In Praise of Napkin Rings

Napkin rings? What, am I Martha? Actually, no. Martha would be quite horrified at the table I set each night. And yet, I do use napkin rings.

Once upon a time, it occurred to me that the cloth napkins we use daily probably don’t need to be washed daily. I mean, after ribs or pizza yes, certainly – we’re not gross – but some meals just don’t leave much beyond a crumb on our napkins. Those, I figured, we could use another night.

Washing napkins only when they actually need it has saved lots of time and plenty of water.

Photo and styling by my son.

My eldest gifted me with custom made napkin rings nearly ten years ago, and we’re still using them today. After dinner, we decide if our napkin needs to be washed or if it can be reused. If it can be reused without drawing the ire of the health department, it gets rolled back up and tucked into our personalized napkin ring and kept in a basket for the next night.

Using cloth napkins has prevented countless paper napkins from entering the waste stream over the years. Washing napkins only when they actually need it has saved lots of time and plenty of water.

Do you use cloth napkins? What about napkin rings?

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  • Renee ,

    Three cheers for cloth napkins! Our kids each have their own color, which makes it easy to remember. We use napkin rings when we have house guests (each napkin ring is unique), so we can remember which napkin belongs to which person.

  • Mandie Guenther Glenn ,

    this is brilliant!!! pinned it!!!

  • Attainable Sustainable ,

    Mandie Guenther Glenn, where are you on Pinterest? I’m here: http://pinterest.com/attainsustain/

  • Mandie Guenther Glenn ,

    I don’t know…I just followed you…can you find me there??

  • Rural Spin ,

    We’re on Pinterest, too (new at it)! But we’re interested to hear why people like and use napkin rings? I kept forgetting about mine and finally just gave them away http://pinterest.com/ruralspin/

  • Rural Spin ,

    We just followed you on Pinterest, AS! :-)

  • Attainable Sustainable ,

    Rural Spin, off to follow you. As for why WE like napkin rings, did you click through to read the post? You’ll find my answer there!

  • Rural Spin ,

    (Love your recycling/upcycling board, btw). I did read the post. I use cloth napkins all the time…but I just refold them for reuse. :-)

  • Mandie Guenther Glenn ,

    but rural spin…I do the same thing..but whose is whose?

  • Attainable Sustainable ,

    Mandie, that’s exactly it. Though someone commented on the site that they have a different colored napkin for each family member. That could work, too.

  • Mandie Guenther Glenn ,

    It COULD work…but that involves memory! ;)

  • abacus ,

    I never use napkin rings, but I mostly just use dish towels instead of paper napkins. The ones in the picture are super cute. Where can I get some of my own? Or what kind of fabric should I get to make my own napkins?

  • Quilting calicos work great. Dinner napkins are 18″ square and lunch napkins are 15″ (not that it really matters). Run a narrow hem around the edges or if you have a serger a rolled hem works nice. You can even make them double sided for holidays, putting one holiday fabric on one side and another holiday fabric on the other. There are tons of possibilities!

    • SoniaR ,

      Christine, I like your idea of sewing up a double sided napkin with different fabrics.

      I like my napkins large. I never buy or make any that are less than 22 inches.

  • SoniaR ,

    We always use cloth napkins. I collect them and have dozens, some in solid colors but most are in pretty tropical or Hawaiian prints. I like and use napking rings. I also have a small collection of them that either complement the napkin or are seasonal. A long time ago I used to write a “manner” series titled Peas & Q’s for a friend’s cooking and food group and this is what I wrote about napkin rings:

    The Proper Use of Napkin Rings

    Haven’t written a P’s & Q’s in a long time and today this subject came up at our table.

    Napkin rings fell out of daily use when paper napkins started to be used more often.I love using cloth napkins and have a large collection of them. (sometime in the near future I will talk more about this), but our subject now is the usage of napkin rings.

    When I was growing up, napkin rings, no matter how fancy or pretty, were NEVER to be used on a formal table when the table was set for company. The use of napkin rings implied that the cloth napkin being held in it had been previously used. That was the original purpose of the napkin ring, to be able to reuse napkins a couple of times, without laundering in between and to be able to identify whose napkin was whose. This is why most old silver napkin rings have initials or names engraved on them.

    Ideally, no two napkin rings on a table should match (some hostesses would dissagree, but remember, rings should not be used on a table set for company). When I was growing up, my father’s napkin ring was a thick silver octagon, my mother’s was round and my grandmothers was also round, but much wider than my mother’s….they all had their initials engraved.

    My napkin ring was a duck, my sister’s was a rabbit and my twin brothers’ rings were a cat and a dog respectively. Our rings were made of opaque colored lucite. Everyone knew where his place was set by just looking for his/her napkin ring. Later, as we grew older, our cutesy napkin rings were substituted by silver ones in different designs…In my family, it was a rite of passage when you received your own silver napkin ring with your name or monogram engraved on it.

    Today, hostesses will use napkin rings and that’s OK for a pretty table presentation, as long as they hold clean napkins! LOL

    • @SoniaR Interesting, Sonia! I had no idea that was the original use for napkin rings!

      • SoniaR ,

        @Attainable Sustainable Actually Kris, my brain is stuffed with lots of trivia information ;-) I need to dust off every once in a while… Glad I had this bit to share.

  • I made these, but I’ve also purchased a lot of my napkin rings (search garage sales and thrift shops). I MUCH prefer cotton to the polyester varieties a lot of stores sell. Christine (below) is spot on with her suggestions.

  • I need to get back to cloth napkining. When it was just my husband and me, we had a big basket of cloth napkins and it was so great! When the kids were younger, and I was trying to keep the diaper laundry under control, one of the things I sacrificed was the napkins.Oh boy…that was almost 10 years ago

  • verabadert ,

    I do use cloth napkins–some times. But I must have unusually messy food or messy family, because they nearly always have to be washed, and I’m not sure of the equation between the water/detergent/power used to wash them and the use of paper.

  • Sheryl ,

    Yes, we use cloth napkins, complete with pretty rings. It seems like a luxury, but I feel good that it saves on paper. And they make a simple meal feel so special, I think.

  • Growing up we used to use cloth napkins and napkins rings just for special occasions. I like the idea of breaking them out again for everyday.

  • AprilG ,

    I’ve thought about this a lot. I would have to have tons of napkins since my 5 kids are still all at home and eat at home 4 times a day, and since they are so young, theirs would need to be washed every time. Any ideas for those of us in the messy phase of life?

    • SoniaR ,

      Get an assortment of inexpensive wash cloths at one of the big box or discount stores. Sometimes you can find 10/12 for a couple of dollars. Since they are so inexpensive, have some to use now and some as back-up

  • I need a top up on my cloth napkins, but I do prefer them. Sadly, I’ve got no napkin rings. I should sort that out!

    • SoniaR ,

      @FrugalKiwi Napkin rings don’t have to be fancy, elaborate or expensive. anything with a hole in the center where the folded napking can go through can be used. I have a few Christmas ornaments that I use as napking rings for the holidays – hollow drums, a wooden rocking horses, small wreaths made from woven grape vines and twigs, even brass horns, etc –

      You can buy silk flowers and twist the stems into a ring to use as napkin rings with the flower sitting on top….change them around by seasons – berries for fall and winter, etc.

      Just look around you with different eyes. I’m sure you can find items you already own that can be used or can be adapted to use.

  • peggy c ,

    I have been collecting old linen napkins for many years. i thought i was alll alone out there.  I make scarves, curtains, ans pj’s out of them.  of course  my favorite thing is to use as intended.  I enjoy the many beautiful patterns woven into the cloth as i iron them.

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