Easy Handmade Gifts // Linen napkin and tea towel DIY // Closet Case Files


For the first time in my entire life, I am not going home to spend Christmas with my family. Instead, I’m taking the only flight I could find that didn’t involve me selling my eggs to France for the holidays (which includes an 8 hour layover in the Midwest. I am praying there isn’t a blizzard). As you may know, my love and I have been doing the dreaded long distance while waiting for his new Visa to take effect, and this trip marks the first time we’ll see each other in months (I’m happy to report he’ll be coming home with me if I have to smuggle him home in my suitcase).

Alas, Christmas can be expensive, especially when you’re travelling and trying to make a good impression on your partner’s family, so it’s the perfect opportunity to make something thoughtful and lovely that even the most discerning and chic mother-out-law will appreciate (they can’t be an in-law if you’re not married, right?) And what is simpler or more thoughtful than handmade linen napkins and tea towels?

Absolutely nothing.

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The key to this gift is using beautiful fabric. Don’t even think about using anything that isn’t a 100% natural fiber; nothing gives me the shudders more than polyester napkins, and you need something absorbent like linen or cotton for any kind of dish towel application. I picked up these lovely charcoal and striped linens at Mood (although I suspect the stripe is actually just a large weave cotton since it doesn’t wrinkle like linen should). The lusciously heavy-weight white linen came from Tissue Marina on St. Hubert in Montreal. Whatever you choose, aim for something in the medium to heavy-weight categories; an easy breezy summer linen is not sturdy enough for the abuse napkins go through (Ribs. I’m talking about ribs).

For 4 napkins with a finished size of 20″ square, you’ll need at least a yard and a quarter of fabric. Consider mixing up colours or textures; my sister and mother-out-law will be getting two charcoal and striped napkins each since I think they coordinate well together.

The average dishtowel is 16″ x 26″; you’ll need 1.5 to 2 yards of fabric for 4 dish towels, depending on the width of your fabric.

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A formal dinner napkin is 22″ square, but I think a 20″ napkin is a fine size and may be easier to get out of narrower widths of fabric. Cut 4 squares of 22.5″; this will include seam allowances for the folded under edges. A more rustic weave may be more likely to unravel; serging the edges first will help prevent that.

For dish towels, cut 4 rectangles that are 17.5″ wide x 27.5″ long from your fabric.

How to sew napkins & tea towels


To start, press each raw edge in 1/4″. You can use a seam gauge to help you create consistent lines but I just eyeball it. Work in batches to save time.

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For your second pass, press those edges under another 1/4″ or so all the way around each napkin.

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The corners don’t look very nice do they? Sewing fix to the rescue!


Open up one of the pressed corners.

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We want to cut off the very top corner to reduce bulk. You can draw the first one in with a marking tool, but eventually you’ll be able to just eyeball it. The cutting line is diagonal and should intersect with the pressed lines from your first pass of pressing.

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After trimming off the corner, fold the pressed edges in once. The corner will now look like this:

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Now press that entire corner down so that is pointing towards the center of the napkin.

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Fold the second pressed edges down over the corner. This will create a nice, mitered edge; you may need to fiddle a little to get everything lined up properly.

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Pin it into place.

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If you’re sewing dish towels, a nice touch is to include a little loop to hang them from. I just used some cotton twill tape from my stash and pinned it into one of the corners.

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At your machine, sew a consistent line around the perimeter of the napkins or dish towels. If you’re using matching thread, do a little back stitch at each corner to help anchor your mitered edges down. I used a straight stitch but you can also experiment with fancier stitches if your machine does them.

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Once they’re all sewn, give them a good press to help anchor all those seams in place.How to sew dish towels with mitered corners4How to sew napkins & tea towels-18

Who wouldn’t be excited to recieve these as a gift? NO ONE YOU WANT TO KNOW. Obviously this is a great idea for the holidays, but I think I’ll start stockpiling appropriate linens and use them for hostess gifts too. You’ll be guaranteed to be invited back again and again.

  • Beautiful and brilliant! Now to find some appropriate linen in Toronto, or wait for my next trip to Montréal!

    I did find some gorgeous faux-silk during a recent trip to Paris. I bought a couple of half metre pieces, did a rolled hem all the way around and have two fabulous new scarves. I just wish I’d known how well it would work – I would have bought more for the gift stash!

    • Last time I was in Paris I didn’t sew and have pined to go back ever since for fabric… but I’m not sure I’ll actually have time since we won’t be in the city very often. Fingers crossed!

      • If you can, do it. I hadn’t been to Paris for 15 years, and was only there for 2 days – taking the time for fabric stores was totally worth it. Very different feel to fabric shopping in either Toronto or Montréal. I also saw lots of relatively inexpensive printed silks that I’m kicking myself for not getting now. (Marché St-Pierre and Les Coupons de Saint-Pierre, in Montmartre, were where I had the most success.)

  • Lovely towels and napkins! I’m making some of these for a present and can’t decide between a serged rolled edge (what my sister-out-law ordered) or these mitered corners (my preference – fun to try new skills). Which airport will you be at in the Midwest? If it’s O’Hare or Midway I might run over to give you a hug and a sandwich!

    • Omg that would be amazing! But I’ll be in Minneapolis praying to the snow gods to not lock me in. I say go for mitered corners – she’ll like them more!

  • Iris

    You are the absolute best! I want to do this. Now finding god fabric#

  • Kat

    Beautiful. I’d always been curious how to sew such neat corners. Thanks for the detailed instructions. Now I just need me some nice linen….

    • If you can ge a deal on linen, its a very inexpensive gift (for you or anyone else!)

  • MOL and SOL will be tres impressed! They look awesome – so fun to see these done!

    • I think so. I’m also making the NOL (niece out law!) a very cute outfit. BasicallY i’m trying to make it impossible for Guillaume to ever bring home another girlfriend, ever.

  • I used to crank on about cutting these things ongrain to get them to behave later in life, but a recent batch were and will not, and (shakes fist incoherently)…now I iron them.
    This is the easiest project to decorate with a monoprint. Something in the kitchen. Potato prints with smiley faces still get love (the cheapest sentiments are still the best it seems) too.
    Don’t tell my inlaws. It’s the best gift every year.

  • So far winter in Minneapolis has been super mild, so here’s hoping it’ll serve you well. But if you get snowed in while you’re here, you could always give me a ring. I promise you wouldn’t have to teach me anything about making jeans. 🙂

    • I’ve taught you all you need to know 😉

  • Hélène

    Great gift idea! I was in Quincaillerie Dante with a friend recently and she was looking at some dish towels in cotton/linen. She asked me if I felt these were too expensive… something like $25 for two tea towels. So now this tutorial will come handy! Enjoy your Christmas trip, Heather. I’m sure your belle-mère (what a nice name we have in French to translate mother-in or out-law) will certainly love your Christmas present.

    • I do love Quincaillerie Dante! And we have to finally get together in the new year!

  • enjoy Paris darling xx

  • Maria Shell

    Lovely idea. Did you use a special foot to stitch with? Safe Travels!

  • Mary

    I hope you’re having a lovely trip and impressing everyone with your generosity! Meanwhile, I’ve made the mitered napkins, and I love them. Thanks so much for this easy to follow tutorial. One of my holiday dinner guests even used his napkin as a bib. I guess he felt right at home!

    Here’s a short blogpost showing my napkins: