Monday, October 8, 2007

Cloth napkins

Ok, I've been doing all kinds of napkins for my family and as part of a swap. And I'm throwing out the last set of instructions. Those instructions are good for the OCD types, but for someone with ADHD, FORGET IT! I got too antsy with all the burning of my fingers and tedious folding and sewing. Then I did some without doing the mitered corner and then some more without ironing. Both faster still.

One, folding down 1/2" hems is fine - if you're doing polyester and have a relatively low heat going. 1/2" on the cotton setting and I was getting scorched fingers. And I'm a VERY experienced ironer. Used to iron my dad's long sleeve white shirts he had to wear for work as well as the family ironing. This was before "wash and wear" and home clothes dryers. And I started at 9 doing that chore. If you want to make a single sided napkin, allow for a 1" hem all around, so cut them 12" x 12" and you'll end up with a 10" x 10" napkin and less burned fingers.

Two, hemming 1/4" hems is tedious at best. In the factories where they make napkins, they have special machines with special feet that make those neat little hems or they serge them.

Three, 10" x 10" napkins are too small for my liking. Yes, it is the finished size of a store-bought paper napkin. But that paper napkin is folded into 4ths and you can open it out bigger if you need to.

Four, templates are a waste of time and effort. I don't like wasting time, effort or material.
Do I really want to cut off and throw away 4" of material from the side of the material I'm cutting. Can't I just make my napkins bigger?

So after about 15 napkins, here's the new procedure.

1. I prefer bigger napkins. So I'm looking at cutting material anywhere from 13" x 13" to 18"x18". I'm not going to be measuring exactly. I will figure out how many napkins of near that size I can get out of my material. But if I have to choose between an exact square of 17", or 15" napkins that are a rectangle, I'm going with the rectangle and not wasting those never ending small pieces that we can't use, but don't want to throw away. So unless you're planning on doing fancy folds with your napkins or you've got Barbie dolls that you are making clothes for or you want the scraps for a quilt, adjust your napkin size to use the entire piece of material.

2. I've learned that the lady at the store probably hasn't cut the material evenly, no matter how hard she tries. (the person before her may not have cut it so well.) So I went through and after washing and drying the material on "hot" so it won't shrink anymore, pressing it so that it was mostly wrinkle free, I then cut a little snip at one selvage edge and tore the material across the top. Sometimes I had to resnip several times to get it to tear all the way across. Usually, after the 2nd time of running out of fabric, but still not having torn it all the way across, I'd switch sides and tear from the other side. Sometimes I'd end up with a tear that was 1" on the one side and as much as 5 inches wide at the end! I'd do this to both ends of the material. Only once did I have a cut edge that was already squared - even though some LOOKED squared. Now I'm left with "squared" material. And I want to waste time doing this why? Because I can then fold the material and know that all sides should be even. As you read on, you'll see why I want mine squared. So after squaring, I then fold the material over, selvage edge to selvage edge, keeping it even all the way down the length of the material.

3. I use a tape measure and measure across my fabric to see how much fabric I have. (Selvage edge to center and multiply by two. Then I divide that number by how big I want my napkins to be, to see how many pieces I can cut from that width. I really don't want my napkins much bigger than 17", nor smaller than about 12".

That means that if I have a piece of material that's 36" across, I can get three 12" wide or 2 that are just over 17" wide. I'm choosing just over 17". So I divide the material in two and know that when I'm ready to cut, I will cut up the middle divide to have two napkins. (The napkins will be smaller, as the hem will use up part of the original measurement.) If my material is 45" wide, I'll fold the material in thirds and have 3 pieces that are about 15" wide.

4. Next I will measure my material length. Lets say it's 2 yards long. That 72 inches. That would give me 4 napkins with a bit left over. So here's what I'm going to do with the length. I'm going to keep the material folded in half or thirds selvage edge to edge, and I'm then going to fold the material into fourths the long way by folding it in half, then in half again. Sort of like folding bed sheets. I'm going to get them as even as I can, then I'm going to place the folded material on a hard surface and start cutting apart the layers. I do this by cutting through the center of the folds. I keep the scissors so that my thumb is facing down and the back of my hand is facing up. To cut, I move the material - either sliding it forward as I cut or turning it so I'm cutting along the edge. I pull the material and scissors so that the material is taunt. I do this as I cut. I press down firmly with my free hand, near to where I'm cutting to keep the material from shifting as I cut.

Sometime, the cut isn't as straight or even as it would be if I measured, pinned and then cut. I don't care about that. We'll fix that in the sewing part.

5. Now that I have the material cut into pieces, I'm ready to sew it up. I got tired of tiny seams, so I started sewing my pieces together, making a front and back. Then I top stitched the material. It was SO much faster and easier. This means that out of the 36" x 2 yards of material, I would end up with 4 napkins, finished size would be 17" x 17". The 45" x 2 yards would give me 6 napkins, finished size would be 14" x 17".

