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master steward
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What qualities do you like best in cloth napkins?

What materials?

What size?

Thick cloth?  Thin?  Smooth?  Textured?

What are your favourite cloth napkins?  What do you wish they could do better?

I'm fed up with paper napkins.  We ran out and this time, I'm not buying more.  I'm going to make my own... but it seems that I only see napkins at weddings these days and those ones just don't feel like something one can use at home.  I want something people feel comfortable using when they come for a meal.

What would you like to see in a dinner napkin? 
 
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I have no idea what fabric would be best, but I completely agree with the idea.
 
pollinator
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The way I eat, I would like to see one roughly the size and texture of a beach towel.
 
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Been using them for years - I like the ones that are thicker and unfolded about placemat size. Thick but also a bit soft but can take a bit of punishment and easy to wash.
 
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r ranson wrote:What qualities do you like best in cloth napkins?

What materials?

What size?

Thick cloth?  Thin?  Smooth?  Textured?

What are your favourite cloth napkins?  What do you wish they could do better?

I'm fed up with paper napkins.  We ran out and this time, I'm not buying more.  I'm going to make my own... but it seems that I only see napkins at weddings these days and those ones just don't feel like something one can use at home.  I want something people feel comfortable using when they come for a meal.

What would you like to see in a dinner napkin? 


This is an area I am obsessive about.  The only paper product we buy is toilet paper, no paper towels, no napkins, no paper plates.

I collect ready made from the thrift stores so have an assortment in different colors.  I have enough stashed to use at our large yearly potluck along with metal spoons and melamine picnic ware.

My favorites are at least a 12 inch square and preferably 14"-16", light weight, absorbent, cotton or linen (I bet hemp would be great but have never had that light weight weave).  Maybe the weight of a muslin dish towel.

My least favorite are too small, more of a token napkin, ones that have any synthetic yarns and ones that are too thick.

I did weave some for a commission once in my past life, 20/2 rami.....very fine texture, light and plenty absorbent.  They were 12" X 12".

I have some embroidered ones from a great aunt...they are beautiful but only about six inches square.  I think they were  intended for tea and cake rather than the big sunday dinner.


 
r ranson
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Judith Browning wrote:

This is an area I am obsessive about. 



I was hoping this would catch your eye.

We wouldn't use paper napkins, only my grandmother bought several thousand of them before she died and almost 20 years on, we're just starting to run out.  It was  A LOT! of paper napkins. 

I'm thinking I have some medium-thin linen yarn (9/2) in dark red and dark green.  They are both so dark that they sort of blend in together, so I was thinking 6 red napkins and 6 green.  But a solid colour napkin?  That just isn't done in the handweaving world these days - probably because it looks too commercially made.  But what if I made a texture in the cloth?  Like a scattered huck lace?  (for those who don't know what huck is, it's a way to make texture).  That might make it more interesting, less commercial looking, and more absorbent.  What do you think?
 
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I love cloth napkins!! I (and my wife too) have been slowly making simple changes in our lives, and a year or so ago it just dawned on me how wasteful and unnecessary using paper towel as napkins was. I was really disheartened by it. I also try to be conscious of where my dollars go, and having said that, I wasn't about to go buy some cheap ass cloth napkins made with slave labor in some foreign country at some retail place in the city. Etsy to the rescue. I found a lady on Etsy who makes them, and I bought a pack of 60 of them. I recall them being less than a dollar each. (Found her! took me a minute to dig. Her etsy shop is LoveforEarth) Anyway, we've had them over a year now, use them every day, and they've really been holding up well, and in fact the stitching around the perimeter hasn't come undone on any of them. They seem to be about 12 inches square and have a nice texture to the fabric. I've been real happy with them, and I felt good about sending my dollars to support someones craft.
 
Judith Browning
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r ranson wrote:
Judith Browning wrote:

This is an area I am obsessive about. 



I was hoping this would catch your eye.

We wouldn't use paper napkins, only my grandmother bought several thousand of them before she died and almost 20 years on, we're just starting to run out.  It was  A LOT! of paper napkins. 

