Category Archives: Sewing

Weekend project: cloth napkins

My mother is quite an accomplished seamstress. As a child, she made all my clothes (which I hated because I wanted to be wearing whatever trendy thing everyone else was) and all my Halloween costumes (which I loved, because they were always the best costumes). When I got older, she made my prom dresses. She even made my wedding dress. And now it’s my son who looks forward to her Halloween creations.

I’ve asked my mom to teach me to sew a number of times before, always with the same results: she’s eager to do so, and I quickly lose interest after the first few lessons. Recently, though, the desire to learn has struck me hard enough that I think it might actually stick. In the past, I asked to be taught because it seemed like a useful skill to learn. This time, I simply want to learn; I want to make things for my family with my own two hands. My mother, as usual, is more than willing.

For my first project I chose cloth napkins because 1) I don’t like the wastefulness of paper napkins; 2) since some are always in the wash, you can never have too many; 3) how hard can it be to sew a square?

As it turns out, it’s quite simple to sew a square, but not quite as simple to measure and cut the fabric or pin and iron the seams. It took my entire first lesson to complete a single napkin. I wasn’t skilled enough to measure, fold, and iron the 1/4″ seam without burning my fingers (steam is hot!), so I had to pin the damn things. Unfortunately, it turns out I’m quite slow at pinning and even slower at ironing while removing pins. But I finally finished, and it was quite an impressive napkin, if I do say so myself.

Several weeks later, I set out to complete the other three (I’d cut the fabric for four napkins on the first day). I folded, pinned and ironed the seams on the first one, just as I’d done on the day of my lesson. With the next two, I decided to try the no-pin method my mom had first showed me: just measure, fold, and iron as you go. My seams were certainly folded a little more crookedy this way, but I was more interested in practicing the skill than in getting it perfect. And, by the end, my seams were noticeably straighter and I managed to do it all without burning my fingers!

The actual sewing was the easiest part, since I was simply sewing straight seams. And even though my straight seams weren’t as straight as I’d liked them to be, they were good enough. As a perfectionist, “good enough” doesn’t usually exist for me, but I was again able to focus on the practice of the exercise over the perfection of the final product.

It’s time to schedule the next lesson and figure out the next project. I’m thinking baby gear, but simple: towels, wash cloths, blankets, or cloth diapers. A few more squares before moving on to the trickier projects…


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