Handmade Cloth Napkins – Easy & Frugal Ideas to ‘Dress’ Your Table

Handmade cloth napkins can go a long way towards adding a personal touch to your holiday table setting. A Holiday table is often a work of art. In fact, we often gaze longingly at the beautiful table settings in magazines. Fine china. Sparkling crystal. Sterling silver polished to a high gleam. The centerpiece is perfection, and the garland stretching from end to end just adds that glamorous touch.

And as you picture your own table looking that perfect, your mind’s eye catches a glass as it tilts over from an elbow. Uncle Dan tells his wild stories with a big sweep of his arm, which catches on the garland and pulls it off the table. And Grandma’s shaky hand drops mashed potatoes all over the centerpiece.

I love those magazine table settings. I really do. But around our house, with everyone reaching, telling stories, and the inevitable spills, I long ago figured out I wasn’t up to trying to get stains out of the fine linen tablecloth, polishing all that silverware, or handwashing crystal glasses.

Instead, I love nothing more than a simple setting for a holiday table. I do use handmade cloth napkins and placemats, but as for the linens, that is about as far as I go.

There is as much of an art to setting a holiday table in a simple fashion as there is trying to recreate a magazine image. But instead of using double layers of dishes, polishing silver, and all that handwashing of linens after the fact,your time can be better spent planning and designing around things you already have.

Just so you know: This post contains affiliate links; if you click on a link and make a purchase I might make a small commission, but it does not affect the price you pay!

Celebrating Thanksgiving by setting the table with the seasonal dishes and flatward

Start at the Beginning

The first thing you need to determine is a color scheme.  If you already have holiday-specific china or dishes you want to use, then your color scheme will be pre-determined.

For me, I have white dishes. I chose this because no matter the occasion, I have a wider range of color schemes and decorating themes I can choose from. If we decide to host a dinner party that consists of a pot of Crawfish Etoufee, French Bread and sweet potatoes, I set my table with red place mats, red and white checked napkins wrapped in wooden Crawfish napkin rings.

My red placemats also work well for an Italian meal. A pan of Canneloni, garlic bread and a green salad is offset (and looks even more delicious) with black napkins and white ceramic rings.

The only time I use different dishes is on Thanksgiving and Christmas. For those two days, I have special dishes – but I still coordinate them with placemats and napkins.

have a merry, simple Christmas ebook banner

Think Outside the Box When Setting a Holiday Table

Along with my white dishes, I frequently use pieces of my enamelware collection. It may be in the form of a baking dish, a serving bowl, or even a creamer (which I use for salad dressings). And other times, I use Mason Jars for drinking glasses, a vintage colored glass plate for butter, or a 1950’s style pitcher filled with iced tea.

If you want a centerpiece, find an unusual piece that fits with your theme. I once used a silver trophy bowl to float a beautiful Magnolia blossom in for a centerpiece. One of the best conversation pieces was a small enamelware chamber pot that I filled with Daisies, red Geraniums and Black-eyed Susans.  Considering one couple was new to the group, it made for a great conversation starter and a lot of laughter, right from the start!

Setting a holiday table is a way to express my personality. I pick and choose the things I love, and find a way to make them work for my table. Take the time to examine your favorite pieces and collectables, and see how they will work for setting a holiday table.

But there are times when I cannot find anything that will fit with the look I am trying to go for. When that happens, I find a fabric that will work and create my own handmade cloth napkins. And if necessary, I search the house and kitchen for napkin rings that will work as well.

Creating handmade cloth napkins is easier than you think. With a few simple supplies you can have a set of four or more in an afternoon. With a quick wash and a pressing, you can make your handmade cloth napkins in the morning, and have them for a fun evening with friends the same day!

Simple Holiday Table - Placesetting

Tips on Handmade Cloth Napkins

If you are like me, you probably have a stash of fabric either left over from another project, or some you have purchased but have never gotten around to using. Before you purchase fabric, go through your stash to see if you have anything that will work.

