Paper Napkin Decoupage: How To Change Any Boring Bag

paper napkin decoupageIn my last project, the burlap bag I gave you the challenge to guess the name of the technique I used to create the print on the bag.  I read your comments and there were many of you who got the right answer, but as you know we can only have one winner… you'll find the name of the winner at the end of this post on paper napkin decoupage.

The first time I was taught how to make paper napkin decoupage was in a small studio class in Florence.  Unfortunately, my level of Italian barely let me keep up with the instructions, but from what I gathered I noticed that it was not too difficult to do.  I thought it was a wonderful way to change the look of an item, simply by gluing some paper on top of a piece of furniture.

paper napkin decoupage

So I thought why not use it on fabric? And what fabric would work best?  After some research and experimenting, I found that Hessian or Burlap is the best, simply because of the texture of the fabric.

According to historians, decoupage has been around since the 12th century.  It originates from all the way in Siberia.  The practice spread quickly to China where it was mostly used to decorate wooden objects.  It then flourished in Florence during the 18th century and from there spread to all Europe, notably France and England.  We have seen it in small jewelry boxes, trunks, and furniture.  Old and new it has a charm of a time gone by and things worth keeping.

paper napkin decoupage

I would like to share with you this unique technique, and in the processes change the look of some handbags or purses.  The best part is that you can literally pick from any napkin that you can find and tailor it to fit your needs, ex: Mother's Day,  Christmas, a baptism.

For this tutorial you will need an unfinished hessian or burlap bag with no print at all.  If you want to make a new bag, you can use the metal frame purse pattern, the burlap shopping bag pattern or the bucket bag since all are easy and fast to make.


  • Paper napkins of your taste


  • 2″ flat paintbrush
  • Blow drier

How To Make Your Own Decoupage glue

  • 6 ounces (175ml) of craft glue such as the one used in elementary schools
  • 6 ounces (175ml) of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon of water-based varnish

Mix all the ingredients and store in a jar with an airtight lid.

NOTE:  The tendency is to use the craft glue straight from the bottle and expect to behave the same way as Modge Podge.  Don't!  I have done this and the result is a very dry and not flexible piece of fabric.  The fabric with time will develop cracks and the work will slowly chip off.


Place a piece of large paper to protect your work area.  Then place the burlap on the flat surface and apply a generous layer of Modge Podge, Decoupage Texil or your own glue.  Place the napkin on the bag and using your finger smooth the napkin from the center to the edges of the paper.  Be gentle and try not to rip the napkin, but if you do, don't worry I will show you how to fix it. Continue to apply glue to the side.  Place a piece of matching the design already there overlapping about 3/8′ (1cm). Apply more glue where the overlap of the print is located. Place your left finger on the overlapping glue area and rip the side of the napkin using our other hand.  Ripping instead of cutting with a pair of scissors will help the fiber of the paper adhere to the first layer of the napkin that is already in place. Continue on the other side of the fabric, gluing and matching the print then ripping with your fingers. I like matching the print of the napkin over the burlap, the mixture of the texture and the print makes for a bag that is different from many I see available in the market.

How To Make A Decoupage Collage

This technique is easy and simple.  Find three different types of napkins either on contrasting prints or complementary to each other.

The Napkins have three layers of paper you will only need the top printed layer.  Do not discard the other layers you can use them in the inside to make your bag stronger.

Thank you to Katherine who has reminded me of this important step.

paper napkin decoupage

All you need to do is cut out pieces you like of the napkins and assemble them in an attractive way and glue them on.

On the picture below I was playing with the composition. In the end, I was not so happy about it.  

Here is what I ended up gluing onto my bag. What If Something Goes Wrong?

The application of too little glue will create a bubble under the paper.  I have found that no matter how much I try to make the paper stick it does not happens.  Sadly the only way to fix it is to rip the soggy paper off until the bubble disappears. It happened on both sides of the bag, so here it is how to fix it.

