Something for Nothing: Upcycled Shirt Cocktail Napkins

Last year while one of our editors was on maternity leave, I had the privilege of working directly with several of our authors, including Maya Donenfeld. Maya, of mayamade.com, has a book titled Reinvention: Sewing with Rescued Materials coming out in April that includes some very upscale sewing projects from recycled clothing and packaging. Working with her really got me thinking about looking at “used” items creatively to give them more life and avoid purchasing new materials and using more of the Earth’s finite resources.

So today Phil told me he had weeded out a few shirts in his closet that simply couldn’t be worn any more; he wanted to know if I could do anything with them or if he should just throw them away. With their terribly frayed collars and elbow holes, they weren’t anything we could donate. Looking at the shirts, I summoned my inner Maya and set to work making us some very simple cocktail napkins.

First I cut off all the buttons. These will probably show up in future baby sweaters.

Then I cut any salvageable cloth into 8-inch squares. There was a cream shirt and a classic blue oxford, and I ended up with 10 8-inch squares of each.

Three piles: squares being made into napkins, leftovers big enough to save for future projects, and a small pile of scraps that couldn't be salvaged.

After that, I just put a blue square and cream square right sides together and sewed around the squares, leaving about 3 inches unsewn so I could turn the napkins inside out. I clipped the corners, turned them right side out, pressed them, and topstitched around the outer edge. I topstitched using a straight stitch, but they’d also be cute with a zigzag stitch. Done and done. These were finished practically before the Chet Baker CD I was listening to was finished.

Maya is right: Items that seem ready for a landfill can have years of life left in them. Phil would have looked like a hobo wearing the shirts in the shape they were in, but the napkins will give us many happy Saturday nights; even before your first cocktail, you’d never know their former incarnation might have been headed for the trash.

And we are now ready for the weekend.

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2 thoughts on “Something for Nothing: Upcycled Shirt Cocktail Napkins

    • These are just sewing in a straight line. You could do that, Colleen! The link to your friend’s blog isn’t going through. I’d love to read her blog. I’ve toyed with trying Paleo, so long as I don’t have to hunt for my own meat. 🙂

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