Rip and Tear Napkins – No Sew Napkins for All Decors

Rip and Tear Napkins – No Sew Napkins for All Decors

Rip and Tear Napkins are a fast and easy handmade craft for even beginning crafts. No sewing involved… simply rip and tear!

rip and tear napkins - done2 740wm

EDIT: I first shared my Rip and Tear Napkins in July 19, 2009. If you would like to see all of the Rip and Tear Napkins in my cupboard, you can see them HERE.

I love cloth napkins. I could never bring myself to use paper. First, they don’t work well, and second, waste paper? I think not! Over the years I’ve bought and made many different kinds of napkins. Recently, however, I’ve started making what I refer to as “rip and tear” napkins. Simply find a high quality 100% woven cotton fabric you love, measure, and tear!

For a practical, no sew, no glue project, rip yourself some new napkins! In the easy peasy category, these napkins are quick to make, and quick to launder. Basically, you need 1/2 yard of 44″ wide fabric for 2 napkins. So, just decide on how many napkins you want and buy 1/2 yard for every 2. VERY IMPORTANT: no matter how many napkins you plan to make, always add 1/8 yard (4.5 inches) to the amount of fabric you need. Seldom are fabrics cut true to grain, and you will need some extra fabric for your first and last tears.

NOTE: Unless you bought fabric that is dyed through and through or has individually dyed threads as found in plaids, there will be a right and wrong side to these napkins. I find this to acceptable for everyday use. If you prefer you can sew two pieces together instead of unraveling the edges but it will require twice as much fabric, and they take longer to dry.

Materials for Twelve (12) 18″ x 18″ Rip and Tear Napkins

3 1/8 yards 44/45″ woven fabric. Note: Usually fabric deemed “quilting” fabric works well. Do not use fabric that is too thin. They tend to wrinkle easily. You do not want fabric that frays too quickly. Look at the cut edge of the fabric on the bolt. If the edges are already fraying on bolt, they will not make good napkins because they will continue to fray after you fringe your napkins.

Directions for Rip and Tear Napkins

HOW TO RIP FABRIC: To rip fabric make a cut with scissors about 1″ into fabric following one of the threads.  Firmly hold the fabric on either side of the cut and rip the fabric all the way through the other side.

rip and tear napkins - rip545wm

HOW TO CUT AND RIP FABRIC: Using this diagram of a piece of fabric as a guide, follow the directions found below.

A: 1st rip: Cut and rip approximately 2″ from one cut end (non selvage side) of the fabric.

B: 2nd rip: Cut and rip 1″ from selvage on either side of the fabric. (You will rip off the entire selvage on one side.)

C: 3rd rip: Measure 18″ from the selvage side that you just ripped off. Cut and rip the entire length of the fabric. Set aside.

D: 4th rip: Measure 18″ from the new edge you just created. Cut and rip the entire length of the fabric.  You will have a long piece of fabric left over. Add it to your fabric stash for a later project.

E, F and all remaining rips: You will now have 2 long strips. For each strip, begin measuring 18″ from your first rip (Rip A) Cut and rip every 18″ giving you 18″ x 18″ squares. Do this for both long strips of fabric.

HOW TO CREATE THE FRINGE: Beginning at a corner, unravel a side, by removing 1 or 2 threads at a time. Unravel threads until you create a fringe that is about 1/2″ wide.
rip and tear napkins - corner1 545wm

rip and tear napkins - corner2 545wm
Unravel all 4 sides on all of your napkins.

rip and tear napkins - corner3 545wm
On woven fabrics, often the warp (lengthwise threads) and the weft(cross grain threads) are not perpendicular to each other (right angles) like they should be. To see if your fabric is, fold one of your napkins in half. Make sure your fold lies flat. If your corners do not match up, then the grain line is off and you will need to adjust it.

rip and tear napkins - square1 545wm
To adjust the grain line, grab a short corner and its diagonal corner. Tug on the two diagonal corners. Refold the fabric and see if the corners now match. If not, repeat the tugging until they do. Usually, after you’ve adjusted the warp and weft once you will not need to do it again.

rip and tear napkins - square3 545wm

rip and tear napkins - square2 545wm

rip and tear napkins - adjusted545wm

Your napkins are now done and ready to use!

HOW TO WASH YOUR NAPKINS: You may find after your first or second time you launder the napkins that a few more threads come off or that the grain is slightly askew. Remove the dangling threads and simply follow the steps for straightening the grain as explained above for the first time or two they are washed, and then they should stop shifting. Also, most of today’s woven cotton fabrics require no ironing if a little attention is given when laundering. Wash your napkins in the usual manner, however, before throwing them in the dryer, vigorously shake them out, giving them a good “fluffing”. If an edge is turned under, stretch the fabric between your fingers until the fabric lies straight. Do not over crowd the dryer and fold the napkins as soon as they are done drying. They should not require ironing.

rip and tear - done1 740wm




  1. This is what I’ve been looking for! I’ve been wanting to make cloth napkins, but am not great with a sewing machine. Thanks for the detailed instructions! I will definitely try this.