Use a generous amount of glue on the burlap plus 3/8″ (1cm) around the edge of the ripped area. Press down the napkin starting at the center of the area you need to fill again.

Place a new napkin matching the print as close as possible. Use your fingers to press down the area that needs filling starting at the center. Gently rip off with one hand while pressing with the other the area that has not being glued to the fabric. Continue ripping and pressing the napkin until you have the area covered. Apply more glue from the center of the new piece to the edge. Finally, apply decoupage glue all over the material and let it dry for at least 24 hours before you sew.

I hope everyone enjoyed this easy bag upgrade using paper napkin decoupage.  Use the comments to tell me how your first try went.  Happy Sewing!

*I wanted to thank you for taking the time to try and guess the technique in the last article.  To all who participated, some of you gave me really great things to think about and explore.  Congratulations to Maurina who correctly guessed the technique first.*


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36 Responses to Paper Napkin Decoupage: How To Change Any Boring Bag

  1. cyndi pridham says:

    Love it. I remember collecting and using the napkins to decoupage on wooden boxes, scrapbooking pages and cards. I will try this. I have a stack of these bags. I m thinking that I could still embroider a butterfly, flower, dragonfly etc on it too or maybe attach it to give a 3d garden effect. Did you put a square board inside bag to keep it from seeping through. To avoid bag drying glued shut. Or is not needed. If its less gluey risk those airbubbles. So I used to have a jo Sonja paint fabric medium. Wonder if still around and if it would help make it washable. Have you tried transferring photos of people to your bags. I remember yrs ago it was done using transfer tape. Looked like clear packing tape.
    Some newsagents stock up on fancy printed napkins for the festive season. Good time to check. Thanks. how do I subscribe to your blog. cyndi

    • Mayra Cecilia says:

      Hi Cyndi, I did put a cardboard inside just in case, it is not so gluei but better to avoid the mess. I have not transfer any photo to bags yet. WHen I find a way that does not cost so much as transfer paper I will give it a go. Click on this link and before you know a window will pop asking you if you would like to subscribe, fill the info in and voila you are in. I send the newsletter on Sundays before midday NY Time.

  2. Pauline says:

    Does this technique result in a water-resistant fabric? If so, do you think it could be used to make bicycle panniers? It would be cute!

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      yes it is water resistant but I do not know about UV resistant, have you tried oilcloth?

      • Pauline says:

        No, I haven’t, but I will look it up. Thank you for your reply, especially about the UV resistance– excellent point!

  3. Helen says:

    Hi all. I am very interested in trying this as it seems to be a better application than Gel Medium. There’s a You Tube out there of an Amy Butler showing how to use magazines (ripping up the pieces) and applying to a denim recycled purse. She uses Gel Medium on the first layer then another type which I cannot find out what it was. She was at a Green Convention and I tracked down the company and sent them an email asking what it was she was using for the 2nd layer as I couldn’t find anything remotely close in the list of inventory. Never heard back from them. So the above questions on does it work on fabric is of interest. I put my own decoupage glue (water + elmers) as the final layer and it made it too brittle and it cracked.

  4. Gail Rossi says:

    I’m so confused about the overlapping. What part of napkins is being ripped off and what is being left?

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      the napkins come in three layers 2 are white and one with the print. You will use the print layer or top layer.

  5. Gail Rossi says:

    I am confused about the overlapping of napkins. I just can’t wrap my mind around what you are doing.

  6. Mel says:

    Mod Podge also makes a version especially for fabric. I’ve seen this done with that.

  7. Margaret Jordan says:

    Am I correct in assuming that you would not do this process on fabric that will be washed, such as a t-shirt

  8. MaryJo says:

    I learned how to do that back in the 1980s on styrofoam balls or eggs, decopaging on the single top layer of the napkin, then adding more medium and rolling the object in transparent glitter. The first ones I did were for Easter and they were the most gorgeous things that I could imagine and so much fun to make!

  9. Natalie Davies says:

    Ruth: I have used this technique with cotton fabric such as plain calico (painted with fabric dye of course!)and and a product by Dala called waterproofing medium. After heat setting with an iron, the design can be washed.

