Janus Napkins

In my continuing sewing saga, (drumroll, please) I completed my first entirely homemade project:  Janus napkins.


Okay, so they are really just double-sided napkins, but I felt like applying some mythology to jazz it up a bit.  The inspiration for this project actually came from a set of handmade stone napkin rings (shown) that Chris and I purchased from the gift shop at Snowbird Mountain Lodge, a serenely magical retreat Chris’s parents introduced to us (yay gift certificate!).  We celebrated our seven year anniversary there.  The napkin rings  were used by the lodge’s restaurant, so we thought they would be nice reminders of our stay there (we do realize that the seven year gift is supposed to be copper, wool, or brass, but stone works, right?).  Well, once we had napkin rings, they were soooo lonely sitting on our placemats empty.  Of course, I realized it is not good for napkin rings to be alone for long, so off I went to Joann for fabric.  I have always wanted a very dramatic dining room with elements of blue to match our Kate Spade Library Lane Aqua china, but Chris and I also tend to like a bit of whimsy.  I decided on three different coordinating front fabrics and a single, contrasting back fabric to unify them.

NOTE: There are several blogger tutorials out there on making double-sided napkins, so I’ll just add my few tidbits to that conversation and move on to the finished product!

Phase 1: Prep

I purchased fat quarters to use to make my napkins for the sake of manageability of fabric on my first sewing expedition, which limited my size to no larger than an 18″ dinner napkin.  I chose to make a 17″ square napkin, since 16″ felt too small and 18″ seemed too big (17″ was juuuuust right.  Goldilocks, anyone?).  After neatening up the edges, I used a marking pencil to mark the lines I was supposed to sew on the “ugly” side of the fabric, leaving about a quarter inch surround. Then I pinned the pretty sides of one backing fabric and one front fabric together (ugly sides facing out).


TIP: I learned the hard way that the marking pencil I bought needed sharpening VERY FREQUENTLY, and after completing this project, my pencil is already half whittled down.  It was a total pain to use (note in the picture that you can see its lead marked a fat, uneven line) , though its white lead was very visible against the dark back fabric I used.  I will probably not buy one of these again, even though it wasn’t very expensive.  Chalk is probably what I’ll use for future endeavors.

Phase 2: Machine Sew

I started sewing with my old friend, the sewing machine, miraculously remembering to reverse stitch at the beginning and end of my sewing.  When I reached each corner, I raised the pressure foot, turned the material 90 degrees, lowered the foot, and continued sewing around the napkin.  I stopped sewing about 1.5 inches from where I first started to allow me to turn my napkin right-side-out.  IMG_1794

TIP: Don’t raise the needle–just the pressure foot! This helps hold your fabric in place and allows you to stitch continuously.

Phase 3: Inside-Outside-Upside Down

I pulled the fabric through my 1.5 inch hole so that the pretty sides were now visible.


Then I used a bamboo skewer to make the corners nice and sharp (be careful not to poke through the fabric, though!).IMG_1878

At first I congratulated myself on my cleverness, only to learn that the bamboo skewer is a rather popular sewing tool (make sure it is in your arsenal!).




I ironed the napkin to have crisp edges and then hand sewed the remaining 1.5 inches closed, leaving me with one finished napkin–now only nine remaining!

TIP: I have moderately thin and relatively nimble fingers, so the inside-out process was not so difficult, but if you have shorter, thicker fingers, I would suggest leaving a slightly larger opening.

Phase 4: Rinse, and Repeat

I repeated this process 9 times for a grand total of 10 napkins.  Why 10, you ask?  Over seven years ago, when Chris and I were registering for china, we had a major crisis (#firstworldproblems, anyone?).  Chris, who comes from a large family, wanted to register for 12 place settings, while, I, an only child, thought 12 would be excessive.  Summoning my powers of persuasion, I convinced him to agree to 8, but we ended up receiving 10.  We took it as a sign that 10 was the happiest compromise anyway, so we needed 10 napkins to go with our 10 place settings.  I chose to make three napkins of this soft, medium floral print:


three napkins of this modern, edgy, geometric print: Napkin1

and four napkins of this bold, large floral print:ImageThis way, I can mix and match depending on the size of the dinner party. For our everyday setting of four, I can either do all matching or 2/2. IMG_2104For settings of six, I can do 3/3 or 2/2/2.  For settings of eight, I can do 4/2/2, and if I ever have all 10 place settings of china in use (and the Ikea table I’d like that seats 10!), then I will use all of them together!

