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Kent Wang

Cloth napkins

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I'm thinking about making my own. I think I've only seen cotton ones, but is linen a good alternative? Any pros and cons between the two?

 

What do you use at home? Darker colors and patterns for hiding stains?

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Our dining room table is very large and I don't think I could afford to buy a tablecloth to cover it and so I have made my own.  And they are solid color only, a lighter color if you scaled terra cotta back.   And something like this color range.  Thus the napkins are from the same material and are solid.   Mostly we don't use them except for special occasions, but use the dinner type commercial paper napkins.  Not much help I fear.

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I use cloth napkins almost exclusively, partly for waste reduction reasons and partly because I love textiles. The best ones are long-staple cotton in a standard (nondirectional) weave: my twill-weave napkins invariably dry into a nonsquare rhombus unless carefully stretched when drying. The weight of the fabric also seems to matter for determining how much they'll wrinkle; to some degree, heavier is better but there's a limit I can't define. Cotton/poly blends may be more stain- and wrinkle-resistant, but with too much polyester the feel changes and I don't like them as well. Linen has a lovely feel, but unless you're very easy-going about wrinkles it requires ironing after every wash.

I have solid and patterned, in a broad range of colors. Patterns help hide stains, as do dark solid colors. Some of my favorite napkins are handmade with a print on white background; I prefer not to use them when marinara or chocolate are involved. :-)

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If you're okay with ironing (or wrinkled napkins), linen is fine. Otherwise, I'd go with cotton (which is also cheaper, although depending on the cotton, conks out sooner). Unless you're using white napkins and a ton of bleach, you will never ever remove certain stains, so dark colours are the way to go.

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I use cloth napkins except for very large parties.  Hate to create waste and also it is so much pleasant to touch cloth.  Have them in different colors.  Lighter color ones sadly stain fast but DH and I do not mind using them when it is just the two of us.  I bought a bunch of very high quality napkins couple of years ago from Sur La Table when they discontinued that particular line and luckily they were dark.  When people visit for the first time, they are often amused that napkins are not paper which is suprising to me.

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Cloth napkins are one luxury we like to indulge in. Because they are now used less commonly, we look for them at flea markets and the like. We can find them quite often in elegant format for less than 2 for a dollar. It is just one side of fine dining that is easy to attain and kind of fun. We both like linen, but the feel and heft of the fabric says it all. If it feels right, we buy them. They all really need to be ironed, so the more you have, the less frequently the ironing sessions need to be.  

 

HC

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How do restaurants keep their white napkins clean? Lots of bleach?

 

The best ones are long-staple cotton in a standard (nondirectional) weave: my twill-weave napkins invariably dry into a nonsquare rhombus unless carefully stretched when drying. The weight of the fabric also seems to matter for determining how much they'll wrinkle; to some degree, heavier is better but there's a limit I can't define. Cotton/poly blends may be more stain- and wrinkle-resistant, but with too much polyester the feel changes and I don't like them as well. Linen has a lovely feel, but unless you're very easy-going about wrinkles it requires ironing after every wash.
 

That might be tricky to find. Would herringbone work?

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I like both linen and cotton, but a good polyester cotton blend is not only perma-press and more stain resistant, but lasts years longer. I have some clothes from the 70's I still wear that are poly-cotton. Granted, I've had to park them in the closet for over a decade at times due to weight gain, but all the cottons from that era are tattered rags or dust under the same conditions.

 

I even have 20-year-old towels made with this blend. The way I understand it, the core of the weave is poly, and the outer layer is the cotton. The good ones feel and absorb like cotton but last two or three times longer, don't need ironing, and don't take stains nearly as badly.

 

Bleach may remove stains, but if you use it very often or in strong concentration, you will give up longevity of your fabrics.

 

I have red napkins I use whenever we have ribs, pasta with red sauce or anything else that would stain a lighter color.

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How do restaurants keep their white napkins clean? Lots of bleach?

Probably, along with industrial-strength laundry cycles. As noted above, bleach can reduce the longevity of the cloth. You definitely don't want to use it on a cotton-poly blend/

That might be tricky to find. Would herringbone work?

Good question! From what I've read so far, herringbone weave is a variant on the twill weave. I suspect it would shorten symmetrically so that you had a rectangle instead of a square; if so, preshrinking the fabric would allow you to cut and keep squares. You're supposed to preshrink anyway, but I'm not convinced it would have helped the twill napkins (commercially made) I bought.

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Probably, along with industrial-strength laundry cycles. As noted above, bleach can reduce the longevity of the cloth. You definitely don't want to use it on a cotton-poly blend/

 

Yes - my guess is water that's much hotter than you would normally use at home, and maybe even using some lye in the cycle.

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I've just learned that there are cotton/linen blend fabrics that might give you the best of all worlds for dinner napkins. I've also confirmed that there are a lot of factors that affect the way fabric shrinks, so my "avoid twill" comment may have been overly simplistic. You might be best off going to your local fabric store and asking after good fabric for dinner napkins, and getting expert advice, if you have such a place available. This site has some discussion about shrinkage and people who sound like they know what they're talking about.

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Making your own napkins seems like a great way to go. I've always made my own tablecloths, but never napkins. My napkin preference is always for 100 percent cotton, a medium to heavy weight. I had one lovely linen tablecloth and it drove me nuts, with its wrinkling and shape-shifting and slipperiness.

I

f you make your own napkins you would pre-wash and pre-shrink the fabric first, no? Napkins take a real beating, so, at least for me, the fabric needs to stand up to very warm water and a warm drier. I like prints for tablecloths and napkins; prints hide a myriad of sins. I have an old set of those classic red check Italian bistro napkins that are perfect if you eat a lot of pasta with red sauce.

I have neither the budget nor the temperament for expensive table linens, especially not white ones. Most good quality cotton gets soft quickly and drapes well. I've been using fabric tablecloths and napkins for as long as I've owned a washing machine, which is about 40 years. Confession: not once have I ever ironed them.

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