Cloth Napkins: Never Old-Fashioned

Think of the feeling you get when you sit down at a fancy restaurant for a special meal, and the table is set with china on fine white linens…  It makes you sit up straighter, dust off ye old manners, and savor each sip, slurp, or bite like it was meant to be enjoyed slowly.

The elegance and charm of a good “old-fashioned” cloth napkin is hard to deny.  It says, “This meal matters.  It was prepared FOR YOU.”  Every meal should feel like that! 

When we were first married, we used paper napkins at every meal (and often paper plates for at least one meal a day).  Then the waste and dollar cost became evident, and I started looking around for cloth napkins.

Our first batch came from Savers, a huge thrift store like Salvation Army.  They were white, mismatched, and exactly what I was looking for. 

As we got used to using them, I realized how often we’d used napkins without needing to, and then thrown them away.  How much $$$ were we spending on flimsy, scratchy paper squares that ended up in the garbage, along with the plastic wrap that would not decompose in a landfill within our lifetime?

It was a GREAT, easy, and frugal change to make.  Now that I have more time for sewing, I’ve been making all kinds of napkins and having so much fun doing it!  We’re saving quite a bit of money by doing this (especially by using gift cards and coupons for fabric).  And our table setting looks BEAUTIFUL, even if all I’m serving is eggs.

The easiest have been self-finishing: types of cloth that will fray right down to the stitching, which means I don’t have to carefully pin, iron, and hem the edges.  Here they are, pre-trimming:

A little lazy to do self-fraying?  You bet! 

A little extra work beyond throwing a big plastic package in the shopping cart?  Yup.  But I want to have things around the house that were built to last.  This is not a thing of the past.

Now I have the chance to hone a skill that should NOT become a lost art form. 

Even I, the queen of squiggly lines, can sew – and the more I make, the better I get at it.

My goal is to have an enormous collection that gets used at every meal, all year round, with special fabrics for holidays, seasons, and even birthdays.  It’s an economical way to decorate and a space-saver for those who can’t stash away lots of holiday decorations.

These are pasta napkins.

I sewed them after I heard several people say “I CAN’T WIPE MY MOUTH WITH that!” when I presented them with a crisp white cloth napkin and a steaming plate of pasta and bright red sauce.  Understandable. 

And these are so country-ish it’s awesome.  Makes me want steak and eggs.

The best part?  Freedom and creativity!  There’s no limit!  No art teacher telling you which colors are “right” – your table, your imagination, your picnics, your feasts.

Our napkins even get used at the end of the meal for wiping a small mouth and hands before they can smear food on our shoulders.

If you don’t sew, or the idea of buying cloth anything from a thrift/second-hand store makes you gulp loudly, I’d be willing to bet you would still save money by purchasing a set from Target, Walmart, etc.  Do the math: Compare your one-time purchase of a few yards of fabric or a set of ready-mades to the cost of buying paper napkins for a year. 

You’re on the hunt!  There’s so many options out there.  Have fun 🙂

Send an invitation without saying a word: Home matters, and you’re part of it.  Come sit, linger, and savor.

Have you made the switch from paper to cloth, or are you considering it?  Please comment!

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11 thoughts on “Cloth Napkins: Never Old-Fashioned

    • Thank you so much for reading and for your encouragement! Did we teach together a year or two ago? I passed on your son’s comment about the 80’s to my husband (and spent some time feeling really old). Your kids are awesome! 🙂

  1. Definitely want to do this. I love the idea of birthday napkins too. We used to have a cloth birthday tablecloth that I made. That was a huge savings when you consider how many birthdays are celebrated at your house. It isn’t only you, your spouse and children, but grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.

  2. It’s funny you should do a post on cloth napkins today. How do you deal with the napkins after they are used (or stained)? Do you soak them or just throw them in the wash and hope for the best? If you soak them, where do you keep the bin? I have been experimenting trying to find a system that works best for our family and space and would love to hear other people’s ideas! We are a family of five with an eat in kitchen/laundry room in one so space is tight!

    • Hi Rachael! After a meal, I toss the used napkins in a bin of dirty laundry that sits in our bathroom (which is right next to where we eat). If they’re badly stained, I wash them out first, and drape them over the side of the tub to dry. Then they join the others along with dirty towels and clothes and get run through a normal wash cycle when it’s time.

      If the napkins are so badly stained that I don’t think I can even bleach them back to good health, they become kitchen rags. This happened when I made chicken and used turmeric (which is hearby FORBIDDEN in my kitchen).

      If any soaking had to be done, I might keep a tupperware container or bucket under the sink, behind the bathroom door, on the fridge, or wherever I could fit it without it getting knocked over. I do have a bin for bleaching which I keep in the basement, but haven’t had to use it often, especially since I started using dark/patterned fabric. Good ol pasta napkins. 🙂

      If you needed to do some bleaching, could you use your sink, if there isn’t a tub in the house? Maybe have one time slot each week set aside for the process when you know you won’t need that space, and can fill it up with dirty stuff…?

      In our first apartment, the shower/tub served double duty for cleaning and drying things. In our first home, we still use the side of the tub for drying napkins, kitchen cloths, etc, so that they don’t get moldy whilst they wait in the laundry tub for wash day. If someone pops in unexpectedly, our life is very much in evidence. But I tend to think we’re like most families: we never promised anyone Martha Stewart’s House of Sickening Perfection.

      Hope this might help a little…

      Any readers have ideas for saving space with cloth napkins? Ways of combining uses for buckets and bins?

  3. Pingback: Until Next Time | The Full Vine

  4. I used cloth napkis too..for your very reasons..but then I got soo lazy that we just got real tidy about eating and dash to the sink when eating anything gooey..ok..too lazy.

    • So sorry I didn’t reply til now! I have been out of blog land for some time. Thanks for your comment though… I like the sound of your method. Want another lazy one? My one year old sits right next to me, and if I’m napkin-less, I just wipe my fingers on his bib. Sigh. I don’t even make it to the sink.

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