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Thrifty Back-to-School Napkin Tutorial

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Want a thrifty and green way to send your student back to school?  Here’s an easy project for anyone who’s ever touched a sewing machine.  We recently made our own pretty, color-coordinated,cotton napkins for  less than one-fifth the price of the trendy resale ones.  Here’s a thrifty back-to-school napkin tutorial:

When I saw kids’ napkins advertised for $9.50 (pre-tax) I thought it must be a set.  No, that was the cost for one napkin, which would be over $10 with tax!  $50 or more for a week’s worth?  I don’t think so.

For our napkins, we purchased fabric that, with tax, was $4.35 per yard.  Plus we bought a $2.79 spool of coordinating thread.  We made four napkins per yard.  Ours would be luxuriously large 16-inch napkins instead of the 13-inch resale ones.  We were able to make a set of six napkins for $9.35, less than one resale napkin.  This breaks down to $1.56 per napkin.  My student chose the prints she wanted to coordinate with her backpack.

Here are your instructions for making your own student a set of six napkins:

1. Start with 1 1/2 yards of cotton fabric. If you prefer to mix colors and prints, buy yardage in a minimum of 1/2 yard amounts to make two napkins.  Less than 1/2 yard will not be wide enough for even one napkin.

2. Wash and dry the fabric to preshrink it.  Trim any frayed edges. 3. Use old newsprint or wrapping paper to cut a 17-inch square pattern.  Use old scissors, not your good sewing shears, to cut the paper.

4. Fold the yardage lengthwise and pin the pattern atop it with a few straight pins.
5. Cut, creating two napkin squares.  Repeat until you’ve cut six squares.
6. Measure 1/4-inch around all four edges and press edge with a hot iron.

7. Machine-stitch approximately 3/16-inch from the outside edge, all around, remembering to overlap stitching at least an inch at the end.  I like this width because I can use my pressure foot as a guide.

8. Finger-press this time as you fold edges approximately another 1/4-inch around.  Make sure edges are tucked in at corners.

9. Machine-stitch approximately 3/16-inch from outside edge, all around, remembering to overlap stitching at least an inch at the end.
10.  Press again to eliminate wrinkles and make edges neat.  The finished napkin will be 16-inches square.

If you want to experiment with getting more, smaller napkins from a yard of fabric, remember what the size will be after pre-shrinking.  My “yard” of cotton fabric, after shrinking, was about 34 1/2-inches by 43 inches.

If you prefer to fold the edges under twice, and then stitch only one time around, be extra careful that you’ve caught the raw edges inside the folds.  I like to stitch twice so the napkins will hold up better to repeating washings.  You may also want to try a decorative stitch or an alternative way of finishing the edges if you have a serger.

The napkins I saw for sale are made from organic cotton, while ours are conventional cotton.  This project could still potentially be done at a savings if one purchased organic cotton by the yard.  I would love to try this project with organic cotton.  Yet, even conventional cotton napkins seem pretty green compared to paper ones.  So, we’re going to give these a try.


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