I'm thinking I have some medium-thin linen yarn (9/2) in dark red and dark green.  They are both so dark that they sort of blend in together, so I was thinking 6 red napkins and 6 green.  But a solid colour napkin?  That just isn't done in the handweaving world these days - probably because it looks too commercially made.  But what if I made a texture in the cloth?  Like a scattered huck lace?  (for those who don't know what huck is, it's a way to make texture).  That might make it more interesting, less commercial looking, and more absorbent.  What do you think?


haha...a twenty year supply.  That would have been something we would have coveted back in the days of no toilet paper...it was a luxury for us some winters especially...I still have a special place in my heart for a good roll of TP.....lots of alternatives and we tried them all including Watch Towers....sigh.

I think solid colors and in linen sound wonderful with a textured weave or a border.

I did a bronson(sp) weave border if I remember correctly...all the way around...it looked nice and might have added a little absorbency.

I suppose it's easy to get threadings on line now?  Probably all kinds of possibilities.

You are such an inspiration...all of your gift giving projects, can't wait to see these. 

 
r ranson
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back in the days of no toilet paper...


Since we're in meaningless drivel, allow me to go off topic for a moment.



Now back to the dinner table...um, I might have gone too far. 
 
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absorbancy, wash-abilty and durability would be the most important thing to me.  Roughly 10-12 inches square in size would be ideal.  Able to absorb a small spill of water before it rolled off the table as well as be able to hold up against rough textures without snagging or wearing out. 

How much would you charge for a set of 8, given the above ideals?  Nothin fancy... just functional. No intense colors or patterns.  Light natural tones are best. White or off-white is great too.  PM me if you feel like you might  have to time and materials. Maybe we can make it work.
 
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I grew up with cloth napkins. My mom usually made them out of table cloth fabric she found at the thrift store. They were usually around 1 foot by 1 foot and made of a tight, flat weave. The weave did a great job of accepting grease and food, but repelled water. You could clean your hands on them effectively, but you couldn't wipe up water. This always frustrated my husband, because he would try to mop up spills with them and they would just spread the water around. If I ever make my own napkins, I'd love to make them from an absorbent weave.

I think solid color napkins are great--they're easier to match with dishes/placemants/seasons. My mom actually has a few different sets of napkins. We use the orange ones in the fall, the red ones at Christmas, green ones in the spring, etc. It makes setting the table fun (as a kid, it was my job to set the table). The square shape of the napkins also allowed me to fold them into fun origami shapes for birthdays/family celebrations.

At my house, napkins are a whole lot less formal. I don't match them, I don't set the table, we sometimes share napkins--becuase, well, life is crazy with little kids. When they get older, I'd love to start setting the table again. But, for now, dinner is totally not fancy.

My mom gave me some purple and green ones when I got married, and we picked up some more green ones recently when they were on sale at a local outlet store for 25 cents a napkin. They all have the annoying, non-absorbent weave, but they were free/cheep, so I'm not going to complain. I also think the non-absorbent weave probably helps prevent staining, as ours never seem to get stained, despite being exposed to lots of staining stuff. I would think, then, if you make an absorptive napkin, you might want it to be patterned so that any stains that get absorbed will be less visible.
 
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My mother and now myself are a little obsessed with table settings, including napkins and placements. It's always been a favorite gift for my mother. Typically, I like cotton napkins, and if you are line drying, they do up well. Machine drying makes them wrinkly. And I don't iron, unless I'm sewing. I like patterns because they don't show stains as easily. I like them when the stitching goes around the edges, not folded. But I don't think that my sewing machine does that, or at least I don't know how to.

I doubt that I'll ever have to make them. I have so many handed down to me.
 
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I raised 3 children without using paper towels, paper napkins, or plastic diapers. In fact, I haven't used any in the home in over 30 years. The only thing I have to say about the napkins or any of the other things is that they have to be cotton. Cotton. Nothing else will do. The same is true of dish towels. My sister once got me a hemp napkins and kitchen towels set, and hemp simply doesn't absorb enough. Cotton is the way to go. Cotton also feels the best against the skin when wiping around the mouth or the hands. Must be cotton. Nuff said.
 
