The Little Things: Cloth Napkins

By Sarah Van Arsdale on November 19th, 2008
Designer Monthly’s Little Things column places a spotlight on those home accessories that are often overlooked, and we'll show how they can be improved to make a world of a difference. Our pursuit is to enhance the decor through economical yet aesthetically superior measures.
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As the economweic squeeze grips us a little more firmly, we’re all looking for ways to brighten up our homes — and therefore our spirits — without spending like it’s 1999.

This means concentrating on the “little things” — those household accessories that can take a room from “blah” to “buenisimo” for just a few dollars, rather than for a few hundred.

There’s no better way to brighten up you dinner table than with new, colorful cloth napkins. You can find cloth napkins in just about any color, any style, any pattern, and you’ll be surprised to see how much difference new table linens can make.

NYIAD Top Tip: Cloth napkins also make a great gift; all you need is a basic idea of the color scheme or the look of someone’s dining area. And there’s no better gift for someone new to hostessing — cloth napkins are practically a rite of passage for young people setting up their first apartments in their senior year of college, or their first year out of school.

Making the transition from paper towels to cloth napkins usually happens at the same time as the transition from bookshelves made of milk cartons and a futon on the floor to actual shelves and bed frame, but the cloth napkins are a relatively inexpensive, easy–to–send gift that says “you’re a grown up now.”

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Of course, even if you’ve been running your own household for longer than you care to admit, cloth napkins can pull together the look of your dining room, adding a note of whimsy or glamour or festivity.

One source we particularly like for cloth napkins is Ten Thousand Villages, a business that works to bring the handcrafts of artisans around the world to the global on-line market. They’re dedicated to making sure the artisans get a fair price for their work, so they can work with dignity at making their beautiful, unique crafts.

And they sell really great products.

These block-printed cotton napkins would bring style and elegance to a formal dinner party, with their delicate leaf pattern border.

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And as we approach the holidays, we thought these bright white napkins with a red border would provide a bright holiday note to any table, with four tiny mirrors sewn into the corner of each.

These are made by a women’s handicraft organization run by the Dominican Sisters in Gomtipur, Ahmedabad.

Our search for napkins also led us to, which was recently touting the merits of these pretty hand-blocked napkins. Made by Jessica Gonacha, these napkins create a mood of casual whimsy, delighting both kids and adults who still have a child-like wonder at the world.

They’re available through Indie Fixx Shop, an online store that brings the work of individual crafts people to the Web.

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By using cloth napkins, or making a gift of them, you’re helping to support artisans at home and around the world, and you’re helping the environment, as these napkins are all washable and will last for years.

And, you’re brightening up your table at the same time with great design.