Easy Handmade Gift: DIY Cloth Napkins and Un-Paper Towels

by Merissa on December 7, 2012

in Featured, Make Your Own

Post image for Easy Handmade Gift: DIY Cloth Napkins and Un-Paper Towels

Enjoy this guest post today from Annie! - M

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Handmade Cloth Napkins and Un-Paper Towels are an easy, low-cost DIY project perfect to give as a gift this holiday season! They can be made in any fun print you desire, they save money by not having to buy paper napkins and paper towels at the store and they help you live a little greener by reducing the amount of paper you consume!

I started making these for our family last spring and I honestly cannot tell you the last time I purchased the paper equivalents at the
grocery store! With the investment of a little time and fabric, you can make a set in under two hours. I used to buy the veri-size paper towels so we could tear off half of one if we didn’t need a full size so our preferred cloth size happens to be those same dimensions of 12" x 6". We use our cloth napkins and un-paper towels interchangeably but you can easily make separate sets and sizes if you prefer.

The style I prefer to make have a 100% cotton fabric on one side and a 100% cotton terry towel material on the other side. The terry towel material helps with absorbency when cleaning up spills and also has texture so it grabs up the mess which we love for mealtimes. I could not find a lightweight terry material at our local fabric store so have been purchasing packs of kitchen towels at a local
discount store and they work perfect.

Supplies needed:

  • 100% cotton fabric in any print
  • 100% cotton terry towel material
  • thread
  • sewing machine
  • fabric cutting scissors

Decide what size you would like to make. If using a kitchen towel, you can easily just fold the towel in half or quarters and cut with no need to make a pattern. If you have terry towel fabric you will need to cut out a basic pattern in the size and shape you desire. For this tutorial I used kitchen towels in a variety of colors.


Since the kitchen towels I used were the perfect size I wanted when folded in half, I simply cut them in half. Since I have a serger there was no need for me to cut off the hemmed edge of the kitchen towel since the machine does that for me. If you have a standard machine and will be zig zagging the edges, cut the hem off the edges with pinking shears to help prevent fraying.

Cut a matching piece of cotton fabric for each terry towel piece. This can be done by laying the terry towel piece on top of the cotton fabric and cut out the cotton side.

Cut out a cotton front and terry towel back for each napkin/unpaper towel. Match the cotton and terry towel pieces with wrong sides together. Sew around the edges by serging or with a basic zigzag stitch.

Since I use a serger, I sew rounded corners so I can sew in one continuous stretch and the final product looks nicer. If you sew with a
standard sewing machine you can easily sew a standard pointed corner or round the corners, whatever your prefer. Trim threads when done. If you want to make a large full size paper towel or large cloth napkin like you would find in a restaurant, sew a large X with a standard straight stitch across each one to help prevent bunching when laundered.

Tie up your set with a pretty string and it is ready to be gifted! We store ours in a basket on our kitchen counter so you could also purchase a basket to go with your gift set of cloth napkins and un-paper towels.

 

Get even more frugal DIY project ideas on Little House Living!

Do you already use cloth napkins or cloth "paper" towels?

Annie lives in western Montana with her husband, 1 year old daughter
and two lazy dogs. Annie is a frugal, nature loving, simple living, work from home mama with an Etsy shop. She also blogs at MontanaSolarCreations where you can find DIY projects, recipes, natural living tips and stories about their outdoor adventures in Montana.

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Denise T. December 7, 2012 at 9:33 am

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages but haven’t found the time. Great idea!

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2 Kate December 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm

I’ve started using cloth napkins and towels instead of paper some time during university but I use(d) worn out cotton or linen clothes and sometimes towels lightyears beyond their prime which I just quickly run through the machine to keep from fraying/falling apart.

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3 Julie December 8, 2012 at 12:04 pm

This is a great idea. We already use kitchen towels instead of paper towels but we have yet to replace the paper napkins. Thanks for the tip.

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4 dutch margreet December 9, 2012 at 4:40 am

Thank you for this item. I prefer using fabric kitchentowels above paper ones. I just did not make them myself because of the usual sizes. But you have made me think again. I have nearly 40 years old towels that are fraying (almost married 40 years) and I thought I would use them as floorcleaning fabric. but… really, apart from the fraying they are too good for that use. Now I know what I will do, jst serge them into kitchentowels. They have to be changed so often and I think they will do for a year or two. There is even one towel I got when buying my weddingdress! Who would want to clean dirty floors with such a present? Now I will thankfully use them and watch out for perfect towels in the goodwill to make presents. Those towels often have a chewed on corner (dog, child?) or stain in some part and are overcheap.

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5 Sandra at Thistle Cove Farm December 9, 2012 at 6:49 am

Paper towels are still used to clean up animal messes; no way am I using cloth to wipe up dog and cat accidents! For everything else, I use cloth.