Judith Browning
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Annie Collins wrote:I raised 3 children without using paper towels, paper napkins, or plastic diapers. In fact, I haven't used any in the home in over 30 years. The only thing I have to say about the napkins or any of the other things is that they have to be cotton. Cotton. Nothing else will do. The same is true of dish towels. My sister once got me a hemp napkins and kitchen towels set, and hemp simply doesn't absorb enough. Cotton is the way to go. Cotton also feels the best against the skin when wiping around the mouth or the hands. Must be cotton. Nuff said.


Me too! except it was two children

Linen eventually softens and absorbs...it just takes a lot of use and abuse to get there.  I have old old (decades) linen kitchen towels that are very absorbent and soft...hemp and rami and other bast fibers will reach that point also. I think some of my linen towels spent time in a dryer during their life (I've never had one) and this will soften them also. The prints on them have faded and there are a few minor holes but they have a lot of life left.

I very much agree that cotton is the most absorbent immediately.
 
r ranson
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Linen can be very absorbent, but gets more that way with washing and especially washing with an alkali like washing soda.  Most of the modern washing liquids have additives to make cloth softer, which act like a film on linen that prevents it from grabbing moisture. 

These are all great ideas and thank you, everyone, for helping me understand cloth napkins.  I'm going to experiment with a few designs and fibres to see which is best. 
 
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I like cotton or linen, 15 inch square, thick, soft napkins.
I've got some made from diaper material that work fantastic and they were pretty inexpensive, just bought some cloth diapers the first time and hemmed them up.
Linen is good for formal dinners but since we don't do that anymore, when they wore out they were composted in the garden bed.
I once found some remnant thick cotton toweling that was on sale and it made really nice BBQ Rib night napkins, one to wipe with and one wet one to get the sticky off the fingers was the ticket for them.

Redhawk
 
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I've woven quite a few, and cotton is hands down the most popular (they last forever!) - huck or twill since they are durable and textured.  8/2 is for the slightly heftier feel, 10/2 for more delicate.  My folks mostly prefer a multicolored napkin because they don't show the soil.  Solid is dressier for a special meal perhaps?  Popular sizes are simlilar in size to a handwoven medium sized dishtowel.  Well washed linen is very nice and soft, but doesn't like to give up it's prizes from your meal; staining very easily and keeping the stain.  Cotton starts out soft, doesn't take thousands of washes to make it that way, and organic cotton is heavenly!  Also comes in a lot of natural colors; greens, browns, cream and everything in between.  I don't know about anyone else, but I can't keep any for myself - they fly out as fast as I can make them
 
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R, I love, love, love using cloth napkins and I just couldn't reply by describing mine, I had to show you.



In the spirit of a crappy video is better than none. :-)

 
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Wow, you lot are classy! I just buy yellow (because it's cheerful) washcloths, set them out as napkins and call it a day. 😊
 
Judith Browning
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Lee Missouri wrote:Wow, you lot are classy! I just buy yellow (because it's cheerful) washcloths, set them out as napkins and call it a day. 😊


haha...they sound perfect!  and cover all of the necessities, absorbancy and washability...no iron

When our friend has us for a meal he carefully rips up something from his rag bag and hands us each a 'napkin'. 
 
Nicole Alderman
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Tee-hee, that sounds like something my husband would do. In fact, he usually grabs whatever bit of cloth is around to wipe the kids hands--it might be a napkin, a dish towel, work rag, a bathroom hand towel, one of the cloth wipes, or a napkin. It doesn't matter as long as it's near by and absorbs stuff. Problem is, when he uses the diaper wipes or diapers and they get oil on them, they don't absorb as well after that. So, now we have a box of random rags and wipes that are for cleaning and the diaper wipes and cloths are ONLY for diapering. And, I try to  supply him with actual napkins before he finds any random bit of cloth to act as a napkin!
 