  2. The details and pics are clear, and you don’t forget the helpful hints!

  3. If you don’t want to worry about additional fraying, use Fray Check along the edges. This’ll “seal in” the fringe. I don’t know what I would do without this stuff!

    1. I haven’t used Fray Check in ages, but you’re right, the stuff works great! I really haven’t had a problem with my napkins fraying beyond an occassional thread, if anything, they form "dread locks", which prevent fraying, too. But I was looking at a fabric the other day that I thought might fray too much, so I didn’t buy it. I hadn’t even thought about Fray Check. Thanks so much for the suggestion!

  4. I think EVERYTHING in your site is absolutely wonderful! Everything is very creative and natural. You are so wonderful to share your thoughts, ideas and patterns with others. I am a natural crafter, knitter, felter and recent homeschooling mama and I really appreciate others with like minded ideas. Your pictures give me inspiration and variations to work with.
    Thank you!

  5. I just made these napkins for my daughter to take to school in her lunch! I let my daughter pick out the fabric so she is so excited. I can even change them seasonally like you did. I made mine 9 x 9 inches which is a good size for the kids and I got more out of a 1/2yd.

    1. Perfect! Not only is it environmentally friendly, it is such a lovely way to bring a little extra joy in your daughter's life. Don't be surprised if the teacher or other parents ask you about them. It's a craft you can easily share with the whole class. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  6. These are my kind of napkins – thanks for sharing your idea!

  7. Hi Ya! I bought a ‘fat quarter’ today- it is 45cm by 52 cm- can you please tell me how to measure/rip it- would I get more than one napkin from this? (45 cm is equal to 18″ approx.- if that helps any?) I am hoping it isn’t as confusing for you as it is for me doing the math translations… I can measure in both inches and/or centimetres- so I am not bothered which you use to help me if one way is easier than another. I am sorry I can’t get my brain to cooperate to figure this out on my own! Thanks! xx

    1. Kimara

      The napkins we make are 18″ x 18″. You need approximately 1 – 2″ of waste when you rip otherwise the fabric tends to fall apart and you don’t get a clean rip. In other words, to wind up with 18″ napkins, you need at least a 20″ square of fabric so you can rip off 1″ all the way around, and that is if it was cut perfectly on grain. Often when fabric is cut, the warp and weft threads are not perpendicular to one another, so when a salesperson cuts the fabric it is askew. That is why we suggest buying 1/8″ more of a fabric to account for uneven cutting.

      Fat quarters are very useful for some project but not so much for rip and tear napkins because you don’t have enough fabric for waste. Now, if you are willing to go through the hassle, you can try straightening the grain of the fabric, and cut your napkin fabric along the warp and weft and then fringing the napkin. If, however, the grain is really off, you still won’t have enough fabric to get a descent sized napkin out of the fat quarter. Here is a link to straighten fabric grain.

      If this is all terribly confusing, I would suggest you save your fat quarters for another project and buy the yardage you need following the directions in the post. I’ve probably just totally confused you, but I do hope it makes sense!


      1. Thank you for helping. 🙂 I am not confused at all ( am familiar with the fabric being off kilter and all that jazz) but disappointed that I messed up thinking the FQ would be ok to make 2 to try. I am not sure my guys would use fabric ones and wanted to try a small amount. AH well. I will return the one I haven’t opened. Thanks again for taking time to explain it to me. 🙂

        1. Kimara

          Np. If you get a 1 1/8 yards you can make 4 napkins. If the guys won’t use them, use them yourself for tea and coffee and feel a bit special 🙂 ((hugs)) ~Kimara~

  8. I made some of these after you originally posted in 2009, and they are still going strong! I wash and tumble dry in the winter and line dry in the summer. I have since made many sets, and always use thrifted fabric, often cotton kitchen curtains. It’s so easy to have seasonal and holiday sets; thank you again for the inspiration!

    1. Kimara

      You are quite welcome. We use ours constantly. My 9 year old grandbaby, Pixie, it quite artistic. When she sets the table for Sunday dinner it is always a mix and max affair. There is method to her madness albeit we don’t always follow her logic. Over the years I have switched out a couple months. Some of the fabric did not hold up to wear and the edges rolled and they were always so wrinkled. I repurposed them, but for the most part they are hard workers and beautiful. Thanks for sharing. ((hugs)) ~Kimara~

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