Monday, August 8, 2011

Cloth napkins and table-top animals

As my younger step-daughter recently noted to me, cloth napkins tend to appear at two extremes:  at the homes of the wealthy, and at the homes of the frugal.

Our family has a stack of sturdy, colorful cloth napkins that we purchased about a decade ago; I don't know how much we paid for them, but they're still in great shape.  In return, we don't spend money on the napkins themselves any more.  We don't make runs to the store because we're out of napkins; we don't throw paper napkins into plastic trash bags after each meal.  That's nice.

People who aren't used to cloth napkins assume that they have to be laundered with every meal, which would be a bunch of extra work if it were true.

That's where napkin rings come in.  The idea is NOT to get a matching set of napkin rings that make every place setting look identical -- napkin rings aren't supposed to be table jewelry, in spite of what you might see in some restaurants.  Instead, each person in the family has his her own ring.  Our napkin rings, purchased over many years, are wooden animals (this allows me to get new napkin rings that still fit the "theme" even if they don't perfectly match.)  Guests who spend a lot of time at our home can get their own napkin rings, too -- it's become a way of welcoming them into our inner circle.

We wash a napkin when it starts to get visibly dirty -- our boys' napkins get washed a lot more often than their father's napkin, for example.  If you think about how often you throw away a paper napkin that was basically just crumpled or a little wet, you'll see that this gives you a lot of uses between washings.  So for us, the extra work involved is pretty minimal, and it's hard to imagine that the few napkins we wash each week raise our water or energy bill.


  1. Of course! We just decided to switch to cloth napkins, and I was trying to figure out how to keep them in order on the table between uses (when they didn't get dirty enough to wash), as well as at the holiday table when there are even more people & it can be even more confusing. I was trying to figure out a way to have "napkin markers", kind of like wine glass charms. Maybe little pins or such. In the search I stumbled on your entry here and I think it could be a very good solution. Also, pulling them back into a ring might be easier for the kids than folding them NEATLY. ;-) Thanks! Now, to get some napkin rings...

  2. We're also using cloth napkins co'z this is more practical than buying paper napkins over and over again. My mom taught me this idea and I will keep on passing this idea to my children.

  3. We use cloth napkins. Since it's just me and my husband, we don't mind accidentally switching up (or we just use different colors -- I have a motley collection of napkins). I absolutely love this idea for when we start having kids. I definitely plan on using cloth napkins (and diapers and wipes) to save on what we throw out.

    1. I love the different color idea; I've seen other people use that. At our yearly family reunion, we bring out the "embroidered" napkins -- ones that we machine stitched family names into. Even with 17 people there, it's easy to tell whose napkin is whose. --MM