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Cotton and linen are absorbent.  Anything with polyester tends to not be as absorbent or soft. 

But paper napkins go right into the compost, so nothing is wasted.  Same with paper towels.  Carbon is carbon, and any additional carbon in the garden is good. 
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Classy?! Man, I thought I was showing some well-used, stained and pretty casual napkins. Funny how there is a spectrum for everything!

I hear you on the greasy cloths, Nicole! I tried to keep a rag in the kitchen just for wiping out and greasing up the cast iron pans. I even put it on a little plate next to the stove top labeled "cast iron only." And the rag would get used to wipe counters, wipe floors, wash dishes, and then get thrown in the wash with other things, making a whole load of dish towels VERY greasy, too. Then none of them absorbed water any more! Gah. Gave up on that pretty quick.

Marco Banks wrote:Cotton and linen are absorbent.  Anything with polyester tends to not be as absorbent or soft. 

But paper napkins go right into the compost, so nothing is wasted.  Same with paper towels.  Carbon is carbon, and any additional carbon in the garden is good. 

Ah, yes, the polyester kinda sucks.

As for paper, we don't put it in our compost or our soil. Just our preference not to have the glues go into our soil. Though I respect those who are closing their own waste loops by doing so. We recycle what paper we can and use non-recyclable paper as fire starters in our RMHs.

 
Nicole Alderman
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Jocelyn Campbell wrote:I tried to keep a rag in the kitchen just for wiping out and greasing up the cast iron pans. I even put it on a little plate next to the stove top labeled "cast iron only." And the rag would get used to wipe counters, wipe floors, wash dishes, and then get thrown in the wash with other things, making a whole load of dish towels VERY greasy, too. Then none of them absorbed water any more! Gah. Gave up on that pretty quick.


I gave up on using rags for oil for much the same reason. Wiping down pans/grease is now one of the few things I use paper towels for. I then use the paper towels for firestarter (probably not the best thing for my woodstove, but it sure does make starting a fire easier, which is really nice when I'm watching two little ones and short on time!), or put them in our "this can compost so I don't want it in a landfill, but I don't want it in my food either" compost pile. It's far away from our gardens under some conifers, and we just put paper towels or other things that have food spills on them so they can't get recycled. They sit out there and slowly compost and don't contaminate much, and I feel better about not having the stuff sit in a landfill where they would take 30 years to decompose, verses 3 years.

I've found for slightly oily rags, that a hot wash with lots of detergent, followed by a hot wash, helps them quite a bit. Soiled rags and soiled diapers are the only things that get washed on hot in our household--everything else gets cold water!
 
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I love cotton cloth napkins.  Thrift stores are the best place to find them.  I generally pick them up for $.50 a piece or less.

I also love flour sack style kitchen towels.  They are super soft very absorbent and large. 
 
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Just another quick note on the composting paper towels and napkins.  I happened to have a recycled paper towel under the microscope at work as an absorbant.  And what did I see?  A lot of PLASTIC and miscellaneous bits in the mix.  REALLY rethinking using paper towels now.  they really mean to be vague when "they" say post consumer waste.  Truly, it could be anything in there, not necessarily paper.
 
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My favorite for napkins are the natural uncolored shop rags they sell at Sams and Price club for about.16 for a pack of 50.   With that many we use them for everything and get a clean one for almost every use.   I also have a stack of the white terry shop towels in the drawer as well.  For grease, I have a stack of newspapers in another cabinet near where I use small kitchen appliances that potentially spill grease, like waffle irons, contact grill.etc.   I keep a "placemat" of newspaper under each appliance when I use it to soak up stray grease.   The newspaper gets used as fire starter.  My husband is in love with the exorbitantly priced Scott disposable towels. I toss any I find in with my weekly "cloth" wash and they last a while, though I will use them also for any unwashable mess.   I also get flannel from thrift store sheets and cut it into handkerchiefs which are folded and stored in tissue boxes, distributed around the house in convenient locations.   All used cloths get put in a basket under the sink and washed with hot water (only use for that in the last 20 years) once a week or so.
 
