Monday, July 14, 2008

Cloth Napkins

Cloth Napkins---Just how many does a family of 8 need? How often will I need to wash these? Why am I doing this? :)

Yesterday I made 32 cloth napkins, 17"x17" big. All the fabric came from my stash, and I even made some with airplane fabric for the men and boys in the family.

I don't quite know the logistics yet of how this is all going to work. So.... those of you who use cloth napkins, perhaps you can tell me. Do you use the same napkin for several meals? How do you keep "whose napkin is whose" straight? I know that some of my kiddos will not want to use a napkin for a second meal if there is any likelihood that it was used by somebody else for the previous meal. Do you wash the napkins with the regular laundry (with the panties?!) all mixed in together? Will 32 napkins be enough for a while, or will I need more? Anything else I should know? Don't tell me that napkins are a good ironing project of little girls. I don't see any of us ironing these. :)

So, back to my question.... Why am I doing this? In no particular order:

a. I'm tired of buying disposable napkins.
b. This is a way to save money. We need to cut back on the household budget.
c. I have a daughter who's thinking "green" and she convinced me that we could make napkins work, laundry and all.
d. I should do what little I can to re-use and recycle, and you can't do that with paper napkins.
e. I'm not wasting paper.
f. I'm using up some of my fabric stash.
g. The napkins will look pretty on the table, especially if I come up with enough coordinating fabrics.
h. Cloth napkins really are much nicer to use than paper.
i. Anything else I haven't thought of?

Off to launder the new napkins...


  1. I think cloth napkins are a great idea. I especially like the airplane ones!

  2. cloth napkins are nice and they are pretty, I usually only use them for dinner get togethers but have recently been making more out of fabric stash also, and plan to use them. As far as the enviromet thing, paper is the least of our landfill worries, in fact I compost paper napkins with other kitchen waste, as far as trees, pulp wood is grown esp for this purpose and you will not save trees using cloth, in fact the use of electric, H20 and detergent use probably has more impact on the enviroment the the use of paper

  3. Love your napkins! I think cloth napkins are so much nicer than paper. We usually use them once and wash them with sheets and towels. Hope that helps!

  4. Mmy husband came from a family of 11 children. They used cloth napkins all the time. Each person had their own napkin ring and there were no two alike. At the end of the meal, the napkin was folded and put into their ring for the next meal. The napkins were used for a few days unless they were completely messy. They were laundered about every three days or so.

  5. I've been contemplating making cloth napkins for a friend who wants to save money by using them, and I was thinking of making some for myself at the same time. What a timely post!

  6. Ellena: I rather agree with you. :) However, I do feel like we waste so much, from paper napkins, printer paper, paper towels, etc. I've wanted to use cloth napkins for several years now, and my daughter was just the impetus.

    Ellen: I like the napkin ring idea!

    Penny: One of my sons requested something boyish, and the airplane fabric was in my stash. :)

    Katie: Thanks! That does help. I wash towels every few days, so that answers that question for me.

    Kris: Let me know if you make napkins and how you like using them. Oh, pictures would be great too. :)

  7. Another vote for the individual napkin rings. We had rings from India painted with different designs, but there's no reason they all have to coordinate.

  8. I love my cloth napkins. There are 3 of us and we have a kitchen drawer full (and sometimes it seems that even then we don't have enough) Sometimes we use them though several meals, but usually they're dirty enough after one meal, into the wash they go with the other kitchen items. (I have a 3 year old who is adept at making messes, so we use a lot of napkins)

    We do not save our napkins for special occasions (they are not that pretty), we bring out the nicest ones when we have guests.

    I love your fabric, its fun!

  9. Hi Ruth...we've been using cloth napkins for years now. I keep a drawer full of them near the table. My kids fight over who gets to put the napkins out at each place setting. I launder them with towels. And we generally only use them once before washing....but my children are pretty little and make lots of messes!!! I never iron them.

  10. I use cloth napkins. It was hard for my husband to get used to, but I grew up with them, so I didn't think to buy paper napkins. I use a new one each night and I wash them with the towels on hot. I don't know how many your family would need, but I buy mix and match. Most of the time I can find them for a quarter or so at Dillards end of the season sales. I hope this helps.

  11. I agree with the napkin ring theory. Each family member has his/her own unique napkin ring and replaces the napkin in its ring (if not too soiled) at the end of the meal. A decorative basket can keep the napkins between meals. I lived with a family in France one summer and we used this system--always worked. My "mom" had a stack of clean napkins near her basket so you could claim a clean one if you had made a mess of your current napkin. Hers were all colors that blended with her table decor, but did not "match" perse.

    PS Ruth--the button necklace is on the cover of the 3/2008 issue of Ottobre. Fun project. Thanks for your comment!

  12. I love that airplane fabric! Thanks for your comment on my blog. I love watching all the fun projects :)

  13. Hi! I've been thinking about making some cloth napkins and have had all the thoughts questions you've had. I really have no excuse since I don't even have kids at home any more!

  14. I'm in the process of switching too! We've almost used up all the paper napkins in the cupboard, and I'm not buying more. I plan on washing them with other towels. So far we've been using them once or twice - our 2 year old is a mess!

