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sewing 101: embroidered mitered napkins

by Brett

I have a funny, quiet-before-the-storm feeling because this could be one of the last weeks on the calendar before full-on holiday madness sets in. So why not take advantage of these last, few mellow days to indulge in a little old-fashioned embroidery and get some holiday prep done at the same time? These handmade, hand-embroidered napkins are just the thing to add a little crafty flair to your Thanksgiving table — or to take along as a hostess gift. Sewing the napkins themselves is super easy with a trick that makes mitered corners, and the embroidery is simple as can be. I know most people tend to run screaming when they hear the words hand embroidery (“doesn’t that take FOREVER??”), but in this project, a little stitching goes a long way. I promise that it’s truly quick and easy! You can literally embroider each napkin in minutes. The end result is a lovely handmade item that might just be something to keep forever. — Brett Bara

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!


  • linen fabric or a linen blend (I used a cotton-linen blend); the amount you need depends on how many napkins you want to make
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • iron
  • sewing machine
  • embroidery floss
  • embroidery needle


Planning and Cutting

For each napkin, cut a square of fabric that is 1″ longer on each side than your desired finished size. So, if you want to make a 10″ napkin, cut your squares 12″ x 12″. This is a nice size for a cocktail napkin; for a dinner napkin, a good finished size is a 20″ square.

Be sure to cut each square as precisely as possible, as this will help you get nice mitered corners. A cutting mat, straight edge and rotary cutter are really helpful in this case, but you can get the job done with scissors; just measure carefully and make sure your corners are square.

1. Iron the hems:

Turn one edge of the fabric to the wrong side a scant 1/2″ and press. Note: it really pays to make sure the edges in this step are measured and folded accurately, so if it helps, measure with a ruler and lightly mark the fabric with a pencil so that your fold is even all around. (This will ensure nice and even mitered corners.)

Rotate the square 90 degrees and iron the next edge in the same way. Continue until all four sides have been turned up and pressed a scant 1/2″.

Next, turn the hem up another 1/2″ on one side and press, then continue working all the way around until all four sides have been turned up twice.

2. Make the mitered corners:

Unfold the folds you just made. Here, I’ve drawn over the fold lines to make them easier to see, but you can just use the folds themselves as a guide (no need to write all over your napkins!).

Draw an (imaginary) line diagonally across the corner, connecting the folded points as shown with the dotted line.

Trim the corner off at that line.

Next, fold each side in 1/2″ along the previous fold lines.

Then fold the corner flap down as shown.

Finally, fold each side in again along the previous fold lines. And voila! The corners are neatly mitered, with all the raw edges of the fabric hidden inside.

3. Sew the hem:

Using your sewing machine, zip around all four sides of the hem, sewing close to the folded edge. At each corner, pivot and keep sewing; you can sew the entire hem in one continuous seam. (If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can easily do this by hand.)

And the hem is complete!

4. Add the embroidery:

To make the straight-stitch embroidery, simply weave the needle in and out of the fabric, going around all four sides of the napkin. Very easy!

To make the cross-stitch embroidery, first make a series of slanted lines all going in the same direction.

Then work your way back, completing each X.

With embroidery, it’s good practice to make as few knots as possible, so when you begin a line of stitching, leave the embroidery-floss end hanging on the back side. Then, when you reach the beginning point again, tie the two ends together in one small knot and trim the ends.

And that’s all there is to it! As I’m sure you can imagine, you can easily get creative and add any type of embroidery you like — a monogram would look especially fantastic on these!

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  • muchas gracias por tu información, las explicaciones son muy claras.

    Un gran abrazo.

    Lola Valdívia

  • This is great, thank you. I don’t have time to embroider, I might embroider a few, but the sewing instructions seem good, I’m a beginner at sewing. Is it difficult to sew linen with a sewing machine?

    The material is expensive, but so is buying the amount of 100% linen napkins I’d need for a full set.

  • So very excited to try these! I use napkins in gift baskets by putting personalizations on them. Knowing how to miter the edges correctly will save in so many ways. Fantastic tutorial, clear and easy to follow. Thanks again!


    I’ve been mending some linen napkins and making some small ones from torn-down linen tablecloths & larger napkins…

    I do all such work by hand, as well as darning- handwork is very soothing.
    At any rate, i could not for the life of me remember how to mitre corners – i knew there was folding & cutting that eliminated bulk, and some worked out, but it’s been hit or miss.

    When i came on line to find help, all the directions i found involved stitching diagonally across folded corner on the machine, trimming, & turning outside out – something i’d never done & dont want to start ;->.

    Until you. You made my day (and a lot of lovely corners to come ;->)

  • I’m Anna. Olá!!!
    I dont speake ingles….so…
    Adoreeeeeei a aula!
    Vocês atingiram a meta, pois apenas com as fotos eu aprendi a fazer uma bela “bainha” em qualquer tecido!!!!!
    Thank you

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