MY HAPPY KITCHEN #2 / Patchwork Napkins from Scraps & Turkish Towels

Remember the Turkish towel craze a few years back? I jumped on the trend-wagon and bought some only to find they didn’t work so well for toweling-off after a standard-duty shower or bath. And rather than try just one, I bought six in four different designs.

Two are serving light-duty as handtowels in my guest bath, where two more wait to pick up any slack. The other two I bought in a pretty orange color–two different stripes–to alternate as handtowels in my half-bath, where they really never worked. My husband uses that bathroom a lot and, well, you know how men are with wadding up handtowels. And the MORE towel you give them, the worse it looks.

So the two orange ones got lost in the depths of my not-so-deep linen closet, where I rediscovered them a couple weeks ago when I cleaned it out to make room for all the coronavirus stocking up we’ve been doing. And the more I looked at them, the more I thought, Hey, these might make decent cloth napkins.

Patchwork inspiration

First, I found an inspiration napkin. This is a ready-made one, but I used its layout as a guideline, because the napkin then folds up to show different fabrics, depending on how it’s folded.

It also uses six coordinating fabrics. My two towels might have yielded six napkins, but not much variation in pattern, so I searched through my fabric stash to find something else to use with them. @bohosusan
Richloom Ingrid Nectarine

I came up with this Richloom drapery weight fabric called Ingrid Nectarine. I’d made two matching pillows from it and sold them in my Etsy shop, and I probably had enough left for another pillow.

I would have liked to use more than three different fabrics, but I was trying to match weights as much as possible. Admittedly, both the towels and this fabric are a bit heavy for napkins. But since the towels weren’t doing me any good stuffed into the back of the closet, I decided to give it a go.

Planning the sew just so

A traditional cloth napkin is usually one thickness of fabric with all four sides turned under twice to hide raw edges. But a patched napkin will have seams where the different fabric rectangles join. And unless you line the napkin with another full layer of fabric, those raw edges show. What to do?

Enter the flat-felled seam…

Look closely at my seams. All the raw edges (front and back) are encased in a double top-stitched pocket. You’ve probably seen flat-felled seams on jeans and on men’s shirts.

I’ll show how to make flat-felled seams later, but I mention it now because how an item is seamed affects cutting measurements.

The special supplies listed below aren’t absolutely necessary, but they will help make the job easier. Follow the (affiliate) links to purchase…

I like these 5.5-by-8.5-inch graph paper tablets, which I use before I begin any sewing project to sketch out a scaled drawing. It also gives me a record of my projects in case I want to make something similar in the future.

As you see on the left, I sketched out the napkin patch design on the left and determined that for each napkin I needed two strips 8 5/8 by 22 inches and three pieces 8 5/8-inches square.

I planned to do each long strip in a different towel and the three squares in the center in two squares of Ingrid Nectarine with a towel square in the center. (I made four napkins with the white towel with orange stripes in the center and four with the orange towel with white stripes.)

On the right you see drawings of each towel and how many pieces I could cut from each. My measurements allowed for 5/8-inch seams on the strips and a 3/4-inch per side allowance for hemming.

It will also help to have a rotary cutter, a quilting ruler and a self-healing cutting mat. Rolling the rotary cutter against the see-through ruler makes for precise rectangles and squares. The cutting mat protects your counter or table surface. But be careful, as rotary cutters are extremely sharp. Buy one with a retractable blade and blade guard so you don’t accidentally cut yourself when you’re searching your sewing basket for it.

Also, please excuse the condition of my cutting mat. It’s close to 30 years old so has picked up some smudges through the years.

On to the sewing…

After you cut everything out, first construct your center strip of three squares with flat-felled seams. I learned how to sew flat-felled seams when I took tailoring in college but haven’t done any in years, so I took to the Internet and found this video tutorial:

The trickest part is remembering to sew all the seams WRONG sides together–which is the exact opposite of a traditional seam–and keeping all those wrong sides sorted as you make your patchwork. Perhaps it’s a good idea to mark your sides, as the seamstress in the video suggests. I goofed up on two and had to rip and redo.

I also found that 5/8-inch seams made it a bit tough for me to turn under the top of the flat-felled seam without some raw edges escaping. I would suggest increasing your seam allowance to 3/4 inch. You won’t have to cut your pieces any larger, as my napkins turned out a bit bigger than necessary.

After you flat-fell seam the center squares together, join each of the longer outside strips to the center, also wrong sides together and flat-felling the seams to finish.

Now you’re ready to hem.

For hemming, you’ll want to miter the corners to make them less bulky and neater in appearance. Here’s another video to help with that:

Simply repeat for however many napkins you’re making! The flat-felled seams take a bit of extra work (and thread!), but they hide all the rough edges and are extremely durable.

And they look pretty, too!

Recommendation recap

  1. Use 3-5 coordinating fabrics of similar weights for best results. The Turkish towels tended to stretch and unravel a bit, so unless you want to use some towels you already own, I’d choose more stable fabrics. Quilting fabrics are always a good bet as they’re a consistent weight, wash well, and available in a variety of prints and solids.
  2. Plan out your project on graph paper and make a measured cut list.
  3. Get the right tools to make the job easier.
  4. Increase your seam allowance to 3/4-inch for ease in felling seams.

If you want more…

Check out another “MY HAPPY KITCHEN” post on customizing plain store-bought napkins with a colorful embroidered edge. That post also includes reasons why cloth napkins are a good choice.

And if you, like me, love your cloth napkins, I have two more napkin projects in my trapped-at-home-during-the-coronavirus bag of tricks. Both combine applique and embroidery to customize store-bought napkins.

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