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6 Leah December 9, 2012 at 9:52 am

I use towels I just cut up. I don’t have a sewing machine so I haven’t been able to hem them yet. I really need to get my grammys. Laundry day is fun.

My mom has a rag bag made from old clothes and so do I. One day I realized I had way more towels than needed and decided to just do it. I use them for everything.

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7 Elizabeth December 10, 2012 at 6:24 am

I have a large collection of dish towels (about half microfiber). I use them for everything-counters,floors,stove, windows-everything. I haven’t had a paper towel in my house in several years. I never thought of making my own towels-they certainly would look more like a set and less like a disorganized heap :)

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8 marci357 January 2, 2013 at 4:05 pm

I use them instead of the swiffer covers also… made to swiffer size… Just mop and wash the rags :)

I also use the bigger picnic sized heavy napkins, like BBQ sized, for placemats when the grandkids are here… Seems to just be more festive and keeps the mess to a minimum when they are here – and easy clean up of crumbs or milk spills :)

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9 Andria January 12, 2013 at 3:19 pm

I have this project bookmarked! I’ve been using towels for my children in place of napkins or paper towels, but I think it would be fun and satisfying to use cloths that I created myself. And these WOULD make great gifts! Thanks for the directions!

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10 Karin H February 10, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Question? DO you change out your napkins with each meal?
We usually change out every other day and my sister said I am disgusting….
thoughts?

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11 Merissa February 11, 2013 at 10:52 am

We do only use them per meal just because we don’t really have a place to put them to remember whose is whose. (Mine are the same colors.)

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12 LineG September 4, 2013 at 8:03 am

These are great for small cleanig jobs! *must make* :D

I use regular cloth napkins at the table, though (that match the table cloth – they’re sets inherited from granny). I change mine once every couple of days, but, of course, it depends on how icky they are! Since everybody has their own place and personal napkinholder, napkins in use stay rolled up on the table all the time.

LineG

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13 Dawn June 7, 2013 at 4:02 pm

We gave up napkins and paper towels about 2 years ago. The only thing I use paper towels/napkins for is putting oil/shortening on my cast iron. That is a dirty job. I just use the napkins that we might get from the occasional fast food trip. I used to use paper towels when I drained cooked bacon, but then realized I could drain the bacon on a cooling rack. No more wasted paper towels to throw away.

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14 Jenny July 21, 2013 at 6:25 pm

I’ll have to remember the cooling rack trick! Then it can be newspaper or something under it to catch the grease! Thanks!

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15 Nancy March 15, 2014 at 10:39 am

Then use the bacon paper for fire starters!

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16 Jenny July 21, 2013 at 6:22 pm

We rarely use paper towels. Just for grease, cleaners and nasty stuff. I have saved my baby(who’s now nearly 8!) flannel blankets and cloth diaper burp rags to venture into into more cloth products.

Honestly, I don’t understand why this isn’t more common, but the first thing I would do is make (optional) family cloth for #1′s the majority of the month, if you know what I mean… Our family is mostly girls and we go through a lot of TP! Cloth diapers and sanitary pads would be much grosser to clean, IMO.

Anyone else do this?

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17 Kristine February 14, 2014 at 5:35 am

I use family cloth for #1 because I can’t believe the amount of wasted TP for what is (as long as you are healthy) a sterile bodily fluid. Although I sew, I made wonderful no-sew wipes. I just bought soft flannel and cut it into squares about 5×5″ with pinking shears. It’s so soft and gentle and super absorbent. I keep two small plastic containers with lids by the toilet, one holds clean and the other is for used. It really does cut down on paper and money flushed away.

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18 Alex August 23, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Sadly, I don’t know how to sew very well, but I’d like to learn. This would be a great way to be environmentally conscious. My husband has been wanting to go zero impact and I think he is a little ambitious with two children and a turtle in our family. I did want to mention that my grandmother who is not a crafty type has always had a drawer with little terry cloth hand towels all folded up in various colors and these were always the napkins that we used when we went to her house. The upside of having them in different colors was that if they weren’t dirty, all the cousins could remember whose napkin was whose and re-use them for the next meal without having to put them in the wash. Kind of the same idea.

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19 LineG September 4, 2013 at 8:21 am

Make a personal napkin ring for each family member! :)

I have made some from simple satin ribbons in three widths that I sewed onto each other (for sturdiness), and then cut up into suitable lengths and handstitched into rings. The top ribbon – the narrowest – got a simple monogram stitched onto it beforehand. These rings can be washed and ironed. My FiL has carved some from wood for us, and we also got some old ones in silver. Some recurring guests have their favourites. :)

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20 Rami November 20, 2013 at 6:29 am

I wish I knew how to sew! I guess I could just use a towel or something but it’s totally not as cute as your homemade paper towel things.

