Handprinted Christmas serviettes
Updated: Oct 4, 2021
I made a set of pine needle hand printed serviettes for Christmas. They got a great reception on Instagram and I thought you might like a free tutorial to make them yourself. This post shows you how to print and sew them . The tutorial is meant for serviettes, but if you feel more ambitious it can equally be used to make a table cloth or table runner. I can even imagine a family project with everyone working on his own piece of the table cloth. But whatever it is you want to make it all starts with making the print. I use a stencil printing technique for this and if this is your first experience with stencil printing a fabric, this is what you will need:
Pre washed natural fabric, linen or cotton, enough for your project (my serviettes are 50 x 50 cm) and extra for practising. My print was made on a light weight natural linen.
A water based fabric ink for fabric printing. You can use a (preferably transparent) screen printing ink, but small containers of fabric ink from the craft store will also work. Inks that are oil based and especially meant for block printing might be too sticky for this purpose. I’ve printed with a green and a brown colour, but you can can of course use other colours.
Stencil material: mylar is the ideal stencil material (I use a thickness of 125 micron. It can be bought in craft stores or on Amazon), but other kinds of polyester sheets can also work. I sometimes use the front cover of a binder. Do test them first, they need to be strong enough to cut and stable enough to print. You need just one A4 sheet.
Exacto knife and cutting mat
At least 2 small size stencil brushes or flat paint brushes, more if you are doing more than one serviette at the time.
Permanent marker with a fine point.
The project starts with cutting out the stencils. I’ve made a template for the motifs that I’ve used in this pattern and I’ve divided each of the three motifs into 2 stencils. Unless you are experienced it’s hard to print stencils with the two needles attached, it’s not stable enough that way. Trace each of the six motifs on to the stencil material leaving enough space around each of the motifs to be able to handle the stencil without getting your hands dirty. Be precise, make them very slim. Subtlety is key to the success of the print. Then cut out all the needles. Your exacto knife should go through the mylar quite easily. When you cut a rounded shape move your stencil material around instead of moving the knife. Then cut around each of the stencils to make 6 separate stencils.
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Video will take a minute to download before playing.
You are now ready to start practicing how to use your stencils. You will get a better idea looking at the video above. Put a little bit of your ink on a saucer and take your brush. Dip it in the ink and tap the excess out on the saucer. Then hold your brush vertical above the stencil and draw it following the shape of the needle. You can also tap the ink into the fabric, but for this very narrow shape this ‘painting’ movement works even better for me. Different brushes and different fabrics can give different kinds of results, so just try how it works for you. As you are printing assemble the two parts of the pine needles. The good thing about working with 2 stencils for one motif is that you can vary with the appearance of the motifs. The two needles can be close together, further apart or crossing each other. You can apply green for the needles and brown for the part where they are attached without waiting time. If you are applying the right amount of ink the risk of smudging should be minimal. The biggest risk of smudging is actually when you are not holding your brush vertically and you get some of the hairs of the brush underneath the stencil, if you are using too much ink, or if you shift the stencil when you lift it. Best is to hold it down on a corner with one finger while you lift the opposite corner with your other hand.
As soon as you are confident of your technique move on to the fabric for the serviettes (or tablecloth or other project). You can now start making your pattern. This pattern is a tossed pattern, which is exactly what it sounds like: as if the prints are tossed across the fabric. So go for that spontaneous look: sometimes the prints will overlap, make sure you rotate them regularly and vary the appearance of each print. You may find that at a certain point your brush gets saturated with ink and doesn't print so well any more. Do not wash your brush unless you want to stop for the day. It will need to dry overnight. You can either take another brush or squeeze as much ink out of the brush as possible with a rag and continue. Cover the whole surface of your fabric with your prints and when you are ready get yourself a drink and let dry overnight. For heat setting the next day (so you can wash the fabric) you need your iron and a little bit of patience. Use the specifications of your ink brand to determine how long you need to iron, for my brand this is about 15 seconds for each spot, so move your iron all over the fabric.
Your are now ready to sew you project. I’ll show you how to sew nice mitred corners, and you can use these on serviettes, table runners and table cloths.
You start by cutting your fabric to exactly the right size making sure that all the sides are perfectly straight. In linen this can be a bit tricky as it tends to shift. Use the treads of the fabric to cut straight. For the serviettes iron a 1 cm seam (you’d make a larger seam for a table cloth or table runner). Make sure it is perfectly straight. I mark a 1 cm line on a piece of thin cardboard and fold the fabric over that as I iron. I wouldn’t eyeball this if you want perfect corners. Do this on all sides of the fabric. Then fold over another 1 cm all around. You will now see a little box shape in each of the corners that I’ve marked in the first picture. Cut the corner diagonally across this box (picture 2). Fold the fabric inwards along the diagonal cut in the corner using the point indicated in the picture as a guide (pictures 3 and 4). Then use the double seam folds you made earlier to make the mitred corners (picture 5). You may have to adjust a little bit when pressing to get it just right. Pin along the hems on all sides of the the fabric. I’ve also seen people use a little bit of fabric glue to get the corners to stay. Last thing is stitching the seams as close to the edge as you can (picture 6) and you're done. I hope you’re happy with your project.
If you really enjoyed making this and you want more, there is more to learn about stencil printing on fabric in both of my Skillshare classes:
Stencil print your own fabric: easy techniques for beautiful patterns
A Mid Century adventure for (new) fabric printers
Or join one of my workshops on Zoom.