Cloth Napkins

popes cap cloth napkin


One of my small pleasures in life is having cloth napkins at the table for every meal. Although I grew up using throw-away paper napkins I gravitated to the cloth versions right after college. Now I look at cloth napkins as my personal carbon offset for my paper-towel habit. (Sorry but I just think sponges and dish towels get way too germy.)

A Short History

Early versions of the cloth napkin date back to the Middle Ages. Around 1740 one could purchase sets of cloth napkins with a table cloth.   Early napkins were commonly produced from linen fiber which looked beautiful and when properly cared for lasted for years.  Today the most common cloth napkins are made from cotton or a cotton blend.  Cotton blend fabrics (permanent press) became popular in the 1960's and 1970's and help to advance cloth napkins from "special occasion" table linens to everyday use.

Disposable - Recyclable Cloth Napkins

I just recently learned about disposable, biodegradable cloth napkins called MyDrap from Spain.  I think these are one of the most fun products I've seen in quite some time.  The company used to produce disposable cloths-on-a-roll used by sommeliermydrap disposable cloth napkinss to clean wine glasses.  The concept was expanded upon and now they make colorful napkins, placemats and runners on a roll targeted to the home and catering market.  The rolls are perforated so you just tear off a napkin and fold as desired.  Catering companies may find it more economical (and environmentally sound) to dispose of the naps rather than using commercial cleaning services.

We received our samples from the North American distributor and they could not be more fun!  I took my samples to a birthday party at a restaurant and handed them out to each guest as cocktail coasters.   Everyone loved them and each had a different idea for uses (see below).

We did try washing one of the little napkins and the color remained as vibrant as it was right off the roll.  They will require ironing if you wish to reuse them.  Mydrap comes in 20 colors and 6 sizes ranging from small cocktail napkins to table runners.

Here Are Some Usage Ideas

  • Store a roll in your picnic basket
  • Use for BBQs 
  • Keep a stock in your pantry for impromptu gatherings
  • Wash used napkins then donate to schools or churches for sewing projects or quilting 
  • Use at catering events for an elegant look
  • Use Mydrap instead of paper in your lunch bag or box
  • Use fabric paint pens and paint on guest names; use for place card & napkin

mydrap cloth napkin with painted on design

Fun For Children

We think it would be great to give these napkins to children and allow them to decorate with fabric paint to give to their moms.   Decorate with holiday themes, or names.  Or, at a children's party allow each child to decorate his/her napkin then take it home.

We decorated our napkin by making a hand-drawn swirl with a fabric color pen.  We also experimented with alphabet stencils for monogram initials.   You can find a variety of stencils at the craft store.  You can paint the designs with either a brush and jars of fabric paint or use spray fabric paint.

monogramed napkins

More Fun With MyDrap

Here are some examples of napkins we decorated using stencils and fabric paint dabbed on with a sponge.

These should be done at least 24 hours in advance of your party so they have adequate drying time.

Napkin Folding

Napkin folding can greatly enhance a well-set table. Even ironing would be a stretch for my every-day use so napkin folding tends to be for real special occasions.  There are 100+ documented folds.  See resources (right column) for books, videos and web sources.  Most are easy but they do take time.  Here are some common folds.  Click on the image to view more examples with folding instructions.  

learn to fold cloth napkins

View All Napkin Folds & Instructions >>

Care Of Cloth Napkins

daily cloth napkins

Daily Family Re-Use

We keep our dining area perpetually "set" with placemats and napkins and unless the napkins are particularly soiled we'll use them for the day.  There is really no reason to wash with every use.  Clearly if you have children this may not be practical.  Placemats and napkins can be shaken out at the sink then replaced at the table.


Simple cotton or cotton-poly blend napkins should be washed according to manufacturer instructions.  Typically this would including cold or warm wash and permanent-press drying.  If you have the time and inclination you can press your napkins but we don't for our own daily family use.

Linen fabrics, especially white may require additional care.  You can pre-spot the fabric with a bleach pen (always test in a little corner first) or pre-wash product.  If napkins are particularly soiled you may need to soak them in a basin of hot water then run through a normal wash cycle.Linen napkins should be ironed before use.

Ironing Napkins

It is best to place a pressing cloth (or just use a terry-towel) on the ironing board then place the napkin on top of the towel and press.  Certain types of decorations should not be directly ironed.  Place the napkin decoration side down and only press the undecorated side.  Monogrammed napkins should be placed monogram side down then pressed to create a nice "puffy" monogram.

Buying Cloth Napkins

Import Stores -  Import stores such as Cost Plus World Markets,  Pier One,  and independent stores often have interesting and lower cost dinner napkins.  At the time of this writing (November, 2010) we were able to buy sets of 6, solid color napkins for $9.99.

Kitchen Specialty Stores -  Williams Sonoma always has a nice select of cloth napkins.  The quality is typically better than most Import stores but sets of 4 average close to $50.00 a set. 

Antique Shops - If you like old linens; shop at local antique shops or Ebay.  Make sure you check the napkins over for any obvious wear or staining.

Discount Stores -  Of course stores like Bed Bath and Beyond, as well as Target have some good buys on table linens.

Mierco -  Mierco table linens are very good quality.  This line of linens is from Belgium, Holland/ Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden & Russia.


Mydrap Cloth Napkins

Visit Available in 20 colors and sizes ranging from cocktail napkin to placemats. 

Napkin Folding Videos


napkin folding

Napkins with a Twist: Fabulous Folds with Flair for Every Occasion

napkin folding

Victoria Elegant Napkin Folding: Creative Ideas for a Beautiful Table

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.