Project: Fancy Napkins with Mitered Corners

Deborah Moebes’s Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time* has a project teaching how to make cloth napkins. It’s a great beginner project, as the materials are cheap and you get to practice cutting and sewing straight lines.

I used the following supplies:

  • 1 1/4 yards woven gingham blue which i purchased at $1.99/yard
  • Thread
  • 1 1/4 yards purple floral fabric which was a gift.

Total Materials Cost: $2.50

The first part of this project just has you over cast the edges of your napkin. I’ve already talked about my initial difficulties with overcasting, so I won’t go into details here. In summary: before getting the hang of overcasting, my napkins were a disaster.


Bad overcast stitches are pulling, making the napkin unable to lie flat even after ironing.

The next part of the project instructs the reader to fold over and miter the corners of the napkins, and then topstitch to keep the folds in place. I used the machine’s fancier stitches for the top stitching.  This made the napkins look nicer. Sadly since I was starting with a bad base (from the overcasting), my napkins still weren’t great.


The uneven pull of the napkin made for messy folding and topstitching.

The final part of this project has you fold the edges, iron, and then fold again. No overcasting needed! This was pretty great for me, as I hadn’t yet learned the secret of overcasting when I tried this part of the project.

I went for a different fabric this time, my napkins are far better than the blue and white checked napkins. My stitches aren’t as straight as I’d like them to be but I’m not embarrassed to use them!


With the raw edge folded under, overcasting isn’t required.



This project was definitely worth doing for the practice, especially since the the cost of materials was so low.  I find practicing my making something to be way more fulfilling than sitting around stitching straight lines just to get experience. We even put out the nicer set of napkins this weekend when we had guests over!

Frayed Edges

Washing fabric prior to using it for a sewing project is a requirement if you ever plan to wash the finished product. You run the risk of your finished project shrinking substantially and unevenly after the first wash if you opt out of prewashing. Never plan to wash your finished project? Don’t bother with prewash.

I enjoy the variety of fabrics that come in fat quarter bundles. As I’ve worked through beginner projects, fat quarters have often been the perfect size for small projects. I’ve made the mistake of washing 10 fat quarters together without pretreating the  edges. I pulled a knotted mess of fabric out of the drier.


A large knot remains after separating all of the fat quarters.

I recently talked about overcasting edges to avoid fraying. Overcasting isn’t just important in treating the edges of your finished project – you may also want to do it before a prewash. You’ll either spend the time overcasting before washing, or detangling after. Treating the edge before washing leaves the fabric easier to work with when you’re ready to get sewing.

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The overcast edge is mostly clean after washing and drying.



My sister, Jess, has been sewing for over a decade. Naturally, when I mentioned to her that I’d bought a sewing machine, she offered lots of awesome advice based on her experiences. She also gave me a copy of Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time* by Deborah Moebes for my birthday.

One of the first projects in Stitch By Stitch is cloth napkins. The book builds from very basic cloth napkins with overcast edges to a more formal napkin with mitered edges. We’ll talk about the mitered edges later – today, I’d like to address overcasting.

Overcasting is one method of finishing the raw edge of your fabric so that it won’t fray. For the simplest of the napkins, Deborah recommends overcasting the edge using a zig-zag stitch. Unfortunately, as easy as that sounded, I couldn’t get it to work.

The primary and most frustrating issue was that the fabric kept getting pushed down into the needle throat plate, causing the machine to completely jam. The jamming, panic, and unjamming are worthy of their own post so I won’t go into detail now.

After I’d resolved that though, the edges puckered and curled in. The napkins looked terrible. Even after ironing them, they won’t lay flat because the edge tension caused puckering and uneven pulling.


Notice the ripples.

I finished four napkins, convinced that with practice it would get better. Much of my issue was getting this very lightweight cotton to feed through the machine when I was working so close to the edge. I tried changing my stitch length and width but couldn’t get anything to work.

It was time for some internet troubleshooting. I very quickly found references to an overcasting foot after a quick Google search. I went to my sewing machine manual. Not only did my machine have the foot, the manual has a section on overcasting. I was using the wrong foot as well as the wrong stitch setting for my machine. The solution had been on my desk the entire time!


The overcasting foot

The foot itself is neat. It has a little rod down the center which isn’t attached in the back. It wraps the thread around the rod as you stitch at the edge. The thread slides right off when the feed dogs advance the fabric.


Notice the white thread to the right of the needle is wrapped around the rod.

Empowered with my new knowledge, I was able to do some overcasting before washing new fabric to keep it from fraying! The right circle below contains my new, clean overcast edge while the left is a closeup of my attempt to zig-zag stitch along the edge.

Achievement Unlocked: Overcasting!


*This is an Amazon Associates link.