Cloth Napkins in Arizona

We had a nice afternoon in Sun City, on the west side of Phoenix, with two couples we know from Minnesota. Somehow we have spent more time with these people in Arizona than back home. The men went golfing while the ladies worked on fiber projects. I had brought a knitting project, but given that I had a chunk of dedicated time and enough space to spread out, it seemed like a great time to get a weaving project warped on my portable Rigid Heddle loom. I planned to make a set of four cloth napkins The other gals worked on knitting projects.

Last winter when we got together with this group at the same rental house, it was a beautiful day and the ladies sat outside all afternoon while the guys golfed. This year it was cold (for Arizona) and the weather forecast threatened rain. Fortunately for the men it never rained. The ladies worked on projects inside the house.

I wanted to try something new for the cloth napkins, taking into account what I can do with the Rigid Heddle loom and what yarn I had brought to Arizona. After considering various options for yarns and patterns, I decided to go with plaid using blue 8/4 100% cotton yarn for the main color, and some natural color Gist Duet cotton/linen blend yarn for the contrast color. The cotton/linen yarn is a bit thinner and behaves differently, but I was pretty sure it would work out OK and make it more interesting. I used a free pattern called “Soft Plaid” by Brittany Seaborg that I found on Pinterest. It looked like what I had in mind , so I would not have to guess at how many warp threads and rows for each color to make it look right.

Warping the loom for a set of cloth napkins

As I was winding the eight feet of warp yarn on to the back beam, it was clear that the tension for the cotton/linen yarn was different. It was sagging a bit when the 100% cotton yarn was tight. I had known this might happen, but I decided to go for it and hope it would be OK in the end. I was able to finish warping the loom that day in Sun City. The rest of the project I completed over the next weeks back in our RV.

I came home from that outing with a bag of grapefruit and oranges from trees in the yard of the rental home. Yum!

Fresh oranges and grapefruit from our friend’s tree in Sun City
Fresh fruit in front of my RV kitchen towels, including the one I just made recently

I wanted to do rolled hems instead of hem stitch and fringe like I usually do for towels. It is more work but looks nicer. The hem could be sewed by hand, but I had to figure out how to keep the weaving from coming undone after cutting the napkins apart and before I could get the hems ironed and stitched, without having my sewing machine. If I was at home, I would do a zig zag stitch on the sewing machine at the beginning and end of each napkin before cutting them apart. Instead, I used some thread and did a hem stitch at the beginning, but I did not pull it tight like I would do for making fringe. The thread I used was very thin and hard to see while I was working, and in the following photos. The second photo is zoomed in.

Loose hem stitch to keep the ends from coming undone
Close up of the hem stitch

The pattern has blocks of the two colors repeating twice. The pattern starts with blue and ends with the natural cotton/linen yarn on the other side. I realized that the different tension and thickness of the cotton/linen was causing the side with the cotton/linen yarn to pack down differently. If I had thought about that at the beginning, I would have added some blue warp yarn on the side after the natural, so that the tension on each side would match. Since it was too late for that, I had to pay attention and adjust as needed while weaving the rows. These are only napkins guys, it is OK if they are not perfect. You can see in the next photo it looks uneven on the right side, but I figured it would even out some in the wash.

The weft rows were not packing evenly due to the different yarns

We had quite a few guests coming and going for the entire second half of February. They did not all stay with us in the RV, but in any case my routine was messed up and I did not get as much weaving done as I thought I would. My sister Betsy visited, and she slept on our RV love seat pullout bed for almost a week. I thought that I was going to be done with this project before she came, so that the loom would be put away in the storage area under the RV during her stay. It did not happen that way. Instead, the weaving was still on the loom when Betsy arrived. I did not do any weaving at all while she was staying with us. Multiple times a day I moved the loom and it’s box around from the loveseat, to the floor, to the table, to the bed, depending on the time of day and where people needed to sit or sleep or eat.

After Betsy went back home I committed to finishing the napkins project before our son and his wife arrived a week later. They stayed in a hotel nearby (no way would they fit on the love seat together), but I knew we would be hanging out some in the RV so I did not want to have to keep moving the loom and box around while they were visiting. The following photo shows the plaid pattern taking shape.

Plaid pattern taking shape

One challenge with stripes in the weft is what to do with the cut off ends when changing colors. There are many options and suggestions. You can just cut the yarn and leave it hanging until the project is off the loom, and then weave the loose ends in, either across or down the side. You can cut the yarn, and fold it across into the weaving as you go, so it is in the same shed as the next row of the next color. You can carry the yarn up the side, so when you get back to that color again it is still attached. I did a little bit of everything as I kept changing my mind about what was easiest or best.

I had some tension problems that caused the completed weaving to wind on crookedly. It probably had to do with the cotton/linen warp yarn on the side, or maybe not. In the photo below you can see that the line at the bottom where the natural color switches to blue is crooked. That is actually the opposite problem I had at the beginning where the rows were packing down tighter on the right side. I don’t really know what was going on and I did not try to figure it out. I just kept going and tried to adjust as I went along.