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I raised four boys with cloth napkins, and haven't used paper for anything but the outhouse since--well, let's just say a very long time! Cotton or linen--yes, any size will do as long as it is  at least 10"x10" ish.  I get used ones from the thrift store, which is a good way to see what size you like for cheap, if you are thinking to weave some.  May as well do a little research first. 

Re matching napkins, consider how you will store your napkins between uses.  They last more than one meal, unless you happen to be either a really messy eater or serve some real greasy finger food type thing.  If you have a lot of different kinds and colors everyone can tell his or hers apart from the rest.  I used to store them all in a basket near the table, ready to put out for meals.  Also, think about napkin rings, which is another way to distinguish everyone's personal one.  You can make them out of PVC pipe scraps, sawn into rings with a hacksaw, and sharpie on names (if you like that post industrial, yet durable look ) or get really creative and make awesome, unique ones.  There are thousands at the thrift store too.  If you have unique napkin rings, all your napkins can match, if that is what you like to see on your table.  The other thing the rings do is keep napkins a little more separated from each other and, I always felt, a little more sanitary, when stored together.  A friend of mine buys bandanas in all different colors and uses those for napkins, again because everyone can have their own color for ease of reuse.

The rag bag and thrift store is a great source of cloth for cleaning, scrubbing, towels of all descriptions, and cloths for washing udders at milking time.  I do buy cheesecloth new--it doesn't last to become see the thrift store.  Putting in a plug for cloth diapers here, too! 
 
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Hi guys!
I
'm getting on this train too. I hate paper napkins! I recommend cotton or linen napkins. or a blend of both. I make women's clothing and have been making handkerchiefs with scrap material from cuttings. I'd be happy to make ya'll some similar napkins.
 
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We use flannel fitted sheets on our beds most of the year because it cools off so much at night. One year when my son wore through his red sheet in November, I realized that the part of the sheet that covers the side of the mattress was not nearly as worn as the top (which was totally thread bare). That gave me a strip of fabric ~12" (30cm) wide by the length of the bed on each side, and with some quick stitching, I had 10 red flannel napkins for the Christmas season. Yeah, right, I'm now using them all year! As other sheets have worn, I've added to the collection. Yes, flannel is not the typical napkin, but they really do absorb well, are comfy to use, and wash easily. Ones with patterns would be better for hiding dirt, but I'm using what I've got.
I also got some simple wooden napkin rings at the thrift shop and painted each family member's name on them. As commented above, it helps to identify the owner and I expect our napkins to go through several meals.
I do have paper towels for certain emergencies, but a roll usually lasts a couple of years, preferring the above mentioned alternatives. I totally agree that anything that says "post consumer" on it will have contamination of all sorts. Metal is a common contaminant, which shows up if you use a paper towel in the microwave. That's certainly decreased my use of both!
 
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I've been a quilter for years, and went through my all-cotton stash for fabrics I didn't think I'd use in quilts, but that I was enough in love with to buy in the first place. (I do want to like what I'm looking at.) The ones I chose for napkins happened to be cheap batiks, so the pattern is the same front and back. That's important to me because I don't want to spend a lot of time folding to keep the backside hidden. (OCD much?) I sewed a double folded 1/4" hem on the edges of pre-washed and machine dried fabrics (shrinkage control), but they kept shrinking, and now I have dopey looking napkins. For the next batch I will run a narrow zigzag stitch around the perimeter instead since that has some give to it. It will leave a fuzzy edge, but I'm OK with that.

My requirements are:

Looks the same front and back
12"-15" square
Natural fibers only  (cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo), no polyester
A print that it busy enough to show no stains
Available at my local fabric store

I'd buy off the bolt, wash/hot dry the entire piece 3 times minimum, then cut into finished size, finish with zigzag stitch. If you ask for  1 and 1/8th yards, you should be able to get 9  12"napkins out of it. If the fabric costs $8/yd., that's about $1 per napkin. Or you can use every smidgen of the fabric and have more slightly different sized rectangular napkins.

