The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Drop the disposables: Cloth napkins

Cloth napkinsWhen I was young in the mountains, I sewed cloth napkins on my 1946 Singer sewing machine.  I made red plaid ones for Italian meals and fun butterflies for Summer feasts.  I carefully packed them away. . .

Now that I am married and we have our own home, the napkins are being well used and I've added quite a few more to the collection.  Three years in, do cloth napkins have a practical use in the home?  You bet!  We love using cloth napkins and our guests feel extra special when they stay for meals.  They're a simple, frugal solution to multi-napkin meals (like ribs and fried chicken) and at-the-table spills.  We're not tired of folding them and when we ate meals away from home, I packed them in lunches.  They're also a great way to entertain babies honing their fine motor skills.

How do you get started?  Here's a few tips:

  • Choose cotton fabric.  It's absorbent and easily washed.  And you can recycle: I made some from old curtains that hung in a friend's childhood playhouse!  Anna has napkins I made her from an old pillow case.
  • Size is up to you.  I've made napkins of all sizes, from the tiny to the huge.  If you only have small pieces of fabric, that's fine.  Since cloth is so much more effective than paper, you don't need to make them as big as the conventional napkins or paper towels you use now.
  • Sew a good hem on your napkins.  Fold the edges over twice and stitch--this way you'll avoid the frayed edges that come from repeated washings.  You can use an iron to help with the hemming process and get a nice straight edge.
  • Brandy's daughter using a cloth napkinWorried about staining?  Like I said earlier, I made some napkins red for tomato-based foods.  Likewise, I have some dark brown ones for other staining foods.  After two years, I haven't found stains to be much of an issue and I use no pre-treatments or special detergents.
  • Overwhelmed by folding?  Lay them in flat stacks or get a child to help you.  Folding napkins is super simple and can be taught to your young ones.
  • They're a tiny fragment of the laundry.  They can be hung up two-on-two or more since they dry so fast on the line.
  • Sew plenty!  We use lots of napkins when we have guests, especially Mike's family who will stay for several days when the come.  It's only the three of us now (and one doesn't eat solids), but guests make a big difference.  I have about three dozen napkins.  You could plan on two napkins per person per day, with consideration taken for how often you wash laundry.  I say only two, because we don't use napkins for breakfast or sometimes we don't really dirty them during a meal.  It's up to you--but you can never have too many.

Brandy and her daughter
Brandy seeks self-sufficiency on a little lot in town, tending her most sincere pumpkin patch and borrowing the neighbor's clothesline.  She lives with her husband Mike and daughter Willow, both of whom love it when she knits for them.  Check out Brandy's blog and her etsy shop (full of hand-made napkins and other goodies to help you ditch the disposables.)

This post is part of our Drop the Disposables lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Dear Brandi and Mike--Very glad to see photos of youall and to read a bit of your life together:) Hope you can write more! Take care, and kiss Willow for me!--love,adrianne

Comment by adrianne Mon Mar 23 17:42:00 2009

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