No-Sew Summer Napkins they're not "no-sew," they're "no-machine-sew," but honestly...which one sounds waaay more lame?  

(That's a rhetorical question.)

I made these napkins for Marina as a gift.  She is the sweetest woman I've ever met, and she and her husband graciously hosted our stay in St. Petersburg last summer.

Marina and I last summer, about to go into a monastery (thus the headscarf).

She always set an exquisite table for us, and I fell in love with how quaint and folksy everything was.  It kind of made me want to go live in a cabin in the woods and just spend the rest of my life handmaking things.

So, I decided to make these napkins to go along with her beautiful place settings.  I must warn you: they are not for the faint of heart.  They are gorgeous in the end, but will require a fair amount of work. (It's worth it, though, right?)

So (or sew, haha, I'm so punny....), let's get started!

Step one: get your fabric.  (Obvs.)

The fabric I bought was medium-weight cotton sateen.  Honestly, I would just go with whatever you think looks and feels the best.  If you want them to be more for decoration, choose something synthetic and less absorbable.  If you want them to be more on the functional side, stick with a natural, absorbent material like cotton.

Once you have your fabric, cut them into squares in whatever size desirable.  Mine are 18" x 18", which is a little on the small side for napkins.  Most are 20" x 20."

Step two: press the hems. 

Once you've got it cut, press the hem about 1/4" in on one side.  Steam it if necessary to help it stay flat.

Do the opposite edge next (side and side), so that when you press your corners it will lay flat.

Now, on the other two sides, top and bottom, fold over neatly on the corners and press.

This step is what will keep your edges tucked under and prevent them from fraying.  You're going to go around the napkin and press the seams again.  Do the same pattern of top/bottom and side/side (obviously since it's square, it doesn't matter which side you start with, but just do the opposite of the side you start with).

Ta-da! All pressed and ready for stitchwork.

Step three: hem the edges. (this is kind of like pruning the hedges, only different.)

If you've never embroidered before, you may want to practice on a scrap of fabric first.

Thread the needle, knotting one end and leaving the unknotted tail shorter than the knotted side.

Necessity is the mother of invention! I found that a pants hanger worked marvelously for holding my hem straight, since the traditional embroidery hoop wouldn't have worked nearly as well.

I'm using the blanket stitch to hem my napkins.  I laid out the steps here, but here's another tutorial if you get confused. (Just be aware that hers isn't actually on a fabric edge. She's just demonstrating on a piece of fabric.)

For your first stitch, go up in between the folded-over hem to come out at the top edge of the hem.  Pull the knotted end tight.

For your first stitch, punch the needle about 1/8" down on the hem, going straight through front to back. 

Before you pull the stitch tight, go back through the loop of your previous stitch. (See the picture above).

Pull the stitch tight, but not too tight.  You don't want any loose thread, but if it's too tight, it will squish your fabric. 

Repeat that stitch until you run out of thread (see below).

Here's what a couple stitches in a row should look like.  I don't use a ruler or mark where my stitches should be because I like the little variations in the stitches.  You could mark off the fabric if you wanted to, though, so you know exactly where to place each stitch.

When you get to the end of your thread, stitch a tiny backstitch over your last stitch to secure it, then bring the needle through to the inside of the hem (below).

Knot the end of your thread by doing one or two stitches in the same spot on the underside of your hem.

To start the next piece of thread, simply go up through the hem at the stitch of your last thread.

When you get to a corner, do two stitches in the same spot on each side.  This will help keep it secure.

Once you've done the whole edging, voila! You have a napkin with a beautiful folksy edge.  You can stop there if you want to, or you can put on embroidery details.

Step four: embroider your design.

The best site, hands down, that I've found for embroidery stitch tutorials is Sarah's Hand Embroidery Tutorials.  She goes through every stitch very simply--it's a great reference for designing!

Spend some time to sketch out your ideas.  Keep it simple.  Hand embroidery gets a lot more complicated and time-consuming than you'd think.

This is my favorite fabric pen, because it lasts a long time and is fairly cheap.  The purple end disappears on its own with time, but the blue will only come out with water.

Once you've got your design planned, mark it out on your fabric.  

Stitch away!  It takes a lot of patience to embroider well, but the more you do it the easier it will become.  I've been embroidering since I was a little girl, so don't be discouraged by your first attempts.

Mine turned out perfectly--exactly what I wanted.  I must say I'm a sucker for the hand crafted look.  It's nostalgic and sweet, and it reminds me of living in a simpler time.  Can't we all just have a garden and a porch swing and drink tea together in our country cottage??

Let me know if you end up doing a similar project--I want to see it!


  1. amazing! You are so crafty and talented!

  2. Super cute Dan. I love how they look too. I have never embroidered. I would get tired of doing all that stitching too! Sheesh.

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