Ode to a cloth napkin

In honor of Earth Day coming up on this Sunday, I’ll confess that I have a slight obsession with the more illustrious ancestor of the paper towel:  the cloth napkin.

For a long time, we used paper towels for everything: as cleaning rags, as faux napkins in lunch boxes and at the dinner table, as impromptu “plates” for eating cookies or snacks, as disposable dishcloths to wipe down counters, and as fake hand towels to dry our hands on.  If you could wipe it down, scrub it off, or occasionally eat off it, I was using a paper towel to do the trick.  I was making runs to the store every week to stock up on them.

On Earth Day, 2009, I saw one of those checklists on “how to make easy changes to green up your life” and on it was switching from paper napkins to cloth ones.  I must have had the sewing bug that day because suddenly I was obsessed with making my own cloth napkins.  We would never use paper towels again!  (Okay, so that was a little unrealistic.  I still use them to clean the bathrooms because let’s face it — that’s pretty nasty).  Off I went to JoAnn’s because, like now, they were having a huge sale.

Here’s the skinny on how I made them:

  1. I bought yards of coordinating 100% cotton quilter’s fabric, came home to wash it, and then spread it out all over the table.
  2. Using a giant drywall T-square, I marked off 11″ x 12″ rectangles with a pink Sharpie marker and cut them up.  (Of course, you could make them any size you wish, but that seemed to be the easiest way to use up all the 44-inch wide fabric.)
  3. Then I matched up the “pretty” sides of two of the fabric rectangles and sewed a half-inch hem all around it, leaving a little gap to turn the napkin right side out.
  4. I picked out the corners to make them square.
  5. Using a hot iron (it is cotton, after all), I pressed that bad boy flat, tucking in the raw edges of the gap I’d left so they’d lay flat too.
  6. Then I sewed about a quarter-inch from the edge on the right side.  DONE.

They were so easy to make, I think I ended up with over 60 of them.  Voila!  Napkins:

We’ve used these constantly for the past three years.  And I mean, constantly.  I put them in the kids’ lunches to take to school instead of paper napkins or towels.  We use them to wipe off our hands in the kitchen and as a faux-coaster for our coffee cups in the living room.  If something spills on the floor, we grab a handful of these napkins and sop up the mess, knowing that we’ll just toss them in the wash with whatever load happens to be next.  We don’t ever iron them or treat them nicely, but they never fail to make me smile.  I can’t even guess how much money we’ve saved with these little gems, but I rarely buy paper towels any more.

They are awesome.

Do you have a green obsession?

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About thethingaboutjoan

Mom of three who knits a little, bakes a lot, crafts a bit and blogs about it all.
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17 Responses to Ode to a cloth napkin

  1. ooobop! says:

    I think I might just take a leaf out of your book! They have made me smile too! 🙂

    • I hope you do! (And I’d love to see the results!). They’re so fun and easy to make, it’s like potato-chip sewing — you just get into a groove and can’t stop making them! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Micha says:

    I’ve been wanting to whip some up for a while now and you’ve just inspired me to get going. 🙂
    By the way, I’ve nominated you for a Kreativ Blogger Award!

    • Especially when the fabric is on sale!!

      Hey — thanks for the shout out on the Kreativ Blogger Award! That’s so lovely of you!! (Now wait for my teary acceptance speech: “I’d like to thank the blogosphere….” 🙂 )

      • Micha says:

        Well, as a Mom I love reading your posts and I always get a chuckle…Sorry that the commercial for the “Make Your Own Sit-Upon” cut off your speech though…haha

  3. We have a supply of cloth napkins that I did not make, but get used frequently. When it comes to cleaning the bathrooms though, I grab the oldest sponge out of the kitchen, dip it in bleach, and set to work int he bathroom, throwing away the sponge when I’m finished. Our green obsession is the compost. We all contribute, but only my partner actually puts it in the worm box and turns it over. He’s obsessed with our back porch garden.

    When my life settles down though, I am definitely taking a bunch of my fabric scraps and making napkins. Thanks!

    • So you’re doing worm composting? How is that going?? Do you have that worm box going all year round and how much compost do you get from it? I’m always worried that I’m going to kill the worms…. and I can’t be responsible for wormicide!

  4. Lis says:

    Love it!!!

  5. futuredoll says:

    When I buy paper napkins, I actually feel guilty! We have been using them for years but, I confess I don’t make them.
    My obsession is recycling of garbage. I have been known to dig-thru other family members garbage cans, to clean and break down articles that can be recycled.

  6. futuredoll says:

    Actually, my 15 yr. old has never sat at a table set with anything other than cloth napkins. However, I still have a paper towel dispenser on the counter for my husband-he loves them for spills & is not very trainable!

  7. So attractive! If they had sleeves I’d wear them!

  8. I’m going to have to make some of these…I go through way too many paper towels! My only concern would be attracting ants to the laundry room as they sit and await their turn…any suggestions?

    • Yeah, I had that same fear too before I made them. So we throw them directly into the washer to wait for whatever load happens next. I do laundry practically every day — I hate it, but I figure it’s better to do one or two loads every day or every other day than do 10-12 loads every 4-5 days. So we clean ’em pretty quick.

      I know one of my friends who uses cloth napkins says she got a plastic trash basket with a lid from IKEA and keeps it in a corner in the kitchen. Then when she launders the napkins, she wipes out the can at the same time.

      Hope you end up making some and trying them out!

  9. CTW says:

    Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy AND cloth napkins! I’ve been using mine for years, too. You and I must be twins separated at birth. I will sent a link of this post to my sewing daughter. 🙂

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