Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cloth Napkins for the Kids

I had a friendly nudge to finish up a set of cloth napkins I've been working on for the boys. The large rectangles are placemats. The smaller squares are child-size napkins that my son packs in his lunchbox. Brighton picked the fabrics himself. :)

Almost by happenstance, one of the napkins ended up in my purse. I've kept one in there ever since because it's proven so useful. Handkerchief, face wipe, you name it - it's great!

I prefer making double-sided napkins because (a) it's easier to finish the edges, (b) the second layer of fabric makes the napkins more absorbent, and (c) the don't get wrinkled as easily. Just smooth them out before you toss them in the dryer and they're good to go. :)

I don't worry about making the napkins a uniform size either. I bought a length of fabric and cut what I thought was a good size to make use of the fabric.

Here's Brighton with his cloth napkin and placemat on his first day of school.

Note: This is where I usually get one of two strong reactions from people. In one corner are the "Your child uses a napkin - how civilized! Can he please teach my son what one is?" And "Your child packs a cloth napkin for school? Those horrid paper napkins are an abomination for the environment - way to go green!"

In the other corner, are the people who can't imagine why I'd put any effort into this when paper napkins are free at the school - as if kids use them anyway - and are counting the days until Brighton gets beaten up for packing the fabric flames. To any others, please read the story at the bottom of this post.

Next up are my kitchen cloths, which double as napkins for my kids on messy days.

The backstory: we use cloth napkins - everyday, for every meal. However, every member of the family does not necessarily use a fresh napkin for every meal. If a napkin is soiled, it is tossed into the laundry basket. But an otherwise reusable napkin is saved for the rest of the day, then tossed after the evening meal.

I think the traditional way of storing napkins between meals was to use napkin rings - uniquely identifiable by color or design - but I have hooks on the side of my kitchen island where I hang ours. My boys know which hook is theirs.

Also, I keep a drawer full of white washcloths in my kitchen. When meals get messy and I need extra scrubbing power for my toddler's face and hands, or simply extra absorption (hello grease!), I whip these out instead of our regular cloth napkins. Fear not, these are not the rags I use for deep cleaning. These are more for wiping up spills and such. Still, they make fabulous napkins for little kids, especially when slightly dampened with a splash of water!

To save the clean "napkins" for use later in the day, I used twill tape to make hooks so they can hang until needed again later. White-on-white is a little hard to see in the picture, but that's sortof the effect I was going for. :)

There you are - how the Defnets do cloth napkins. :)

Now, if you wanted to read about why Brighton packs cloth napkins and placemats with his lunch, here's the scoop.

Brighton's preschool (a) believed that you give children nice things and teach them to care for them, and (b) was eco-conscious. So each child's "school supplies" included ceramic dishware for snack and lunch, and parents were asked to pack a cloth napkin in the child's lunch each day. The napkin from home (being a traditional-size napkin) was used as the child's placemat. (I'm sure this also made clean-up easier for the teachers.) Additionally, the classroom had a set of small child-size napkins that the children would use for the typical purpose of wiping mouths and such.

When Brighton began preschool and I bought his dishware, I also bought coordinating fabric and made napkins specifically for him to take to school. It wasn't unusual for parents to add this personal touch. Parents who bought ready-made napkins sometimes embroidered their child's name or initials onto a corner. Last summer I bought Lincoln's dishware and began sewing the napkins he will take with him on his preschool journey. So it was only natural that when Brighton got a new lunchbox and "dish set" (plastic containers) for his new school, that he asked me to make a new napkin set for him.

Except that no one at his new school would use a cloth napkin. And certainly not a placemat...of any kind. Yet how do I tell my child to forget all the manners he's been taught and start wiping his mouth with his sleeve like all the other boys? I told him no one else at the school would use a placemat. He said that was okay; he wanted one anyway. So I made a set. A set. Singular. As in - just enough for the first day when he realizes he'll never use them again.

Brighton picked his fabric - flames - machismo. Then, on his first day of school, he spread out that flaming hot placemat with a puffed up chest that said, "Yes, I know you are all jealous."

And you know what? None of the other children thought it was weird.

Five months later, Brighton is still packing his cloth napkin and placemat. I'm also pleased to report that he has yet to receive any flack from the other students.


  1. Okay, I have to try this too. Thanks for the encouragement of the hedgehog. Seriously, it's too cute. Are these napkins easy too? your edges are so STRAIGHT. Not my sewing-style. I'm too laissez-faire.

  2. These are the easiest thing in the book. I have three more piles of fabric that I have yet to cut into waiting to be turned into napkins. Come on over and we'll make a set together. :)

    And no, my stitches are not straight. (I look at these and cringe.) I avoid obvious stripes to make it easier to hide the flaws.

  3. ha ha, that's adorable. My son does what he likes, too, even if it's not what others are doing. :) So sweet!

    I found this blog entry while looking for size apprx for children's lunchbox napkins....I've got some hot pink Jay Jay the Jet Plane fabric to use, too!

  4. love this!! I hadn't thought about a placemat! Thanks for the ideas!

  5. love this!!Thanks for the encouragement of the hedgehog.
    children clothes