6. Take two pieces of your material and place them with the right sides together. Start in the middle of one side and start to sew there. (There's method to this madness of starting in the middle of the material.) So if I have a piece that 17" wide, I'm going to start sewing at about 8" from the bottom edge of the material. I'm going to make my seams about 1/4" to 1/2" from the edge. I don't bother pinning the material. It stays together pretty well by itself. If the material is a little uneven when you have the right sides together, just make sure you sew far enough from the edge to catch the shorter piece of material. Sew from the middle to about 1/4" to 1/2" from the bottom corner, leaving the needle still in the material, lift the presser foot, spin the material 90 degrees, drop the presser foot and sew the entire length of that side. Do this until you get to about 3" to 4" from where you started. DO NOT sew over where you started - you've got to turn the material before you sew that opening closed.

7. When you've got to the spot you're going to leave open, clip your thread tails, then begin turning the material inside out. Personally, I start at a far corner, stick my thumb into the point and then use my fingers to "gather" the material towards the palm of my hand. Sort of like putting on a pair of socks. Then when I have the material gathered, I turn it right side out. So I have one point sticking through the opening. While I have the corner handy, I stick my trusty scissors into the point to make it "pointier". I don't snip the tip on the wrong side, nor do I get out a pin and pull the point all the way out. That's too OCD for me and napkins. If I was making a dress or wanted to fuss, I would do that. But I keep remembering my kids wiping up spills with them and then not rinsing the napkin out and it being stained. Keeps me in line with the importance of what I'm doing. Which is to say that, in a year, I'm going to be needing more that aren't stained. So don't go overboard, just get 'em made. They will be useful and you'll use them. This is for use, not for sitting and looking pretty. Unless this IS for sitting and looking pretty. Then measure and pick away, so they are perfect. I will comment, that after I'm done, mine DO look pretty. I'm the only one who would actually notice any imperfections. Well, me and anyone who doesn't have a life and wants to find fault. lol

8. So after you've turned all four points, your ready to close that opening. NO you don't have to hand stitch that bad boy closed. We're going to cheat and sew it closed while we top stitch this puppy. Here's what to do. Smooth out the napkin, turning in the edges of the opening. Now we're going to start sewing again. Start ABOVE the opening - an inch or so above it will be fine. You don't need to back sew it to lock the threads, we'll take care of that at the end. Just start sewing, keeping the two edges inside while you are sewing. You will be sewing about 1/8" from the edge. This will catch the open edges and sew them closed. Sew over the opening and continue on down to the corner. Turn it as before and keep on sewing until you get back to where you started. Now sew about an inch over where you first sewed. This will lock both the starting and ending threads, but still look nice. Trim the thread tails and you're done. No pain, no ironing - except when you pressed out most of the wrinkles before you started cutting. You will have a very pretty napkin. It probably isn't a square, it'll be more of a rectangle.

Tip on the top sewing. It bothers me to see edges that are "poofy" from not having the inside seam all the way to the edge. This happens when you top sew without ironing. So while I'm doing the top stitching, I will stop and gently grab the finished seam and work it to the edge, then do the top stitching. I can do this quickly while I'm sewing. If that "poofyness" doesn't bother you, just do the top stitching without worrying about the edge. Or you could iron it before you turn it. That would be a PAIN! (See, I CAN OCD over things! That's why I have to keep reminding myself of what the finished product is used for! I was raised with if you do it, do it "right". I like Flylady's reminder that we don't have to do things perfectly, we only need to get them done "good enough".) Yes, there is a time for perfection. If I were making a gift, I would take more care with what I was making. For myself, I find that when I try to make things that are "perfect", I then either don't finish them or don't want them being used, or I get upset with whomever "spoils" the finished product. We're making something to wipe greasy, tomatoey, sticky fingers and faces on. We want to be able to toss them in the washer and dryer.

There are other options for napkins. You can go buy them already made. You can buy the paper ones or you can buy wash cloths/dish cloths and use those. I made these out of material I already had on hand, either that I had bought for something else and never got around to making it (and have forgotten what it was I was even going to make with it!) or mostly I've been gifted with material from people who no longer sew. I've got enough to last quite a while. But I still found a remnant on sale at Wallyworld and got 10 napkins for 1.50 - that's when I realized that 10 x 10 napkins were rather small.


Cloth Napkins said...

I like your style and I am right there with you. I love cloth napkins, and they do need to be used. I also make mine out of any fabric I can find. What about all of my husband's shirts that I take to goodwill? I could get at least one out of the back of the shirt.What a great way to remberber a special period of time. Almost like a quilt.

Sharon J said...

I too prefer cloth napkins over paper ones and as I'm not fussy about having a matching set (I do have them but they're only used for special occasion dinners or lunches) I make mine out of just about anything suitable that I'd otherwise throw away. Old shirts, pillow slips, duvet covers, etc. You really can't get cheaper ones than that ;-)

Sharon J x

Anonymous said...

Hi Darlene,
I wish you lived across the road from me--we'd have a ball! I made funky 17" square napkins (4 per yard) as Christmas gifts (mix & match) for the office gals. They loved them and said, "No more wasting money on paper napkins!" What a way to Go Green! I've made a few hundred and it's a great stress therapy to just serge away you bottled-up tension. Thank you for reaffirming this great project!
Karen L.