Batiste fabric is a lightweight, fine fabric from the same family as lawn and organdy. Traditionally made from cotton or linen, it is now more often made from a blend of threads including cotton, wool and polyester. Despite its fine, smooth appearance the fabric is quite durable, and can be machine washed and dried on a low setting. This softness and durability makes it a favorite for special occasion baby wear, underwear and handkerchiefs. It is suitable for making elegant, dinner party napkins, but is less suitable for everyday napkins as it does not stand up as well to intensive washing as more robust fabrics.
The Mercerization Process
Batiste fabric is often put through a process called mercerization. This increases the luster of the fabric giving it a slight sheen, but also increases the durability. The process is named for a British scientist named John Mercer, who first experimented with caustic soda to cause changes to thread. In the modern mercerization process, the thread is held before weaving at a specified tension under an application of caustic soda. When choosing fabric for napkins, try to get batiste that has been mercerized as it will be more durable and resistant to staining.
To make a napkin from batiste, cut a square of fabric to the desired size. As it is so fine, batiste has a tendency to snag on the foot of a sewing machine so can be easier to sew by hand. Starting in one corner, hold the very edge of the fabric between your first two fingers and thumb. Use your thumb to roll the fabric up until the raw edge is hidden. Sew the hem into place using slipstitch, taking only a few threads from the fabric and the hem with each stitch so that the sewing won't be too visible from the right side. Continue until the whole piece of material is hemmed.
Batiste is a good fabric for embroidery as the weave is not too tight. Wash and iron the napkins before starting work and then use an embroidery frame to keep your work taut and even. Use a detached chain stitch and French knots to create simple flowers, or embroider a set of initials. Embroider napkins with a monogram or date to make a great wedding gift. For an elegant look, use the same or complementary color silk as the fabric, and make sure that the silk is colorfast and washable. Trim the hems with washable lace if desired.
Although batiste is a reasonably durable fabric, repeated intensive washing will case it to rub and weaken as it is so thin. For best results, wash your napkins on a delicate cycle with a specialist washing detergent suitable for delicate fabrics. Allow to dry naturally or use a low machine cycle. Iron on a low setting, and avoid ironing any lace areas. If you have embroidered your napkins, use a pressing cloth or old piece of cotton sheet to cover the embroidered areas, and iron over the top.
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