This Thanksgiving, bring the past to the table

By Kelly Wilkinson
Thursday, November 19, 2009

As much as I adore the happy din of the Thanksgiving table, I savor the moment before everyone sits down when the table is set, the candles are lit and the chairs are empty. The hush before the lovely mania erupts.

Every year, that moment feels like a homecoming. Because even if the time zone or recipes are different, the rituals are the same: cooking, drinking wine, setting a table for the ancient tradition of gathering family and friends.

Even if we can't get all those people in one place, we can still include them at the table with a set of homemade napkins featuring photos of beloved people and places. A bonus: Unlike other heirlooms, these can be tossed into the washing machine after the meal.

As with many craft projects, most of the work here is in the setup. For the napkins, this involves scanning, sizing and printing old photos, or even letters and handwritten recipes.

Indulge my nostalgia here: The time spent creating these napkins feels worthy of the occasion. Yes, there is a little fussing before the instant gratification of the image transfer, but the fuss means something. It's part of creating room at the table for lives and places that are dear to us.

You'll need

- Old photographs or favorite images

- Scanner

- Computer with photo-editing program (such as Photoshop)

- Ink-jet printer

- Plain cotton or linen napkins in a light color (store-bought or handmade)

- Iron-on transfer sheets for ink-jet printers (available at major craft stores)

- Scissors or craft knife

- Iron

- Grosgrain ribbon

- Matching thread

- Sewing machine

Note: Make sure you're printing with an ink-jet printer. Laser printers are too hot and will melt the transfer paper.

How to

1. Select photographs of family members, or favorite trips or places. Scan at 300 dots per inch and add a sepia tone to the digital images if desired.

2. Size the images to fit in the corner of your napkins. For my set, the images were three to five inches wide.

3. Print the images onto transfer sheets per the manufacturer's instructions.

4. Cut out each image with scissors or a craft knife, and arrange it on a napkin until you're satisfied with the layout.

5. Transfer the images with the iron onto the napkins following the manufacturer's instructions.

6. Cut the ribbon to frame the images. Because I don't like things that are too matchy-matchy, I changed the ribbon placement slightly on each napkin.

7. Pin the ribbon in place and machine sew, tucking edges under to finish. You can hand sew or use fabric glue if you're worried about wobbly stitching.

Wilkinson is a craft designer and journalist. Find more of her projects at

© 2009 The Washington Post Company