Keeper: My favorite cloth napkins

My favorite cloth napkins are over 20 years old. They don’t look it, do they? They weren’t always napkins — they played another role in our household for the better part of a decade before becoming napkins. Here’s the story of these lovely keepers. 

In 1992, my husband Alan and I, along with our four kids (ages 3 to 10), moved into a new (for us) home. It was much larger than the little house where we’d lived before, and we needed quite a few furnishings, including curtains. My mother visited from New York, and she and I went to the fabric store to look for bargain fabrics for the window coverings (along with some felt for a craft project for the kids). I spotted the prettiest floral fabric, cotton with pink and yellow flowers on a creamy white background. Not on the sale table. Long story short (this part anyway), Mom bought me the fabric to make café curtains for six windows — in our new dining area and adjacent kitchen.

The curtains hung there for eight years, reminding me of her, until I replaced all the curtains in the house with white curtains. (I always seem to come back to white curtains, but that’s another story.) I couldn’t part with the fabric, so I cleaned and ironed and folded the curtains and put them atop my always-growing fabric stash. 

white cotton with yellow and pink flowers

Months later, along came Easter, and I wanted to do something special for the table setting. Napkins are often the start of a table setting for me, so — I’m sure you’ve guessed by now — I used the curtain fabric to make napkins. Lots of napkins. Enough for our large, bright, spring buffet. I used them that Easter, and Mother’s Day, and for my daughters’ birthdays that year and for years after. I still enjoy using them. And whenever I get them out, I think of Mom (who has since passed away) and hope I won’t find they’re finally wearing. 

Recently I whittled down my napkin collection. I tried to be ruthless. (A hundred or more napkins is a bit excessive, even for someone who loves linens.) Unless the napkins were sadly worn, though, age wasn’t a factor. Neither was fanciness. (I’ve made many more napkins over the years, and I’ve done a better job; I’ve learned to miter corners!) 

These beautiful cloth napkins made the cut. They’re still my favorites. I still love the fabric. They’ve hosted countless gatherings of family and friends. (When our granddaughter, Olive, helps set the table, these are the napkins she most often chooses.)  It’s wonderful that they remind me of Mom — her generosity and our shared love of pretty, functional things. If that’s a genetic trait, I think Olive may also have that gene. And based on their longevity, I’m beginning to think she may inherit the napkins, too!

You might also enjoy: Keepers: Ona’s hand chopper and Imperfection.

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