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

Handmade Cloth 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!

Handmade Cloth 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! #diy #diyclothpapertowel #clothpapertowel #diyclothnapkins 

Enjoy this guest post today from Annie! – M

DIY Cloth Paper Towels

I started making these Handmade Cloth Napkins and Un-Paper Towels 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 handmade 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 has 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.

— Learn more places where you can Buy Cheap Fabric.

DIY Cloth Napkins

Supplies needed:

  • 100% cotton fabric in any print (Get it from Fabric.com)
  • 100% cotton terry towel material (Get it from Fabric.com)
  • thread
  • sewing machine
  • fabric cutting scissors

–New to sewing? Check out my 7 Sewing Must-Haves List before you get started!

First, you will need to decide what size you would like to make. If you are 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. I have a serger so 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.

–You can make matching aprons with any leftover kitchen towels! Learn How to Make a Dish Towel Apron.

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 DIY. 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 you prefer. Trim the 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 them from 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.

–You could also include a Dishtowel Angel with your basket.


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

Looking for more ways to live a sustainable and greener life? Here are a few posts you might enjoy:

Homemade Sandwich Bags Sewing Tutorial

Ways to Reuse Your Plastic Bags

Reusable Market Tote Bag

Creative Ways to Start Repurposing T-Shirts

How to Reuse Everyday Objects (11 Ingenious Ideas!)

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.

Do you have a recipe or article to share?  Send Merissa Your Best Tips and you could be published!

This Cloth Paper Towel Tutorial was originally published on Little House Living in December 2012. It has been updated as of December 2019.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 🙂

  7. 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 🙂

    1. I love the ideas of going “paperless”, but where do you store all the clean ones? Napkins, grease rags, floor/dirty rags, kitchen towels, etc… And where do you put them once they’re used and waiting to be washed?

      1. I store all of my rags in a kitchen drawer with all of my other kitchen towels. And when I finish using them, I toss them straight in the washer so they can get cleaned up with the next load of laundry.

  8. 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!

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

    1. These are great for small cleanig jobs! *must make* 😀

      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.


  10. 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.

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

  11. 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?

    1. 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.

  12. 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.

    1. 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. 🙂

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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!

  17. 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 🙂

    1. 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”.

    2. 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. 🙂

  18. 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.

    1. 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!

  19. 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.

    1. 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!

  20. 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!

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. Love these! I want to start using cloth napkins and also some for rags too as we use far too many paper towels with a family of 7. I have actually been saving up to purchase a serger so I can make them myself. Can you please tell me how you did the rounded corners? Would love any tips you have. Thanks so much!

    1. I don’t round the corners. I just fold the edges over twice, about 1/4″ each, so it uses a 1/2″ on each edge. At the corners I cut off the excess bulk before stitching around them.

    1. For our family of 4 we use at least 4 napkins in a day, more if we have a messy lunch or breakfast. I keep about 20 out so I don’t have to wash every day.

  24. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful ideas with us. I’m working on the towels you hang over the oven door now, and can’t wait to get going on the unpaper towels.

  25. I stayed at a convent for a few days’ personal retreat. I took my meals with the sisters. They each have their own napkin with unique napkin ring. They place them on the counter. They use
    them for a week, unless it gets very soiled., in which case they change it out earlier.

  26. Love this idea. We’re really working on becoming more green (along with saving money) so this one is fun. I found some quilting quarters that were on clearance. Matching patterns no less. Will work perfect!