  10. DebV says:

    This is very interesting. The Blue bag caught my eye, but the 4 pinkish flowers is my favorite. Have you tried this on other fabrics like canvas or just muslin? I have a supply of both, so was wondering. Mod podge makes it washable? Let me know what you find with your own recipe you printed. Great job.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Yes, I have and it works very well the finish is smooth and very beautiful. Modge Podge does make it washable, Let you know the other two if they work.

  11. Vicky says:

    You don’t mention whether you separate the printed layer of napkin from the second layer, so I assume that you don’t. That’s the way I was taught to do it for decoupage.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi, Vicky, I have updated the post, I do separate the layers so the fabric remains flexible but strong very important in bag making.

  12. Karen says:

    I did dacoupage on baskets with a group of young girls.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      I would imagine it was a fun project for them. I love the idea will explore a pattern to come up with a basket looking bag for the beach.

  13. Ruth Dohack says:

    If necessary, could the bag be washed after decoupaging?

  14. Charlotte McCaig says:

    I first saw the paper napkin technique instruction from Aleene back in the 1980’s. She is the genius behind the Tacky Glue. I think it was in a booklet format even earlier then one of her daughters showed it on their television show. All the crafters were looking for the 2 ply decorative napkins because you were supposed to use the top layer only….not an easy find back then, lol!

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      HI, great bit of history, I am always happy to hear where a thing or technique originated this is the farthest back I have heard with fabric and napkins. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  15. Jacqueline Kasian says:

    One important step was left out I think Mayra, make sure you are only using the top layer of the napkin. You must remove all the layers, be it a two ply or three ply in order to have good adhesion in the final product. That was my experience with decoupage.
    Cheers, Jackie

  16. Lucy says:

    Wow what a wonderful idea. Thanks for the tutorial. I am going to try this.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Please load a picture I would be so curious to see what napkins you were able to find.

  17. cats says:

    Oh! I used to do decoupage way back in the olden days, it was a thing along with macrame back in my hippie-dippie days. Ha! Haven’t seen it for years and years, and I surely never thought of doing it on fabric! What a wonderful idea, i need some bags and love those burlap bags, and now this!!

    I sense an imminent trip down to JoAnn’s with a handful of coupons (^_^). Thanks for this!

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      LOL!!! Enjoy your trip it is one that fills me with happiness, let me know what you end up coming up with.

  18. Marlette Louisin says:

    Very unique process and result, Mayra. Thank you for sharing it with us. I’ve done decoupage in wood and stoneware but never realized it could be done on fabric.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Sice you have experience in wood which is much much harder to do, please try on fabric and share the results and tips, what would you do different or better? I am curious…

  19. Inge van Dordrecht says:

    Hi Myra – I am from South Africa & signed up to your newsletter. I read all your articles with great interest & have made some of your bag patterns, with great success! Did you recently go to Mauritius or was it Bali, & did you buy fabric there?
    I have a friend holidaying in Mauritius who is returning home in 2 weeks & would like to bring some fabric for me. Any suggestions? Kind regards, Inge

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Inge, I have never had the pleasure of going to Mauritius, one day for sure. Bali, yes many times lots of fabrics to purchase and watch raw silk weaving in a few villages toward UBUD. I do Know through a few contacts that Mauritius is it an important textile hub for South Eastern Africa. Many well-known bands such as NAF NAF, La Redoute, River Island, Topshop, Abercrombie and Fitch, Victoria Secret, Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, Mango, among many others make their products there to service the European and South African Market. As such, you will find many leftover fabrics used in the production of this brands. If you can ask your friend to head to the central market where you will find such fabrics. I once in Cameroun found an early Versace fabric and a 1960’s Chanel bracelet that today is worth a pretty penny. Bali, yes many times lots of fabrics to purchase and watch raw silk weaving in a few villages toward UBUD. Happy hunting!I am curious to know what your friend can find for you.

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