Choose a path and follow it

fabric Collage

Last week I began a Christmas-present project, some handmade napkins for my mom. I decided I wanted to make something that would go with her lovely, silver-rimmed china and some delicate, hand-painted wine glasses. I bought a cream-colored tablecloth, which I thought the china and glasses would look nice on, in a dressed-up sort of way, and took myself off to the fabric store. I came home from the there with no clear direction (see above).

Thanks to Cynthia’s comment on that post, I decided over the weekend to keep it simple. I thought I would choose a solid gray linen and back it with a pretty floral fabric. Perhaps I would embroider one single flower on each one.

But then, another direction appeared over the weekend. I spent part of the rainiest Halloween weekend in recent memory at the library, where I found an Alicia Paulson embroidery book:


(Not familiar with Portland writer/crafter/dreamworld maker Alicia Paulson? Her Posie Gets Cozy makes me want to do nothing but sit in front of a fire with a lapful of yarn and fabric.)

I was struck by these curtains:


Such easy design–use the pattern of a fabric as a starting point and embellish it with embroidery floss. Sort of like this inspiration shot I shared earlier, but even simpler:

Image via Upcyclist

Perhaps, I thought, when I returned to the fabric store I would find a fabric with a pattern and know just what to add to it to make it as sweet as Paulson’s curtains.

When I returned to the fabric store, I wasn’t sure which way it would go. For once, I gave myself lots of time to stay there and explore. I pushed a cart around, and I put anything that was a serious contender into it.

Over the course of two hours I went quite a ways down at least three different roads before I finally chose one:


This road required me to abandon my original destination. The project is not going to end at a table appointed with a high thread-count cloth, fine china and delicate glasses. (In fact, the table cloth has already been returned.)

It is going to end at a colorful, humble table–one that feels much more like my mom to me. These napkins will be right at home with her everyday dishes, and I think cloth napkins can be an everyday thing, too. (They are at our house.)

landsdown life napkins

Love this gift tag from Landsdowne Life. Clicking on the image will take you to its post.

I have to say, I resisted this road. I really wanted my original destination to be the one. But I kept turning away from the fabrics that would take me there. Isn’t so much of life like that? We think we know exactly where we should go, but we often find ourselves making choices that don’t take us there. It’s like we can’t help it. (Maybe we can’t.)

I still don’t know exactly how this is going to turn out. At one point in the afternoon, I had a cart full of coordinating fabrics. I envisioned the backs of the napkins in an assortment of colors and patterns:


But then I got frustrated trying to figure out exactly how much of each fabric I needed, and it seemed there would be more waste with the assortment (and fabric isn’t cheap!). So I settled on using the green for all of them. I did, though, use the other fabrics to help me find shades of embroidery floss to use on the black-and-white print.

When I got home, I made a photocopy of the black-and-white fabric so I could experiment with designs. (Our printer is also a copier and scanner. So nice to have those options at home.)


I got out my Sharpies and went to town:


I also folded the paper so I could see how a napkin might look when folded  on the table. That was really helpful. I’d imagined there would be more in a row of flowers showing than there really are.


At this point, I think I need to cut out the fabric and see what a napkin will really look like. And then I need to do some practice/experiment flowers on some scrap fabric. I’m still not sure where this project will end up, but as is true with many big(ish) undertakings, you don’t need to know every step in advance. You just need to figure out the right next step.

Any suggestions are much appreciated–even if they take me in another direction! 🙂


11 thoughts on “Choose a path and follow it

  1. Marian says:

    I too, think Cynthia gave some excellent advice. I love the idea of double sided napkins, and I love the two fabrics you finally settled on. My favourite fabric from your initial trip was the bottom row, centre-most one; I thought that one would tie in really nicely with your mom’s wineglasses, and to my eye, the flowers on the black floral you ended up choosing have that same stylized feel to them. If I were doing them, I think I would pick one colour of embroidery floss per napkin (to cut down on the busy-ness) and I would only do the outlining. There are more lines to outline in the flowers on the black fabric vs. the example (orange outline on the blue/white fabric), so I would play with only outlining some of the flower petals, rather than the whole flower. (And I would only do one flower per napkin, strategically placed to end up close to one edge when the napkin is folded).

