Fun, Feminine, Frugal Fabric!

Cloth Napkins!

This is one of the few “feminine domestic” things I can claim I do regularly. We do not use paper napkins. I am a fairly recent (few years ago) convert. My previous reasoning had been: we have X children at the table and children stain napkins. Well, shoot, adults stain napkins too! So how do you do it?

Use colors and patterns!

I have seven different sets of napkins, enough for every day of the week (this was not by design, just chance). None of them are white or have white in the pattern.* And I didn’t pay full price for any of them.

Some were hand-me-downs (some of those we’ve been using our entire marriage and they’re still holding up), the rest I found at thrift stores. I have a set of eight Crate&Barrel napkins in summery colors that I found for $2. I found a set of four and another pair (different colors but same general idea) that look like the Provence pattern from William Sonoma. I think I paid $1.50 for those. You do not have to break the bank.

And don’t feel like you can’t put out cloth napkins because you don’t have a full set of, well, however many people are at your table (and for some of us that’s a decent number). There is nothing cuter than a table set with deliberately mismatched napkins, especially during the spring and summer. Make sure they really don’t match. One of my favorite set of mismatches is composed of single napkins I found at thrift stores over the years. One has a bold peach pattern in orange on a variegated blue background, one is a blue, green and lime stripe, two are solid lime, one is blue and green plaid…you get the idea. So don’t just pass up napkins you find because there are only one or two of them. They’ll be ten cents each!

For those who sew, what is more simple than hemming a square? One fantastic tip I’ve seen is to use fat quarters because they tend to come in groups of coordinating fabrics (and they’re already cut to a good size). Look at the fabric remnant cart at the store and scoop up a pretty print to make into a few napkins. Only enough for two? If you don’t want to mismatch them, save them for dinners for two!
And just to be fun, what else can you do with cloth napkins?
Turn them into quick mini-tablecloths or placemats for children.
Use them as bibs.
Use a plain lightweight one as an emergency scarf for a little girl.
Use a group of multicolored ones in a basket as a table centerpiece.
Keep the baby happy while you fold the rest of the laundry 
(he can throw them in and out of the clothes basket).
Substitute for a doily on an end table.
Use as a sheet for a doll bed.
Line a basket for rolls or muffins.
The uses are endless!
What are your cloth napkin secrets?
*Disclaimer: I do have one nice set of 10 white cloth napkins. However, I do not pull them out when I’m serving spaghetti to pre-schoolers.

7 thoughts on “Fun, Feminine, Frugal Fabric!

  1. I've been using cloth napkins for every day meals for about 12 years now. I had a big stash of table linens that I inherited from my mother-in-law and I hate to see good things put away and never used, so I pulled them out and started using them on a regular basis. I also have a set of napkins of different colors that complement the different colors of the Fiestaware plates I use for every day.


  2. I use to work at a department sale and at some point they clearanced a ginormous amount of table linens. I got myself a matching and completely stain proof set of pretty napkins and a tablecloth that I use for my formal setting… and some cotton ones. Over the years I've accumulated some more from relatives. When we have to use paper napkins we're always a little disappointed at their performance in contrast. LOL.


  3. Ah, they are so cute! I would like to get a nice set. “Nice” meaning anything colorful like what you have. I have some very nice monogrammed napkins from our wedding that I would rather save for formal times. I have to confess, we don't use napkins that often at the table. *blushes.*


  4. A story. I love to embroider. Several years ago I asked five or so friends to come and celebrate new years eve with us. No gift exchange, just going into the new year with friendship. I had embroidered a napkin as a small token for everyone. None of them were that elaborate, but each was cute and made especially for that person with something he or she would like. The idea was that they could use this napkin, and then later take it home as a gift. Unfortunately my guests refused to 'soil' the napkins and we had to get out the cheap paper napkins. I don't know if they have ever been used since.


  5. I've made throw pillows out of them (or a new cover for an old pillow). I love cloth napkins and use them for what little company I have.


  6. We have been using cloth napkins for years, but we usually don't give them to the kids at dinner. We just grab one if they need it or wipe them off afterward. I've found that if we give them napkins, they tend to make bigger messes. As strange as it sounds, it is true. I do not have a large variety, but I try to use only cloth in the kitchen (cloth towels, cloth wipes, cloth napkins, etc.)


  7. Carlyn, that's the same thing I did. One day I realized that if I saved table linens for the times that we had guests, not only would we never use them but, hey, wasn't my family more important than any guest?

    Kh. Nicole, I have a dream of getting a *real* oilcloth tablecloth from Vermont Country Store so I can just wipe it down. They're pricey.

    Rebekah, I have some really pretty linen monogramed napkins and things that were from my grandmother that I never use because they're too nice. That's what's great about big colorful cotton napkins.

    Faerieeva, I'm sorry they didn't use the napkins! I'm sure they were very pretty and even if the recipients aren't getting them out every morning they are still enjoying them.

    LV, that's a fantastic idea! I have to admit, that never would have occurred to me.


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