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21 Erin November 20, 2013 at 6:34 am

I love your cute napkins so much, I decided to make them! But after one napkin my sewing machine locked up and I cannot fix it… so now I have hand-sewn 4 napkins and have 8 more waiting to get done. I love them! My kids feel bad wiping their mouths on the “pretty” side of the napkin.

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22 Felicia November 20, 2013 at 6:50 am

I use old bath towels that have developed holes and no one wants to use them. I cut them up and use them in the kitchen to reduce the use of paper towels. I never thought about sewing a different fabric to the back side! OMG another sewing project developing in my head! Thanks for the idea!

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23 Stephanie November 20, 2013 at 6:53 am

I had been thinking about something like this but the idea had not fully gelled for me… this is awesome! I’m going to make some in the next couple of weeks for Christmas gifts this year! Thank you!

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24 Sherry-Lynn Loehr November 20, 2013 at 8:24 am

I have switched to cloth napkins, made a dozen, and found some in the thrift shop. But have held off on making cloth clean-up wipes instead of paper towels. I do not want them in my laundry hamper, with our dirty clothes. What have you done with your used clean-up wipes? Do you have a separate hamper/pail? Or do you throw them in with the laundry, regardless of oil and tomato sauce? Has anything gotten stained? Need some ideas :)

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25 Merissa November 20, 2013 at 9:19 am

Yes, I kind of put them separate from the rest of the clothes and then generally wash them with each other so I don’t get anything on our clothes or “nicer things”.

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26 Michelle March 7, 2014 at 9:27 am

I use a dishcloth and hot soapy water for 99.9% of any kitchen and dining room spills/messy messes. I have a small basket in my cupboard full of dish cloths and towels. The towels are used for everything except messy messes. Dirty ones get thrown back in the laundry room until I do a load of towels which I throw the kitchen towels in with.

I grew up using cloth instead of paper. I am having a hard time wrapping my kind around the paper use! lol A good friend of mine uses paper and when we are in each other’s kitchens, it’s kinda strange. We’re learning. We’re both “green” in our own ways. It’s great because we get new ideas from each other. :)

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27 Helen January 5, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Thanks so much for your helpful idea. They’ll work up quickly with the rotary cutter and serger. I have plenty of old towels we hardly use that are choking my linen closet plus a cotton fabric stash of small cuts to use up. I have a serger and don’t enjoy dealing with the “tails”. But I can simply tack it down while I’m at sewing the big X on them. Sets will make nice “just because” gifts.

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28 Karen Smith January 21, 2014 at 8:43 am

So what do ya use to clean grease out of skillets?

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29 Merissa January 21, 2014 at 9:41 am

Baking soda works really well! If it’s really stuck on I put a little baking soda and some water in the bottom of the pan and let it sit a bit, it will come right off!

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30 AJ February 17, 2014 at 8:02 pm

for those asking about specific greasy or extra dirty chores and what to do with the towels, have designated towels for those tasks so you don’t have to worry about greasing up a table cloth napkin or ruining other items. I have cheap terry bar towels that are very absorbent and I don’t care if they get dirty because they’re always used for dirty jobs and never on display for my general use towels or table settings.

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31 AisLynn July 27, 2014 at 3:00 am

I use old torn up clothing we keep in a rag bag for those messes, then I just throw the whole thing away! With our large family we always have old cotton t shirts to put in the bag and they are completely biodegradable. No worries about the ick getting on our nicer clothes and I never have to touch them again after they have been used once!

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32 Donna July 1, 2014 at 12:02 pm

These clothes are really cute. I have the perfect little basket I can put some in. It will look nice sitting on my counter with rolled up clothes in it. I am going to put my roll of paper towels under the sink & use them mainly for cleaning up cat messes. This post has inspired me to use cloth for all other quick clean-up tasks. Instead of putting the dirty ones in my clothes hamper, I will put a small covered waste basket or a covered wicker basket in my kitchen for them. I’m also going to cut up some flannel to use in place of TP like one of your others readers mentioned. That will save a lot of money for me. Lovin’ the ideas….thanks!

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33 Jan August 1, 2014 at 11:14 pm

I have found that old baby receiving blankets make wonderful un- paper towels. I also keep an eye out for flannel pajamas at thrift store . I just cut out two pieces sew,turn,and top stitch edge. You can make whatever size you desire. I love your website.
Blessings

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34 CM October 24, 2014 at 1:56 am

We’ve saved a great deal of money using cloth in place of paper for many years and many children, but I draw the line at the TP use. Yuk! Could never go that far. Cloth napkins are especially nice at the table, as they are much more effective and take very little room in the wash. They are quick to fold and put in the drawer and also always ready for guests.

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