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Molly's Sketchbook: Buttonhole Napkins

Since 2006 it’s been my Thanksgiving tradition to design a festive set of dinner napkins. (Browse the archive here!) The inspiration for this year’s napkins came from an unlikely place: 35,000 feet in the air!

You see, my husband travels a lot for his job, and that means we usually get upgraded when we fly together. He’s pretty used to it, but I’m still super excited each time it happens, marveling at the free packets of socks and the pre-takeoff champagne. Recently, on one such flight, our dinner arrived (complete with metal cutlery, actual glassware, and tiny salt and pepper shakers!), and I looked over to see that Rafael had somehow attached the cloth napkin to his shirt.

     “How is your napkin staying up like that?” I asked.

     “Oh, the napkins have buttonholes,” he said, nonchalantly. My mind was blown. How had I never heard of this before? I knew what I’d be doing when we got home!

These pretty Buttonhole Napkins are perfect for Thanksgiving because not only are they beautiful and seasonal, but no one will go home with gravy stains on their fancy duds! I used our very special new Liberty Half Yard Napkin Bundle in the "Cranberry" colorway which contains six gorgeously detailed prints in a rich palette of russets, purples, and browns. (The bundle also comes in a "Woodland" coloway in cooler, greener hues.) And for fun, I finished each napkin off with hot pink topstitching and buttonholes!

</p> <h2>Materials </span></span></p> <p><br /></p> <p><br /></p> <p>To make a set of twelve 16-inch square napkins:</p> <ul> <li>A Liberty Half Yard Napkin Bundle. I used


  • 1 Liberty Half Yard Napkin Bundle in Cranberry
  • 3-yards of Kona Cotton in Natural
  • 100% Cotton Thread in color 5980 for contrast and color 1040 to match the Kona Cotton.
  • I also used these great new buttonhole scissors from Merchant and Mills!

    If you're making a different amount of napkins, you will get 2 napkins per 1/2 yard of outer and lining fabric.


    Before you begin, keep in mind that this is the kind of project that goes a lot faster if you do it asembly-line style.

    Cut each of the 1/2-yards of Tana Lawn into two 17-inch squares. You will have twelve total squares.

    Cut twelve 17-inch squares from the Kona Cotton.


    Pin each Tana Lawn square to a Kona Cotton square, right sides together.

    Using the neutral colored thread sew the squares together with a 1/2-inch seam allowance around all four sides, leaving a 3-inch unsewn gap in the middle of one side. Snip off the corners.

    Turn each square right sides out through the gap and poke the corners out. 

    Press the napkins flat and pin the Kona Cotton layer to the Tana Lawn layer along all four sides of the square thus pinning the gap closed.

    Using the contrasting thread edge stitch around all four sides thus closing the unsewn gap.

    Using the contrasting thread sew a 3/4-inch buttonhole vertically at the corner of each napkin. Cut open the buttonhole using the buttonhole scissors. 

    My machine, which I highly recommend, has an automatic buttonholer where you enter the buttonhole size digitally (fancy!) But if your machine doesn't have this feature never fear, we have a more analogue buttonhole tutorial right here!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Reader Comments (22)

    Gorgeous and clever! I have never heard of buttonhole napkins either - but I don't fly first class...yet! These are such beautiful fabrics. Inspirational.
    October 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAimee Knerr
    I think I remember seeing Hercule Poirot using (wearing?) such a napkin in at least one episode of the BBC television series... Such a clever way to avoid a mess!
    October 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter{gemmifer}
    What a great idea! Perfect for my 5yr old messy eater who loves button-up shirts.
    October 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarisa
    Oh, that is ingenious! And I suppose it would be pretty easy to add buttonholes to existing napkins as well... Tell me, are the business class socks superior to those heel-less acrylic monstrosities you get in standard class?
    October 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNina
    All of my napkins will have buttonholes from now on. Brilliant!
    October 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHannah
    Ha, great idea! And beautiful fabrics, again!

    Wouldn't it work even better with the hole positioned a bit lower, attached to the collar-button, and the littje "flap" above it folded around the shirt, into the neck? This way even the collar will stay clean ;)
    October 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMultiVroon
    Hi Nina-

    I think the business class socks have heels but they are still acrylic monstrosities!

    Thanks for writing in!

    October 25, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
    Sweet.... Love the fabrics and god knows I need help keeping the gravy off my shirt!
    October 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJosie
    I don't know what is more adorable - the napkins, or your post about them. Wonderful! And, thank you as always.
    October 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCanadianJane
    For the ladies (and men) wearing button-less tops, you could take a +/- two-foot length of ribbon, overlap the ends and sew on a button. Wearing it as a necklace, your guests could attach the napkin to that!
    October 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIris
    Great idea Iris! Thanks for writing in!

    October 26, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
    So beautiful all here <3
    October 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNina
    Love them! The fabrics are gorgeous! But i'd love them even more if you could make them and i could buy them from you!
    October 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa p
    This is a fabulous idea, I've never seen these before either!
    October 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNaturally Carol
    This napkin is perfect for those of us who eat red chile here in
    New Mexico.
    . . . especially when we insist on wearing a white shirt!
    October 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercristina ortega
    These are delightful, and I love the fabrics you chose!
    October 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate of Domestic Slice
    These flower patterns are incredibly beautiful. You can make a lot of things with these like table tops, aprons and bed sheets.
    November 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterplumbing
    I am new to knitting but love all your beautiful scarves and yarn. I am looking forward to making the infinity scarf for a Christmas
    Gift. Thanks for the inspiration!
    November 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEryka Sewell

    It appears that the link to the tutorial for the napkins is not working-- it just keeps going to the introductory page. Could you please restore it?

    Thank you,

    April 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAudra
    Hi Audra-

    I'm so sorry about this! We are working on this glitch and the pattern should be restored shortly.

    Thank you for bringing it to our attention!

    April 22, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
    I was wondering if there is a way to save this fabulous idea without copying and pasting into an Evernote file or some other folder? Any ideas ? Love this idea.
    July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGigi
    Hi Gigi-

    You can always bookmark this page or post a photo with a link on your Pinterest. Also you can print it by clicking on the "print" icon a the bottom of the pattern.

    Thank you!

    July 15, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee

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