I tire very quickly of design choices, so this way I can change things up cheaply and still get that nice, newish feeling, all for a few bucks.  Each fat quarter was $1.25 originally, but getting them at a reduced price (yay sales and coupons!) meant my total cost for this project broke down as follows:

(10 front fabric fat quarters x $.75) + (10 back fabric fat quarters x $.75) + (1 spool of thread x $1.75) =  $16.75 for 10 Janus napkins.  Less than $2 per napkin.  Not bad, considering they are custom, double-sided, and who knows, maybe I’ll even monogram them with the remaining thread?!

Dust It Off and Try Again

After sitting neglected in its box since middle school, my sewing machine is finally getting some love!


When I was in sixth grade, I had planned to learn to sew, inspired by my mother’s stories of how her mother could look at a dress in a storefront and replicate it to perfection (and by the idea that I would be able to make clothes that would be tailored to my own proportions and not some ideal model generic standard).  I may have an hourglass build, but I’m rather petite (5’0″) and muscular, which means storebought clothes made for a short, smallish person typically don’t accommodate my athleticism (le sigh). The best looking outfits I’ve ever had were handmade or custom fitted (translate: cheerleading uniforms and wedding dress) because they actually fit me.

Anyway, my grandmother was an expert seamstress, right up until the stroke-induced dementia robbed her of her prodigious skill.  My mother can sew a button, but a seamstress and a quilter she is not.  My learning to sew options diminished rather rapidly, and other interests and activities took precedence–you know, things like school, cheerleading, music, friends, boys….

Flash forward 18 years to January 2013.  My husband and I have really wanted a new coverlet for our bed, mainly because the chartreuse green Tarjay coverlet we bought four or five years ago is looking, erm, sick.  It has faded to a horrid shade of puce.  Suffice it to say, our bed has a chronic sinus infection.  I fully expect to wake up in the night and think I am cuddling with one of those creepy Mucinex characters instead of Chris, except it will really be Chris enshrouded in the sinus blanket.  Only one of our cats likes to sleep on it (the one with no discerning palate…Have food? Will eat.  Have bed? Will sleep.).  Despite DH’s chagrin at the thought of buying more bedding, he reluctantly agreed that we should look for a replacement.  I watched white sales and clearance sales on bedding from West Elm, Pottery Barn, etc., but for the price, they just seemed a little lackluster. Nothing spoke to me, which is apparently unusual, since Chris says that bedding (especially pillows), must shout my name when I enter a store. Then, a bold idea struck: What if I made a quilt for our bed?! Did I mention we have a king size bed?  If you’re an expert quilter, you’re already laughing, aren’t you? A novice, tackling a behemoth.  Just call me David. 🙂

Well, I may have lofty goals, but I’m not an idiot.  I decided to refresh my rusty sewing skills by starting much simpler (hence why this post is not in January when I began thinking about this!).  After finishing my PhD coursework this spring (ah, priorities!), I began the summer of sewing by hand sewing some buttons on some shirts, shorts, and pants that had been awaiting these for months? years? sometime in a drawer.  Then, I tackled a stuck zipper on a skirt I had not been able to wear in six years, thanks to some expert advice from the almighty Internet.  Voila! A “new” skirt for work/school.  That’s when I broke out the big guns and dusted off my sewing machine to try again, try again. (Remember this song?)

I decided to start machine sewing with some simple reversible napkins, and sew begins my journey towards becoming a seamstress and quilter. Stay tuned for the breakdown of how it went down!