Ann Dorer Essay Series: Heirloom Napkins Made Into Elegant Pillows

Watercolor illustration of a vanity tray

As I was looking through my linen closet not long ago, I happened upon a dozen of my mother’s white damask napkins, clean, ironed, folded and ready for use—the way Mama always stored them. But they hadn’t been used in 20 years or more.

I spread open one napkin and ran my fingertips over it, feeling the softness of the well-worn fabric. I loved seeing how the light brought out the sheen of the napkin’s white-on-white pattern.      

What a shame these vintage treasures stayed hidden away.

Then it hit me. Wouldn’t they make pretty pillows! The fabric was already the perfect size; the edges were already hemmed. I knew I had to do this—the creativity that whirled in my mind would nag me until I did.

But I didn’t want to sew on the napkins my mother had kept so beautifully laundered. So I searched flea markets and antique malls diligently until I found a batch of vintage damask napkins at my favorite price: a dollar each.

At that price, some serious washing, spot cleaning, soaking, drying, and ironing were required, but I had to make these pillows.

So with a matching set of a dozen white damask napkins, two more that were larger and had a different pattern, and even a half dozen of light pink ones, I made a profusion of pretty pillows.

Now I just need my creative mind to figure out what to do with them all.

Photo of DIY pillows made from heirloom napkins
Notes from Ann on recreating her napkin pillows: Place wrong sides together of a matching pair of 18×18-inch damask napkins. Topstitch napkins together about 1 inch from the edge, leaving open most of one of the sides. Insert a 16×16-inch pillow form, and topstitch closed. (The sewing machine’s zipper foot attachment works well for topstitching the final side.)

Text by Ann Dorer
Illustration by Judy Jamieson

Former editor and consummate Southern lady Ann Dorer shares her reflections on life in our beloved region. For more of her thoughts, see her essay on Becoming a Southern Lady and previous post on her granddaughter Maggie’s pre-k graduation. Browse exclusive place cards that feature Judy Jamieson’s beautiful artwork in our online shop.

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