    I think it’s really nice that you’re choosing to make something that is more in keeping with who your mom actually is; if only ALL gift-givers were as thoughtful as you!
    Marian recently posted…Using the Freezer to Minimize Food WasteMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I like your ideas! (The beauty of blogging. You get to crowd-source solutions to creative dilemmas.) Now I’m wondering what it might be like to outline only the first layer of petals and the center, but to maybe do all the flowers on a napkin? That would not be in keeping with Cynthia’s sensible advice, I know. But if I’m only doing a little bit per flower…?

      My mom is the best gift-giver because she always thinks hard about what the recipient would like. I often struggle with gift-giving because it can be hard to know for someone else. Cane is the worst for me. He really likes techy things, but I just don’t know much about what’s available. If only he loved books–that is always easy for me!

    • Rita says:

      I know just what you mean, Jen. Isn’t it so hard to know when to yield and when to hold firm? We get so many messages about following our dreams and not giving up on things, but sometimes we are dreaming in the wrong direction. I’m sure the struggle is necessary in some way, but I sure don’t enjoy it!

  2. Lisa says:

    I love this! I would do flowers in the corners, or along one edge, that would way they will always be shown when the napkin is folded. And I am a “more is more” person and think that the whole flower in a rainbow of colors would look fab. (Just three flowers in the corners?) Although I admit I am not the one doing the work and thus perhaps that is not the direction you would want to take.

    It is funny you’ve been talking of directions to take….right now I have about 27 paths laid out in front of me, and I have pulled up a lawn chair to contemplate all of them. This month we should get some information that will determine whether we move across country again, or put the move off for a year, or move across town, or just stay where we are…and every single one of these options has a ripple effect down the line. I have so many spreadsheets going with various scenarios. But I can’t get out of my lawn chair and start making decisions till the decision from on high is handed down.

    Patience has never been my forte.
    Lisa recently posted…the living room, againMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Ooo, I like the flowers in the corner idea. And along the edge. I think I’m going to have to actually put some thread into fabric before I decide my design. Once I see how long some things take, I think that will help me decide.

      And I can’t believe you might be moving cross country again. I hope you get word soon. I hate being in limbo, almost as much as I hate feeling that others control my fate. Crossing my fingers that it all goes the way you want.

  3. Sarah says:

    I love seeing your process, Rita! And I like the “choose a path and follow it” metaphor. Lots to ponder, there.

    I had to laugh at the tag on the cloth napkins that you posted. I just bought some new table linens last week and they turned out to wrinkle in the wash a lot more than I had expected. For a brief moment I considered whether I was going to have to iron them. No way, that’s crazy talk indeed! I’m embracing the rumpled look. 🙂

    I like the fabrics you ended up with. Since everybody is throwing in their two cents, I’ll say that if it were me, I would use a single color of embroidery floss per napkin, and embellish a row of flowers down the middle of each napkin. But I’d do something slightly different for each flower — maybe French knots in the center of one, outline the center petals of another, outline the outer petals of a third, satin stitch to fill a few petals of a fourth, etc. (If it were me, I would also be well served by choosing a *restrained* plan of embellishment, i.e., not that much stitching per napkin, given that you have to make a whole set….)
    Sarah recently posted…Slow Fashion October: WORN, and why I care about clothesMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thanks, Sarah. I like the idea of something different for each because that would be more fun to make. I spent some time playing around with them this weekend, and your advice to choose a restrained plan is well-taken. Each flower takes quite a bit more time than I thought it would. (Story of my life.)

      We use cloth napkins all the time, and I never iron them. Crazy talk, indeed! They are stained, too. If they get really bad, I turn them into rags, but I think you can’t be too picky about your cloth napkins or you’ll never use them.

  4. Erin says:

    Ah! Thanks for showing off my tag! Fun surprise.

    From your other post, I do love the outlined flowers, and the ones where only certain parts of them are stitched.

  5. May says:

    Those fabrics are all so YOU. I bet your mom will treasure these. Cloth napkins are everyday and holiday at our house too. Part of my attempts to limit what goes into the landfill. When the kids all went off to their own adventures each took a stack of their favorites with them. Warmed my heart.
    May recently posted…TToT:Christmas EditionMy Profile

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