Ours is not a household that stands on formality but we do eat our meals at the dinner table, and we do use cloth napkins.
We eat at the table because we believe that mealtime is not only about eating but also courtesy and good company. A meal takes time and effort to prepare. Both the food and the person who cooked it deserve to be shown the respect of focusing our attention on the meal as it’s presented. While we’re enjoying the meal we can also take the opportunity for some conversation. It’s a great time to reconnect with one another and to discuss the events of the day.
We use cloth napkins because they’re more practical than paper, and more pleasant to use. We started the habit years ago out of concern about the amount of paper waste in our household. We gave it up for a while when I discovered that the cloth napkins that went out of our house in lunch kits were not coming back, but that's no longer an issue so we've returned to using them.
We’re trying hard to cut expenses wherever we can and paper napkins are certainly something we can do without. I know that the cost associated with laundering cloth napkins must be taken into consideration, but it’s not like we’re doing extra loads of laundry to accommodate them. We’re just adding napkins to the laundry we already do. We’re saving money by not purchasing paper napkins at the store and we’re reducing the amount of waste that leaves our house, eliminating not only discarded napkins but also their packaging from our trash.
There are some factory-made napkins in my linen drawer. Most of them came to us as gifts or were included with tablecloths I’ve purchased over the years, but the majority of our napkins are homemade.
Because we’re not a formal household, I have little need of white linen or damask. I make our napkins out of all sorts of fabrics. Well, all sort of fabric prints anyway: I try to stick to pure cotton or a cotton/polyester blend for the fabric itself because, once they’re preshrunk, they’re easy to launder.
I source the fabric for my napkins from thrift stores (cool vintage prints can often be found there), remnant bins at fabric stores, and from old sheets here at home. I make them in two sizes: Dinner napkins that are sixteen inches square and cocktail napkins that are twelve inches square.
To save time measuring, I’ve made templates for both sizes of napkins. I just trace around the templates and cut along the lines with a rotary cutter.
My napkins are hemmed by hand but machine hemming would work perfectly well too. It’s just that, like knitting, hemming napkins is an activity I do while watching TV, sitting in waiting rooms, or visiting with friends.
To make my napkins, I cut out a square that is 1 inch bigger on each side than I want the finished napkin to be. I fold the edges over 1/4 inch, pin them in place, and then iron along the folds. I fold the edges over the same amount a second time, pin them in place, and iron along the folds again. Once the second fold has been pressed into place, I make a simple running stitch near the inside edge of the hem and secure the corners of the napkins in place with whip stitch.
These simple napkins are surprisingly durable. We’re still using some that I made more than twenty years ago. They add colour and variety to my table settings and fabric feels far more pleasant to the touch than paper would.
Perhaps I’ll give some napkins or tablecloths as gifts this year, or use them as wrapping for other kitchen items. They’d make wonderful hostess or bridal gifts.
I’ll have to give that some thought.