You can see in the photos how bad the edges look now that they have been wash a jillion times. The 12" is a great lap size for any but a large person. The 20" is too large for me, but covers 2 bread pans as the dough rises.
12InchNapkin.jpg
[Thumbnail for 12InchNapkin.jpg]
20InchNapkin.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20InchNapkin.jpg]
 
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I inherited some of the napkins of my grandmothers. And I still remember the way they were used when I was a child. They were made of the same fabric as the table cloth. That could be cotton or linen (the luxurious kind, for special days).
The napkins were first folded and then rolled, and a napkin-ring made of silver went round it. When we started dinner we (the children) had to fold it out and put it on our lap.

I don't use napkins anymore now. I use cotton place-mats to put my plate on and to clean my fingers if necessary too ...

I do use handkerchiefs for my nose though, made of cotton.
 
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Then there is the question of whose napkin is whose, and keeping them handy yet out of the way between meals. To that end, check out the nifty cloth napkin rack kit here:
https://wooddoinggood.com/


For bigger families, just get several and put them all in a row, or over-under, depending on space available and/or height of various family members.
Actually made in the USA (Vermont to be more exact) by a woman owned micro-business.
Small & slow solutions...
 
r ranson
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Here is my first batch of handwoven napkins.



Finished size is about 16.5 x 17".  They are made from linen with a slight texture. 

Napkins seem to be a great way to play with new yarn and drafts.  I'm really enjoying making them. 

I need 4 more by Chrismas dinner.

Thanks to everyone for your suggestions.  I learned so much in this thread.
 
Carrie Graham
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Is there another "thread"  (ha how punny) that shows what you wove those on?
 
r ranson
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Carrie Graham wrote:Is there another "thread"  (ha how punny) that shows what you wove those on?


I'll post something about the process here.  I just need a bit of time to get some more photos from my camera. 

posted here
 
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John Schinnerer wrote:Then there is the question of whose napkin is whose, and keeping them handy yet out of the way between meals. To that end, check out the nifty cloth napkin rack kit here:
https://wooddoinggood.com/


For bigger families, just get several and put them all in a row, or over-under, depending on space available and/or height of various family members.
Actually made in the USA (Vermont to be more exact) by a woman owned micro-business.
Small & slow solutions...


Love this! When I was a kid, my mom had napkin rings. Everyone else had a plain one, but I always used the one shaped like an elephant. I also used to make napkin rings out of toilet paper tubes with everyone's name on their and decorated in their favorite colors. If there's no room on the wall for a neat napkin rack, perhaps different napkin rings or napkin colors would do the trick? I'd imagine a family could also have everyone pick out a napkin ring from a thrift store, or even make their own out of clay or metal (or toilet paper tubes, LOL) so everyone can tell them apart. Having different napkins in every person's favorite color seems like a really fun idea, too!
 
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This may seem like a really odd question... but keep in mind, cloth napkins are something we only had at weddings.

Are you using the napkins several days between washes?

Actually, that makes a lot of sense.  I don't know why I assumed it would be only one day of use before they go in the hamper.  Otherwise, each person in the household would need 7 or 8 napkins, each.  Too many!
 
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At my house, with a messy 4 year old and 1 year old, we often only use napkins once--they're far too dirty to re-use! We also have like 25+napkins and only my husband and I usually have one at dinner, so I just wash napkins with the dirty rags a few times a week. We've never run out, but, we have a lot of them!

But, when I was a kid/teenager, we used out napkins for probably a week before washing them. They really didn't get that dirty that fast. So, we just left the napkins folded--or in napkin rings--where we sat (we always sat in the same spots) and used the same napkin over and over until whenever Mom decided to wash them. I honestly don't know when she decided they needed washing, but we had multiple different sets, so we'd just switch to a different set of napkins. And, of course, if company came over, we always got out new napkins, generally from one of the larger sets of napkins, or we'd use two different sets that were complimentary to one another.
 
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