. If you want the finished item to have mitered corners, you will need to cut off 1/2" from each corner of your template. Simple measure down both edges 1/2" from the corner. Then draw a straight line between the two marks. Do this for each corner. Cut off the triangle that is made. Otherwise, you will have to measure the fabric the same way and FOLD the fabric down between the two point and iron it flat.
  • Pins (opt) (I told you, I do short-cuts. I've finally lost the "perfection" drive. If you want "perfection" have at it. I'm making these so that people can wipe their faces, blow their noses and dry dishes - and with kids, you know they're going to mop up spills too. So I'm not doing "works of art" for them to ruin them with mustard stains that I won't find until I dig down to the bottom of the laundry bin, where they were hidden, to wash them. kwim?)

Here we go. Set up the ironing board and set the iron to cotton - because we're using cotton right. If not, set it to polyester or linen or whatever temp your fabric needs. While the iron is heating up, get your machine set up and ready to sew. Load the bobbin color you need on your bobbin and thread your machine.

You're going to work at the ironing board first. You will need either the ruler or the template. Your object here is to place the fabric with the wrong side up on the ironing board and then iron a 1/2" fold all around the fabric. Here's where you have to make a choice. Do you want mitered corners? If so, you're going to have to fold the corners down over the cut corners of the template and iron them FIRST. If you want a squared corner, just fold the fabric and iron. After deciding on our corner treatment, we're going to either center the template on the fabric, fold and iron each corner, then go back and fold and iron each length over OR use the ruler and fold down the fabric 1/2" and press. You will then remove the template or set aside the ruler. Then open up the longer folded edges (NOT the mitered corners, if you did those, keep them folded!) and fold the material over until it almost, but not quite touches the folds you just ironed in, and iron a second fold. This fold will be 1/4", but since your almost touching the 1/2" fold, you won't have to measure it. Did I tell you, I use short-cuts? now refold at the first fold you made, trapping that raw edge inside. You will now have a 1/4" finished edge that's ready for sewing.

Second choice. Either pin it or don't. Again, the choice is yours. I pin the corners, especially the miters, so they will stay mitered! I just pin on each side where the fabric meets in the corner. The rest of the edge I can get to pretty much stay put by how I feed it through my hands. I'm a very experienced sewer. If this is your first project, PIN IT. It will save you untold grief until you've learned to manipulate fabric and machine. Always keep the pins at a 90 degree angle (perpendicular) to the fabric, that way the machine will just jump the pins and you don't have to remove them before you've sewn that portion of the seam.

Finally, we're ready to sew! It's really not important where you start to sew on any of these things. I start along one side, in the middle. That way I've got the machine moving before I try to handle the corners. You're going to stitch along near the middle. Don't worry if the stitch "wanders" a little. You will learn to sew it straight line. As you come to the corner, slow down and use the hand wheel to catch the middle of the first side of the corner. You may have to do a couple of stitches by hand this way. Just keep turning the wheel until you get to the corner. When you get there, leave the needle IN the fabric, then lift the presser foot and turn the corner 90 degrees so that you're now going down the opposite side from where you just were. The material will rotate on the needle. Lower the presser foot and start sewing again. Do the same thing for each corner. When you get back to where you started, sew about an inch over the same seam to lock the stitching.

Remove any pins you used. Press it again so it will look nice and your ready to go with the next one.

Personally, I do stuff in batches. I choose which item I want to make first. I mark all my material for that pattern - say napkins. Then I cut out all of the napkins. Then I iron all my pieces around the template and pin the corners. Then I sew all the napkins. Then I press all the finished napkins, checking for loose threads.

You can do this any way you want to do it. Do one napkin at a time, one piece of fabric at a time, do sets at a time (napkins, place mats, dish towels - a table runner would be done the same way!).
If you want a bigger or smaller hem, add more than one inch to the finished size you are wanting to end up with. I wouldn't make the hem any smaller unless you have a serger you want to use.

You can make your items to whatever size you want. You can make your place mats out of a heavier material, line it, use fusible interfacing, etc. This is just the basics of HOW to do these type items. The sizes you want and the hemming you want are up to you.
I picked my favorite size items and that's where I got the measurements from. Pick your favorite items, favorite materials and customize these projects to your own liking. Then just have fun making them.

These will make great Christmas gifts. You can do them up in any holiday (T'day, Christmas, Valentine, etc) colors or fabrics. You can recycle material you already have, either new or gently used material. You can color coordinate it to the recipient's home or mix and match. Do just napkins or whole kitchen sets. If you use sheets, you can cut a top sheet for a table cloth and use a bottom, fitted sheet for the rest of the set. You can mix and match the colors - a top sheet from one set and the bottom sheet from another. Some colored, some white.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I was so excited to find your blog today. My husband and I have been looking for ways to become more self-sufficient. Switching to cloth products from paper products is one thing I'm hoping to do, but would prefer to make my own instead of purchasing items. I'm also interested in making my own feminine hygeine items. Do you mind explaining how you made your own? Thanks!!!