If you love the idea of recycling, you can also create handmade cloth napkins out of an old tablecloth that has holes in it, a set of drapes or curtains that you no longer use, or any other fabric that has at least 18” of useable area.

My favorite thing to do is to create my handmade cloth napkins out of several different colors and patterns of fabric. As long as they blend, you can mix and match to add another layer of fun to your table!

Take your napkins a step further and add a touch of embroidery along the edges or in one corner. Choose a coordinating thread, find a design you like, and add anything from a monogram to an image. You can also choose to add lace or other trim to your edges to make your handmade cloth napkins even more unique!

handmade cloth napkins

Supplies you will Need

  • Fabric – each napkin will require 16-1/2” . You can get 4 napkins out of 1 yard of fabric (with a 45″ width)
  • Matching Sewing Thread
  • If decorating with Embroidery, you will need:

    • Embroidery Hoop
    • Embroidery Thread
    • Embroidery Needle

  • 2 yards of lace or decorative trim, If using it for the edges
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Straight pins


To make it even quicker and easier to cut out my handmade cloth napkins, I use:


For each napkin:

handmade cloth napkins

Cut your fabric 16-`1/2” x 16-1/2”.

handmade cloth napkins

Starting on one side, fold the point of each corner towards the center to 1”. Using a hot iron, press into place.

handmade cloth napkins

Beginning on one side, fold one edge over 1/4″ and press. Repeat with the remaining sides.

handmade cloth napkins

Starting with the first side, fold the fabric over another 1/4″, checking to make sure your edges match to form a mitered corner, and press. Again, repeat with remaining sides. Pin the folded edges. Using a sewing machine threaded with a coordinating thread, place your needle 1/4″ from the edge of each side.  Sew along the edge, keeping your seam 1/4″ from the edge, and stopping within 1/4″ of the next corner edge. Turn, and repeat with the remaining sides, ending 1/4″ from the edge and where you began.

handmade cloth napkins

Trim any loose threads. On the backside, gently trim off the excess fabric from the tips of the corners that were originally pressed down and are showing under the seams.

Embroidery:  Once your napkin is completed, choose the corner you want to embellish. Measuring 1/2″ to 1”, center your design. Using transfer paper, trace the design onto the fabric. If using an iron on design, press the design into place with a hot iron.

Embroider the design. When finished, hand wash your napkins, and air dry. Once they are mostly dry (but still a bit damp) press with a hot iron. Allow to completely dry, then store until ready to use.

Washing Your Handmade Cloth Napkins

For the first washing, gently hand wash your napkin in slightly warm water with a mild detergent. Gently wring out as much water as possible. Place on a large towel, leaving at least 2” from the top of the towel. Fold the top of the towel over the first napkin, then roll the towel up until all the napkins are enclosed. Give the towel roll a twist.

Unroll the towel and allow the napkins to air dray until they are still slightly damp. Using a hot iron, press the napkins. Set aside to allow them to completely dry.

Depending on the fabric you choose, you may then wash them in a normal wash cycle once they have been used.

Would you like printed directions for you Handmade Cloth Napkins? Just download them HERE!

handmade cloth napkins

Using Your Handmade Cloth Napkins

All that’s left is to dress your table! Cloth napkins can be used with napkin rings or folded in a rectangle and placed on the left side of the plate, under the fork(s). You can also get creative and fold them into different shapes!

Want More on Table Tips and Entertaining? Check out a few of these posts!

From the Farm Wife:

Think Outside the Cookie Cutter

How to Set a Simple Holiday Table

How to Make a Home Warm & Welcoming

Embrace & Enjoy the Handmade Life

Get Ready! Plan Ahead for Christmas

Productive Holiday Planning

Other Sources:

Taste of Home – How to Fold a Napkin 8 Easy Ways for Your Next Dinner Party (tasteofhome.com)

Good Housekeeping – 11 Best Napkin Folding Ideas – How to Fold Fancy Napkins Videos (goodhousekeeping.com)

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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