Thursday, October 30, 2008

Making Napkins

Few things make me feel quite as lame and untalented as a sewing machine.

Falling up stairs comes in a close second, as does falling down in public. Neither, however, is as frustrating to me as sewing.

It turns out that while I may have plenty of other talents (I make a nice baby!), I can neither draw a straight line, nor cut a straight line, nor sew a straight line - even with a guide.

But that's okay! Know why? These are just napkins. We're going to use them to wipe our messy faces, throw them in the wash and use them again. And again. And a few thousand more times before we start to wear holes in them. No one is going to be checking my hemlines for straightness or width and even if they do, I'm sure they won't heckle me. Not if they expect any more food at my table, they won't!

If you're like me and you want to cut down on your paper towel and paper napkin use, cloth napkins are the way to go. Buying them can be a little expensive, though. Often, you can't find a pattern you like, either. This is where a quick trip to the fabric store comes in. Be careful, though: those stores are filled to the brim with really pretty fabrics and it may be hard to choose just one.

Take a friend. One that won't be swayed by pretty, pretty fabrics.

The last time I made napkins was two years ago. The sewing machine has sat gathering dust all the while. It doesn't like me much.

You know what? Making napkins isn't very hard at all. I have to say it: if I can do it, with my straight line issues, you can do it. If you want to!


First, determine how many napkins you'd like. You can get about 4 per yard (assuming 45" wide fabric) if they are between 17" and 22". A 17" square will leave you with a fair amount of scrap, while a 17" x 22" rectangle won't, but will give you a napkin that nicely covers your lap. While 12" squares will get you more napkins per square yard, it will leave you with...handkerchiefs. Or napkins that only cover the laps of children. You decide!

Since I was making napkins for the set of reusable party dishes I have, I was going to need 20. However, since I went to the store in a sleep deprived state, I only got enough for 16 napkins. This necessitated a second trip to the store and upon discovering that they were out of the fabric I had started with, meant that I had to buy another pattern and make another 16 napkins because I'm crazy that way.

It also meant that I bought a rotary cutter and a cutting mat because I figured I'd try to make the cutting part go faster, even if it wouldn't be straighter. Also, I might just be making some Christmas gifts this year.

Wash the cloth first, according to the directions on the bolt of fabric and then iron it out before cutting.

After cutting out my napkins, I ironed the hem down. It was supposed to be 1/4", but I'm not so good with the visual measurements since I have no depth perception (No, I'm not kidding.). This was to avoid having to pin down the hem. Who wants to waste time with pins? Not me!

Then fold the hem down again so that the raw cut edge is folded away from sight and iron it flat, again.

Flip to the opposite side and repeat. Then turn 90 degrees and iron the remaining two sides down as well. Now you're ready to start sewing.

After spending an hour loading your bobbin and then trying to get your bobbin tension correct (I told you I'm not good at this!), download the manual for your 12 year old sewing machine and figure out how to do it according to the manufacturer's directions. Then, once that's all worked out, place your nascent napkin under the needle and start your first sorta straight line. When you get to the corner, pause, turn the napkin 90 degrees and make the turn.

Someone actually skilled can probably just whip that sucker right around the corner, but not me. By the time you've reached that last corner, you can heave a sigh of relief.

You've successfully sewed your first napkin!

Only 31 more to go!

Eventually, you will be done and you will be a happier person for it.

And a more napkin-ed person, too.

And if you have any scraps left over that are big enough, you could make a drawstring bag for your daughter. You know, if you weren't tired of sewing straight lines by that point. It's worth major Mommy Points, so it's worth it.

As a matter of fact, sewing that bag might give you ideas about sewing a bag to trick or treat with, using holiday fabric instead of using plastic pumpkins.

You know, in case you were that kind of mom.

Not that I...uh...hey look! Napkins!

[Shifty eyed look.]


Red Flashlight said...

I love them! They are flowery and fine. Excellent! I understand there are two camps on the napkin issue: the "don't use cloth napkins because it uses too much water" camp, and the "don't use paper napkins because it uses too much paper" camp. I fall in the latter category. Yes, water is an issue in the Western United States. No, I don't think tossing two or four napkins into the wash once a week makes any difference at all. It's not like we're running a boarding house. If we saved up enough napkins for a "napkins only" wash, we'd do a wash twice a year. Better to fill up the unused crannies in our regular wash, with napkins. That seems more conscientious anyway.

ellen said...

Yay, for you! It just takes practice to sew a straight line. I used to be all over the place with my seam allowance. Cute fabrics BTW.

Just to add, the size you're using 18 x 22, is called a fat quarter.

If you have questions about the bag you want to make ask away. I think there was another page of instructions. Like, fold it up and sew up the sides, which we did on the sewing machine not with the embroidery floss.

Cousin Janet from NY said...

I have been petrified by sewing machines all my life. Why???? Cuz Gramma, the original Emma, was always sewing something. She was incredibly talented. In fact every
year she made Linda & me a matching
"best dress". Anyway Grampa Sam, being the huge worrier that he was,
would shriek any time I came near the sewing machine that I was going to get hurt!!!!!! Hence, I have never to this day used one. Oh well, I'm a great cook. Love to all, Janet

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