  15. Ruth--the button necklace directions are on page 33 of the 3/2008 issue of Ottobre. Have fun with this project :>)


  16. I switched to cloth napkins full time a year ago. I have made many kinds for the different holidays and seasons(using remnant fabric). We have discovered that flannel works best for the everyday it wears well and is very absorbent.

    I made my napkins 12"x12" because it was easy and folds well.

    I store the everyday napkins in a pretty basket on the table. On the handle I have 6 clothespins with each of our names that we can place the napkins neatly back in if they are not dirty.

    I wash all my laundry in cold water and separate all my washcloths, placemats, napkins, and these I treat careful because we use it the kitchen(hygiene etc).

    I read a few comments here and elsewhere that discuss the probabilities of not saving the environment if you use cloth napkins. I switched purely to be a good steward of the monies entrusted to me. I also use ZOTE laundry bars which are very basic in ingredients. But impacting the global concerns, I find comfort in His word and His timetable. He has made us a promise as to the planet.

    I fit in a dead zone so to speak as to my simplistic lifestyle as I am not doing what I do to save the planet. How harsh that must sound, yet I find comfort in His words.

    I also understand the need to be accountable to all that I have.

    here is my blog to a life of

  17. Ruth,

    We have been using cloth napkins for quite some time, although this last year we have gotten away from them and I need to get back to using them full time again.

    I like to have seasonal napkins. I have autumnal, christmas, valentines, 4th of july, spring, etc.

    I actually made some cloth napkins to match the theme of Elissa's birthday today. I will be posting pictures tomorrow.

    Thanks for your sweet comment.


  18. ditto to what Cindy said.....Depending how often you want to wash will determine how many to make. We are a family of 6 and I have alot! I wash them twice week at least!

  19. AnonymousJuly 16, 2008

    We also enjoy using cloth napkins. There are three of us, and we keep them straight by each having a different pattern--I tend to like the same colors scemes, so they sort of coordinate. And we use them for one day or three days or until they look like they need to be laundered.

  20. I made a pocketbook from that same airplane fabric for a flying fanatic! Its on my blog under sewing. I love your napkins.

  21. we are a family of 8 and use cloth napkins ALL THE TIME. For many years that's all we've fact, at 20 I can't remember ever buying paper napkins.

    If the napkins are dirt, we definitely wash them. It all depends on particular children, because you can tell if they are so dirty. Meals that are tomato based help napkins get dirty faster.

    We have bought our cloth napkins from Sam's Club with their restaurant supplies - they are white & plain, but hold up to lots of washings...and over time end up getting pretty stained.

    Like I said, the frequency of washing depends on the dirtiness of the napkins. So we'll normally fold the ones that are clean and stick the dirty ones in the hamper - they aren't normally all dirty at once.

    As for how many - we have lots and lots...and still run out sometime. I don't know the exact number that we have, but there is quite a few.

    I like the idea of making napkins - but don't know if we'd have enough of one fabric in our stash to make 8 or more of one kind - I'm a nerd for having everything be the same. :)

    So, when you made them did you use a 100% cotton material?

    Did you prewash the fabric?

    AND (one final) did you just sew a narrow hem on them?

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  22. I have been wanting to do this too and have it on my to do list for the fall. It will use up some of my stash and I am hoping it will get my kids to keep from wiping their hands and faces on their shirts! :o)

    I too wondered about how much it saves the environment, but if you do get technical... there is the plastic packaging, the gas for the trucks that shipped it, the pollution from the trucks etc. So maybe it evens out.

    Bottom line... I think it gives a little touch of home and a small way to say Mom cares about our home.

    Love your fabric choices!

  23. I have a basket sitting on the unused high chair that holds the clean napkins. After use they go in with the dirty laundry, either regular laundry or with the towels. I'm not squeamish about what is washed with what(other than no red/dark colors with light colors). I trust my laundry will be nice to each other and get clean and not contaminate each other. If there happens to be germies, well that's what the sun or heat from the dryer is for. All of us are healthy.

    Since mine are tossed in with the other laundry, I still would have used the same amount of soap, water, etc than if there were no cloth napkins---so I don't consider they have an impact negative-wise for the environment.

    I don't iron mine. If it's wrinkly too bad, use it anyway or I can point you in the direction of the iron. However, mine usually come out looking fine and dandy.

  24. AnonymousJuly 19, 2008

    I love the fabrics. I've been toying with the idea of making white napkins and just laundering them separately with bleach. Yes, and with hot water. I'll know it's clean that way. Paper mills release waste into the air AND into the water, so you actually are doing something for the environment by switching to cloth. Plus, most people buy bleached paper, and that's not exactly green, haha. I worked in a paper mill for a couple of summers, and my father worked in one for 30 years.

  25. I love cloth napkins! Another plus is that they don't blow off the table when you eat outside. We use ours for a couple of meals. When my kids were smaller they would each have their own (different print) and it just stayed folded at their "place" at the table until the next meal. I washed them when they looked like they needed it. I usually wash them with the towels or regular clothes unless I have a lot. Thanks for the reminder - I haven't made (or used) them in a while.