Really, cloth napkins aren't so fancy. At least, we don't think they should be. They are reusable, and therefore good for the environment, they don't have to be expensive, and they are a simple way to dress up your table.
If you are still folding paper towels diagonally to make them look more sophisticated, it's time to upgrade...
We started thinking about cloth napkins after reading Dana's Weekend Meditation: On Formality. There were some lengthy comments on what constitutes formal — and the general feeling, we gathered, is that a successful dinner party has more to do with the company and the food than how gilded your dinner plates are.
But that's the beauty of the cloth napkin. It looks as cozy under a sterling silver fork as it does next to a hamburger. We think cloth napkins make any simple meal feel a more like special occasion without any additional effort. We don't even wash ours after every use.
As far as material, thick cotton is our everyday choice. Linen usually requires ironing. (Our tip: Iron linen napkins while they're still damp. The heat of the iron will dry them, and the steam helps get out wrinkles.)
Survey: When Do You Use a Tablecloth?
(Photo: Nancy Koltes at Home)