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Tea-Towel Napkins




A simple initial is all it takes to turn an ordinary tea towel into a civilized oversize dinner napkin.


  • Plain vintage linens


  1. Step 1

    Begin with plain vintage linens from a flea market or new towels.

  2. Step 2

    Transfer letters onto the fabric by tracing over them with a sheet of sewing transfer paper.

  3. Step 3

    Use cross-stitches to embroider block letters, satin stitches or French knots to fill in more fluid initials. If home embroidery isn't your style, you can have the towels monogrammed professionally by machine.

Martha Stewart Living, January 2001



Reviews (27)

  • hsstudios 19 May, 2010

    We did this with a group of women last Spring. Was so much fun! Now I am working on beach towels with all the kids names.

  • melaniemgray 6 Oct, 2008

    I think that is a great idea lotsofcake... A stamp would give you a nice defined line to follow without all the complications with transferring or drawing the image on the fabric.

  • Steeby 3 Jun, 2008

    Shanonmanis, any good acrylic paint is washable, but there are fabric paints that they sell in Michaels or Joann's that stay soft on fabric.

  • lotsofcake 1 May, 2008

    Martha, Why not do this on your show. Knitting has made such a huge comeback. Embroidery is so beautiful and not so hard to learn. I have used rubber stamps with washable ink on fabric. It works very well. My Aunt gave me a very old towel to finish since I have learned. It is such a beautiful family keepsake.

  • sharonmanis 29 Apr, 2008

    I keep getting cut off .

  • sharonmanis 29 Apr, 2008

    And Can't aford an embroidery machine. would like to paint it on, I don't know what the best fabric paint is. Can anyone help me?

  • sharonmanis 29 Apr, 2008

    I don't do hand embroidery

  • greatgrammatery 27 Apr, 2008

    We've always used cloth napkins. I like the bright colored ones and now that it's just the two of us we too keep them at our place at the table . After they are laundered ironing them gives me a moment to refect on the memu we had or the special conversations. I like the idea of monograms, I'll give it a try. thanks Martha

  • sfletcher 26 Apr, 2008

    I inherited my very proper grandmother's monogramed damask napkins. They are large and weighty and are certainly some of my most prized possessions. I would love to make some opulent damask napkins myself, but I can't seem to find the quality fabric I want. I wonder where I could find some.

  • redguide 26 Apr, 2008

    I too grew up in Europe and we always used cloth napkins, at every meal.. [Seven kids in our family!] I have also always used them for us too. I made cloth envelopes for each family member with their names on them so all you had to do is fold the napkin and tuck it inside at the end of the meal. Then we only changed them two or three times a week. [depending on the menu!]I still use cloth all the time, but change them a lot more often.We have so many too, its different times. I have made table sets and embroidered sets too, so it depends what kind of table you are setting. For our everyday napkins [assorted colours] we each have napkin rings with our intiials on. A very traditional baptismal gift in our family. In my picnic basket we have bandannas, all colours, very pretty. I should add, I love ironing so its never been a problem for me. When I was at university, I took in ironing to help out with my expenses....

  • Grandypink 26 Apr, 2008

    We've used cloth napkins since we were married 40 years ago. Now it's just the two of us again, we leave our napkins folded by our place at the table if they can be used again. Years ago I was looking at napkins in a store and there were two older ladies there and one of them said, "That'll be the day when I go back to ironing cloth napkins!" And I thought, IRONING?? I only iron the special occasion, dining room napkins.

  • 1designinggirl 26 Apr, 2008

    Back in the day - as they say - one might not have had the luxury of laundering frequently - or the means to have more than one set of napkins, thus the practice of designated napkins for each family member originated for hygiene purposes. Today, this would be just for fun. If this does not make sense for your family, monogram with the family's last name initial and launder with abandon! Perhaps hand towels and wash cloths would be the perfect choice for individual family member initials?

  • jacquelinerommel 26 Apr, 2008

    in France we use towels more than once and every one has his/hers own ring or if no ring is available a way to tie the napking to know it is yours - can get kind of complicated/cute - try it on the kids

    love the monogram idea, dont have to be - can use anything the sewing machine can do it for you if you dont want to do it by hand

  • lindastratford 25 Apr, 2008

    I like the idea of stamping a butterfly or something similar on the towels. I guess you use a whole t-towel per person, you don't have to cut it inhalf?

  • alda 25 Apr, 2008

    you do not wash the napkins every time you use them tha is why the initial or a napkin ring

  • ljstro 25 Apr, 2008

    Note on initials. They are tailored to the item. On a shirt you would use your personal initials. On a generic item like a vase or napkin the initial would be for the family last name using one letter. In the examples shown perhaps, Raleigh, Smith, Weston or Haynes. The blue napkin would be for a couple such as Mike and Sandra Knowles with the last name initial in the middle. The examples are to show the variety of dish towels and initial styles that could be used to make a set.

  • MomLinda 25 Apr, 2008

    I love your ideal for pairing with the picnic supplies, I'm sure they'll adore your present. I'm going to have to search Tuesday Morning for some nice (but cheap) tea towels for this prodject. This could also be a good time to teach some of my grandaughters some simple embroidery stitches. I've been using cloth napkins for some time and I'm looking forward to these new addtions to my supply.

  • Alabaxter 25 Apr, 2008

    We found using bandanas (wonderful assortments of colors and patterns) now is a simple way to "go green" and avoid using up trees. NOW I can monogram them too! Thanks!

  • my-job-sparkles 25 Apr, 2008

    Awesome! My cousin is getting married and I've been looking for a unique gift to make for them. I'm paring these with some outdoor-ware and a picnic basket, since they met on a hiking trip.

  • jfosterrn 25 Apr, 2008

    I have been using these for YEARS!! Started out because they were cheaper than regular cloth napkins. Since I have my own embroidery machine, decorating them is a piece of cake. Change for whatever the mood, season, holiday....the choices are endless! And they are more absorbant than regular napkins and launder exceedingly well.

  • herbert1 25 Apr, 2008

    Another idea is to stencil the names/initials/or "fun words" onto the tea towels with fabric paint. But I too do not know why each family member has a specific napkin. If they are laundered than what is the difference?! But it is nice for a special dinner party to have each guests' name imprinted.

  • sschwedes48 25 Apr, 2008

    i would stamp on my towels - in fact my son is getting married this june and i'm thinking of making them some of these to use when they eat outside...perfect for putting over the lap also...i might just HAVE to buy a new set of stamps to do this...or maybe just use some butterfly and bird stamps...anyone else want to stamp with me?

  • bayarts 25 Apr, 2008

    Thinking like the artist that I am here....I would embroider positive affirmations on them rather than initials....words such as "yes!" or "believe!" . That way, no one would have to be concerned about getting the "right" napkin. They would all be "right".

  • cjincarolina 25 Apr, 2008

    To sjknowles, the beauty of cloth napkins is that they can be used more than once and laundered when dirty. Either embroidered as in this craft project or by assigning different rings. Both are nice.

  • sjknowles 25 Apr, 2008

    Why do you have to keep the napkins assigned to individual family members?

  • misstori1958 25 Apr, 2008

    My mom has been using tea towels for napkins for years. You can also crochet an edge around them for added pizzaz!

  • MLuiken 28 Mar, 2008

    What a great idea. We use cloth napkins at our house and this is a different way to keep them straight - right now we each have our own napkin ring. Another way is to buy terry-type guest towels in different colors for each family member.