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Decorative Stitch Napkins with Matching Ties

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The cloth napkin; you simply can't ask for an easier home décor project. If you are just getting started in sewing or teaching someone new, napkins are an instant-gratification winner. If you're already a pro, they're a fast and fun project. And this time of year, when the holidays are almost upon us, they're a perfect host/hostess gift to whip out in an afternoon before your evening festivities. We kick ours up a notch with beautiful decorative stitching all around the edge and a coordinating fabric napkin ring that "ties" together all the beautiful mix-and-match patterns, pairing traditional florals with contemporary graphic motifs.

We used the Janome Skyline S5 with its 9mm stitch for our napkins, but nearly every sewing machine, even the basic ones, have at least a few decorative stitches built in. This is a great project to try out some of those pretty stitches. Take a look at our tutorial on How to Turn a Corner with a Decorative Stitch for handy tips and techniques to get a perfect 90˚ angle. 

Our napkins feature the same fabric on the front and back. The colors and motifs are so rich and vibrant, we felt our table settings would be sufficiently exquisite simply by varying prints napkin to napkin. However, using different fabrics for the front and back is another option. We'd recommend just two fabrics: one for all the fronts, and one for all the backs. You do still want your dinner guests to be able to concentrate on their food. 

All of our pretty prints originally came from Joel Dewberry's Heirloom collection for FreeSpirit Fabrics. This is an older collection that is no longer readily available, however, Joel's recent Flora collection would be a gorgeous alternative. Our friends at Hawthorne Threads have a great selection in stock in quilting cotton as well as the coordinating sateen and rayon.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

Our napkins finish at 20" x 20" and are double-sided. This means you need at least two 21" x 21" squares of fabric to make one napkin. If you're working with 44-45" wide fabric, as most quilting cottons are, this means you need at least 21" in length. If you get ⅔ of a yard, that is 24" - plenty of length and at 44-45", plenty of width. In fact, you will have just enough left to make the napkin ties from your scraps.

If your fabric has a particularly large motif, you may want to get a full yard to allow enough flexibility for a pretty fussy cut

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The ingredients below are for ONE napkin and ONE tie.

  • ⅔ - 1 yard of 44-45" wide fabric
  • Scrap (apx 9" x 4") of fabric for the napkin tie; we used one fabric for all our ties to blend the mix-and-match napkins into a coordinated set
  • Optional: scrap of lightweight fusible interfacing for the napkin tie - one piece 2" x 7".
    INTERFACING NOTE: With the quality of the FreeSpirit fabric, we felt our ties were stable enough using just two layers of fabric and so did not add interfacing. If the fabric you choose is quite lightweight, we suggest adding interfacing. For the same reason, we did not stabilize the edge of our napkins prior to the decorative stitching. Instead, we relied on the two layers of the fabric plus the seam allowances to provide stability, which worked just great. Practice on scraps with and without interfacing to make sure your stitching works as you hope it will.
  • ONE 1" - 1½" button; we used a 1" wooden button
  • ½ yard of thin ribbon, cording or suede for the tie; we used a deep red suede
  • All purpose thread in colors to match fabric
  • Contrasting all purpose thread for decorative stitching
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Straight pins
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper

Getting Started

  1. From each fabric for your napkins, fussy cut TWO 21" x 21" squares.
  2. From each fabric for the ties, fussy cut TWO 8" x 3" strips.
  3. We recommend a rotary cutter for cutting squares. It's faster and more accurate. If using a rotary cutter for the first time, we have a detailed explanation of the proper use of this tool in our article on Quilting Basics.
    NOTE: Need help selecting a rotary cutter that best suits your needs? Check out our Buying Guide on rotary cutting products.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board


  1. Place the napkin front and back squares right sides together. Pin around all four sides, leaving a 3" - 4" opening in the middle of one side for turning.
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  2. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch around all four sides, locking the seam at either side of the 3" - 4" opening. Remember to stop at each corner, with your needle in the down position, and pivot.
  3. Clip the corners at a diagonal, but be careful not to clip into your stitching.
  4. Turn the napkin right side out. Using a long, blunt-end tool, such as a large knitting needle or a chopstick, gently push out each corner so it is nice and sharp.
  5. Press well, turning in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam. Pin the opening closed.
    Click to Enlarge
  6. Re-thread your machine with contrasting thread in the top and bobbin.
  7. Following the instruction manual, set up your machine for decorative stitching. Choose a decorative stitch that will stand out nicely against your fabric. Practice on scraps to set your best stitch length and width.
  8. As mentioned above, if you are new to decorative stitching, check out our article with general tips and techniques as well as our tutorial on turning corners with a decorative stitch
  9. Stitch around all four sides of the napkin, using the decorative stitch. How far away from the edge you are will depend on the width of your stitch and your personal preference. We used a 9mm wide stitch and so positioned the center of the stitch ⅜" from the edge of the napkin. This not only looked best, it allowed us to simply use the outside edge of the presser foot as a guide for keeping the stitch straight.
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  10. Go slowly, and carefully watch your foot. It took me about 20 minutes, or 5 minutes per side, to do my stitching.
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  11. The NUMBER ONE, most important tip: test, test and test again!! Better to use up a little extra thread and a few scraps than to ruin a napkin. Decorative stitches are no fun to try to take out with a seam ripper.
    Click to Enlarge

Napkin Ties

  1. Place two 8" x 3" strips right sides together. Pin, leaving a 1" - 2" opening for turning.
  2. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch around all four sides, locking the seam at either side of the 1" - 2" opening. Remember to stop at each corner, with your needle in the down position, and pivot.
    Click to Enlarge
  3. Clip the corners at a diagonal. Trim back the seam allowance to ¼", except at the opening; leave the full ½" allowance there.
    Click to Enlarge
  4. Turn the tie right side out. As above, use a long, blunt-end tool, such as a large knitting needle or a chopstick, to gently push out each corner so it is nice and sharp.
  5. Press well, turning in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam. Pin the opening closed.
  6. Increase the stitch length and topstitch ¼" from the edge around all four sides, remembering again to pivot at each corner. The topstitching will close the opening. Press again. We used our Janome Quarter Inch Seam foot to keep the topstitching precise. 
    Click to Enlarge
  7. Sew a button in the exact center of the tie. Be careful with your stitching so you create a pretty "X" stitch from the front and neat little "X" on the back. You will see the stitching from both sides. If you are new to this, check out our tutorial on How to Sew on a Button
  8. Wrap your ribbon, cording or suede around the button and tie a secure knot.
    Click to Enlarge
  9. Trim the short end so it disappears under the button. Test wrap a napkin to determine if your long end needs to be trimmed. I cut mine to a finished length of about 15".
    NOTE: Tying the cord around the button will "crimp'"the fabric a bit. Stretch the fabric back out all the around the button to flatten, then press well (using a pressing cloth to protect the button) from the back (right over the button) and from the front (all around the button).


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation: Liz Johnson


Comments (7)

Betty Meyskens said:
Betty Meyskens's picture

Great idea for Thanksgiving as so many families get together to celebrate.  Great instructions.

Michaeleen Malobovich said:
Michaeleen Malobovich's picture

I love your idea. Your fabric choices are so beautiful. I'm thinking about how a set of Christmas napkins would make a nice gift. Thanks for sharing!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Michaeleen Malobovich - this set would make an amazing gift!

Karen Higham said:
Karen Higham's picture

Great tutorial! The napkins are beautiful and the napkin ties were a very clever idea indeed.


Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Karen Higham - Thanks! Hope you'll give it a try!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ MKP Design - Thanks! Fun, fast and beautiful ... hard to go wrong there 

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