How to stitch narrow hem cloth napkins

In our part of the country, it’s all things spring with daffodils, hyacinths and pear trees in full bloom followed by freezing temps and weather that just can’t seem to make up its mind. It’s not completely unlike the groggy morning debate between workout or roll over, back and forth and back and forth … My solution? Go ahead and add spring touches here and there, with the firm belief that she will eventually come to stay. That means actually putting away winter decor and scattering bits of spring throughout the house. You already know how I feel about cloth napkins since last week I shared how to stitch wide hem cloth napkins with crisp mitered corners. And as promised today I have a follow-up post about how to stitch narrow hem cloth napkins.


How to stitch narrow hem cloth napkins

They happen to be a quick, inexpensive way to add some fresh color to your kitchen. You can always hem the edges of any extra fabric, whether square or rectangular, to add under a vase of flowers in the center of your table too. I prefer the narrow hem for more casual napkins and also for smaller fabric squares to whip up some great little handkerchiefs, especially flannel. They’re basically just like the napkins but smaller in how they are stitched and also the fact that you will be completely ruined for traditional kleenex. Consider yourself warned.

hemmed napkins 2 ways


19-21″ square of fabric, this is the size I used the napkin pictured

thread to match

sewing machine



seam gauge

Straightening your Fabric

Most cotton fabrics can be torn along the grainline, ensuring that you have a straight line without having to measure and cut all the way across the fabric. For other fabric blends you’ll need to start by making sure the grain is straight. Much like wood, if the grain is not straight then your finished project will be crooked, which may not be a huge disaster for a napkin, but curtains that are off grain can be a hot mess. It’s well worth the few minutes that it will add to your entire project.

All these threads fraying from the same direction are your first clue that the cut on this fabric is not straight with the grain.

Snip the fabric into the selvage close to the end of where your fabric was cut.

Holding the fabric with one hand, gently pull the thread with the other, leaving a pucker in the fabric along the thread.

Pull this thread as far as you can, then pull the fabric a bit to remove some of the pucker. If your thread breaks, then cut up as far as you can see the line left from your pulled thread, and pick up another frayed thread and repeat the process until you reach the other selvage.

The fabric I’m using for these napkins was off by 2″. Straightening the end before I cut each napkin means that my finished napkins will lay straight and flat when folded. Now onto the stitching.

Hemming your Napkins

There are three different ways to hem napkins

Rolled Hem Foot

If your machine has a rolled hem foot then this is probably the easiest way to hem your napkins. It will take a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, you may want to use a rolled hem on all the things. If you’re wanting a practice project, grab some flannel and hem 9″ squares and you’ve created the softest handkerchiefs ever. 

Double Stitched Rolled Hem

Last summer I shared a post on hemming fluttery fabrics using a double stitched narrow hem. It’s the best way I’ve found to work with fluttery fabrics and is also works great on napkins. You can find all the details here.

For your napkins, add about 1/2″ to 3/4″ to each side of you desired finished napkin size. Press each side at 3/8″ and hem close to the pressed edge. You can find the remainder of the details on the post linked above.

Finger Pressed Rolled Hem

I have used my rolled hem foot to make napkins for years, but I find myself using a finger pressed rolled hem much more than I used to. Probably because I don’t always feel like setting up my machine that has the rolled hem foot, aka. a bit of laziness. The double stitched rolled hem is my preference for fluttery fabrics and is the method I’ll be using for the 3 bridesmaid dresses and the mother of the groom dress I’ll be working on next month for our son’s upcoming wedding! Smile. Really big smile.

Begin by folding your fabric under about 1/4″ and press it with your finger creating a slight crease, hence the term finger press.

Fold it in another 1/4″, using your finger to tuck the raw edge inside.


Gently pull the fabric towards you, helping to create a crisp line and finger press.

Hold the hem down with your finger and stitch as close to the inside folded edge as possible. 

1/8″ away from the inside folded edge is the preference here.

Navigating the corners for a Narrow Hem

To make the corners crisp, fold a small triangle before turning under your double hem. You can use your seam gauge to hold it flat while you place it under the presser foot to begin stitching.  Fold a similar triangle on the final corner as you stitch the last side of your napkin. Again, with a little practice, it won’t feel as awkward and you can create nice sharp corners even with narrow hems.

This method has more of a wing-it feel to it, but sometimes you just have to take chances. And of all the risky design and DIY choices out there, it’s a pretty safe place to start. After all, it’s just a napkin. And who knows, next spring you might risk something like a mint green front door!


About Beth Moore

A Christ-follower, wife, mom to 4, lifestyle blogger, seamstress and seeker of daily glimpses of God's grace and redemption.

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