I love washed linen napkins. They are incredibly soft and absorbent and their rumpled look suits my casual style. They can be ironed if you want a crisper look, but they are truly beautiful if you just smooth and fold them when they come out of the dryer (or off the line). Their only downside is the price, which can run as high as $30 each. But if you're like me and also appreciate frayed edges, then you can have six linen napkins for half that price, with no sewing involved. Read on for how to make this happen.
I was inspired by this post on Sally Schneider's wonderful blog The Improvised Life in which she explains an easy and inexpensive solution to never having enough napkins. Sally even mentions using inexpensive muslin for a really economical choice, but I found some very nice linen at my local fabric store for $9/yard. I purchased 1.5 yards which gave me six average-sized napkins.
The first thing to do is to wash and dry your fabric to preshrink it. I washed mine in hot water since in the future the napkins will likely be washed in hot water to remove stains. I dried the fabric in the dryer, removing it just shy of dry to avoid any deep wrinkles. (Note: Check out the comments section of Sally's post for another great tip on how to press napkins without an iron!)
The next part is the most difficult, although it isn't really that hard: figuring out how many napkins you want from your piece of cloth. Sally goes for large napkins, getting two 28"-30" squares or three 20" squares from a 60" wide piece of fabric. I went for smaller, rectangular napkins by first tearing the cloth in half lengthwise and dividing each portion into three napkins each, to total six. What direction you go is up to you.
My fabric tore very easily lengthwise, but it did not want to tear into individual napkins. I had to cut them with a scissors which I did freehand by simply folding the fabric into thirds and scoring the dividing lines by running my pinched fingers down the folds and then roughly cutting along the score. I then spent some time in front of the TV pulling stray threads to even out the fringe. Because my linen was chambray — that is, white threads across a colored warp — each napkin has half white and half blue fringe.
My one concern was that the napkins would continue to fray in the washer/dryer. So far this hasn't been much of a problem, although I've only washed and line dried them. Not sure if the tumbling in the dryer will encourage further fraying.
All in all, I am very happy with my frayed edge linen napkins. They were inexpensive and only took a few minutes to make but their look and feel is luxurious. This would be an excellent, economical solution for someone who is throwing a large party (or small wedding reception, perhaps?) and would like have cloth napkins, especially if you go Sally's route and use muslin. Give it a try!
Check out the complete tutorial → The Improvised Life
Related: Simple Elegance for the Dinner Table: The Linen Napkin
(Images: Dana Velden)