Recently I made a set of summery napkins. With a budget of only 5 dollars for six napkins, I had to search the thrift store for fabric, and I was glad to do so because:
- I can almost always find less expensive fabric at the thrift store than at the mall’s fabric store.
- Reusing old textiles is more environmentally friendly than buying new.
Here are some tips in case you find yourself hankering to sew up your own thrifty set:
1. Take a tape measure to the thrift store. I originally looked for cloth napkins already made, but all they had was a holiday set. I was glad I had a tape measure with me!
2. Check out the bargain bins first. This is where you’ll find torn curtains, unsold dresses, and cotton shirts with buttons missing.
3. I planned on standard 18X18 inch napkins, so I needed to cut 20×20 inch squares to allow for hemming. The squares wouldn’t fit all neatly lined up on my fabric, so I cut two of the squares on the bias (meaning the threads run corner to corner and not side to side). It’s okay if you have to cut some of the squares on the bias unless you have a stripe or a plaid and don’t like diagonals. Just be sure not to tug and pull when you iron and sew the hems because bias fabric will stretch out of shape, and you’ll end up with wonky wobbly napkins!
4. The biggest piece of fabric I found would make 4 napkins, so I had to look for coordinating fabric for the remaining two napkins. Don’t let this scare you. If you have to mix patterns, you don’t have to stick to home décor rules. Instead of going with a large floral and a small geometric (a standard home décor textile rule), you can go with patterns that would totally clash in large amounts. Napkins are little. There just isn’t enough fabric for your brain to register clashing patterns!
5. In choosing two different fabrics, look for a common color. The orange in these two prints is spot on.
6. If you can’t find a common color in two different fabrics, think like an artist. For example, in a landscape painting, you might see the green paint of the grass created from the yellow pigment of the dandelions and the blue pigment of the sky. My art teacher used to say this was “marrying the colors.” I was able to find a coral solid fabric that was “married” to the main floral print because the coral could have been created from mixing the strong floral pink with a little of the floral orange. The result is easy on the eyes even though the colors don’t exactly match.
These were my final fabric choices laid side-by-side:
I bought my fabrics, went home, and washed the heck out of them. Our local thrift store is very clean, but you just don’t know where the fabrics came from. Then I measured and cut out my squares. I folded over each edge ½ inch, ironed the fold into place, and folded over each edge again and ironed again. I was left with six 18X18 inch squares.
At this point I could have sewn the hems into place exactly as they were ironed. It would result in a regular corner.
Instead, I sewed mitered corners. They are a little more streamlined, a little more special.
And this is the what the front of the napkin looks like with a mitered corner.
Here’s a link to the best video tutorial ever on the mitered corner, and it has a bonus how-to for adding a backing (like for a place mat) or a lining (like for a curtain): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3twJCHAQfI&list=WL&index=3. The video is easy to see and follow because it’s a bright orange fabric and a full inch-wide seam. After the first two napkins, you won’t even have to take the time to draw a sewing line like it shows you in the video. You can intuit where the corner stitch line is supposed to go.
It took me 3 hours to cut out and sew six napkins. I bet an expert could do it in 90 minutes or maybe 2 hours (because ironing is the time intensive part). I think a beginner would need 5 or 6 hours because of inevitable mistakes. Like everything else, sewing has a learning curve that slows you down. If you are TRULY a beginner, I recommend enough fabric for one extra napkin because there will probably be a major oops that can’t be fixed!
Make this day even better. Consider:
- 70 percent of donated clothes end up in Africa, and it’s been rough for African countries with textile industries (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/06/second-hand-clothing-donations-kenya). The next time you have a small sewing project, think about shopping for used textiles at the thrift store. These are the small sewing projects stirring around in my gray matter for possible holiday crafts:
Fleece neck gaiter