04 August 2010

cloth napkin conversion

A while back on the make happy Facebook page, we had a conversation about cloth napkins. I was feeling guilty about throwing away so many paper napkins and paper towels, and had decided to start composting them until I could get my hands on some inexpensive cloth napkins.

I quickly figured out how to make some. On a tip from my friend Genelle, I bought some flour sack towels--a $3 pack of four 30x30" towels from Target, specifically--cut them up and hemmed them to make cloth napkins.
  • Four 30x30" towels cut into thirds = twelve 10x30" strips
  • Twelve 10x30" strips cut into thirds = thirty six 10x10" napkins
 The texture of these loosely woven flour sack towels led me to believe they would easily fray, especially with the multiple heavy washings to which napkins would be subjected. So I decided to put forth the effort to really hem these babies. I folded each cut edge twice, ironing each fold, before hemming.
I'll be honest--the ironing took a long time. It was particularly unpleasant on a hot summer afternoon. For this reason, I left all the previously (store-)hemmed edges intact and didn't worry about flawless seams. This whole thing was an experiment, after all, to see if I could keep up with cloth napkin maintenance.

Thankfully, the sewing was quick and made up for the ironing chore. Easy, straight seams, all the way around. In just two days, I had thirty six cloth napkins ready to go. The perfect number for our family of four.

My family has graciously accepted this experiment and so far, it's a complete success. Miss H was my biggest supporter. When I debuted the napkins, she said, "We don't have to use paper napkins anymore and waste. We can use fabric napkins. And save the world."

I'm still working out the best method for cleaning. I tried soaking after use until laundry day. Fail. I tried soaking overnight in bleach, rinsing, then washing at the end of the week. Worked, but I'm trying to cut down my bleach usage. Right now I'm rinsing any stains in hot water immediately after meals--bleaching if absolutely necessary--then washing the batch once a week in hot water. So far, this is working well. If you have any other tips, I'd love to hear them.

We still use paper napkins for spaghetti night, and anytime I know the stain potential is high. It ends up being once or twice a week. Then those paper napkins go in the compost. I'm OK with that.

The same goes for our paper towels. They're still there if I have something really foul, but for everyday messes I'm using our old cloth diaper prefolds. (They were never used for diapering, only for burp cloths.) Between the napkins and the prefolds, I probably have one extra laundry load per week. But my conscience is much, much lighter.


Marisa said...

i love flour sack towels because they are GREAT for embroidery. when you have spare time you could even embellish them a little. :)

Marisa said...

OK, that always freaks me out. I didn't think I left a comment on my own post already. :)

Thanks for the suggestion, Marisa. I'm thinking I might dye them, too, when they get too stained. Embroidery would be nice after that!

Marisa said...

Ha, ha. I know. It's funny, you're the only other Marisa-spelled-with-one-S that I've encountered in the blogosphere.

Genelle said...

Awesome! Gonna have to do this myself. To keep stains to a minimum in our cloth diapers (bleach will ruin them) I wash at least every three days, do a cold rinse first so as not to set in stains, then a very hot wash. I actually have our water heater turned up. I also hang them to dry in the sun when I can- it bleaches stains naturally. I bet it would work for the napkins too. But I like te idea of dying them! Dark colors are good!! :)

carolyn said...

i was going to suggest what genelle said: line dry in the sun.

and i think you may have convinced me to make the switch...

evie said...

i made the switch earlier in the year. i have a drawer full of those cheap white wash cloths from target in place of paper towels. i use them for everything, and keep a pail in my pantry that i throw them in after use. i wash and bleach them every few days. i find cloth napkins at garage sales...so far my stash is serving us well. once the napkins or towels gets too stained, i add it to my rag pile.

Marisa said...

Carolyn and Genelle--I think I need to try line drying while we still have the summer sun.

Evie--That's pretty close to my routine, too. Thanks for stopping by!

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