Winding on crookedly

I started getting worried about whether the loose hem stitch I had done at the beginning of the first napkin would hold together after cutting. I considered asking someone in the sewing craft room at the RV resort if I could use their sewing machine to zig zag the other napkin ends before cutting them apart. I went ahead with the rest of the weaving while thinking about the best way to secure the remaining napkin ends. I wove two rows of an off white cotton yarn in between each napkin in order to have a clear separation and place to cut them apart.

I finished weaving the day before out son and daughter-in-law arrived and took it off the loom. Once the weaving was unwound and stretched across the floor, it seemed like the uneven places straightened themselves out for the most part. At that point I was able to put the loom back in the box with the accessories and put it away in storage under the RV.

Weaving off the loom

I had to weave in all the ends that I had not already taken care of, and tie some knots in the warp yarn ends so they would not come undone or be a big mess or after washing. The next photo shows one end of the weaving with all tails taken care of and warp ends knotted.

Weaving ready to go in the laundry

After taking care of all the tails, I ran the weaving through the wash with a load of laundry, where it shrank and became more dense as expected. I decided not to put it in the dryer because I did not want it to end up in a tight wrinkly wad inside a fitted sheet corner. Meanwhile I had an inspiration to try doing hem stitch on the rest of the napkin ends with only two warp yarns and two weft rows, so it would be more secure than the four by three hem stitch I did at the beginning. After trying this on the other end of the first napkin, I went ahead and did two by two hem stitch on each end of the other three napkins. It took some time, but looked very neat and tidy. In the next photo you can see the end of one napkin and the beginning of the next one with the hem stitch (hard to see with thin blue thread) and the off white rows between each napkin.

Two by two hem stitch to secure the ends of each napkin before cutting

After the hem stitching was complete I cut the napkins apart between the two rows of off white cotton yarn separating each napkin, and then removed the off white cotton yarn. The next photo shows two napkins cut apart and ready for folding over and hemming.

Napkins cut apart

I have a travel iron in the RV, but not an ironing board. I have used the travel iron a couple of times with several layers of towel on the carpeted part of the floor. For ironing the hems of the napkins, I used the iron and ironing board at the RV resort laundromat.

Using the iron and ironing board in the RV park laundromat

I had an odd assortment of straight pins, safety pins, needles, and clips to hold the hems in place until I could do the hand sewing.

Hems ironed and pinned

After ironing and pinning the hems, I sewed them by hand with a needle and blue thread. The hems are about 1/2″ wide.

Rolled and hand stitched hem

As I was weaving I tried to make the napkins matching in size and the right length so they would be square after hemming. They are a little smaller than ideal, but they are about as big as I can do using the 15″ wide loom, due to the cotton yarn shrinking. The finished size of the napkins after hemming is about 11″ by 11″. The linen/cotton yarn did not shrink as much, so they are a little wonky.

Voila Cloth napkins finished

It will be hard to get myself to actually use these cloth napkins. The hand towels I have made before get dirty when used in the kitchen to dry CLEAN hands and dishes. In this case, we will be wiping DIRTY hands on them. It seems good to get away from using paper napkins, but cloth napkins will have to washed regularly, using water and detergent which is also a concern.

When I was growing up, my dad always saved the used paper napkins after a meal. He stashed them in a drawer or under the sink to be used later for wiping up greasy pans when doing the dishes. We were discouraged from using paper towel. I follow my dad’s lead and use lightly soiled paper napkins for wiping food and grease off of plates and pans, but I also use too many paper towels for drying fruit after rinsing it off and for other things where I could use a towel or cloth rag. I have seen cloths that are supposed to be a replacement for paper towels, but again, they would need to be washed. It is hard to know how much of a difference these little efforts will make to the environment in the long run. That is a topic for another day.

Published by Meg Hanson

Hello. I am a recently retired empty nester. My husband and I moved to Jewett Lake in Otter Tail County, Minnesota, after living most of our lives in the Minneapolis area. I have no trouble keeping busy with knitting and spinning of wool, selling yarn and handmade goods, reading, walking, watching movies, surfing on the internet, traveling, doing bookkeeping for our family cabin, and spending time with family.

8 thoughts on “Cloth Napkins in Arizona

  1. Lots of learning occurred on this project; mixing the cotton and linen requires a lot of thought/planning. However, the finished napkins look great. Especially because Martha Stewart is not coming over anytime soon. Does the 1/2″ hem not seem to chunky?
    I hear you on the debate about which causes a worse environmental impact, use of paper towels or washing fabric towels. Most days it all feels like any of these choices are a drop in the bucket in the fact of the bigger environmental issues.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think your napkins turned out great. 11 inches would be big enough for us. We don’t get that much food on them when we eat (except for air fryer chicken.) I also really like the colorful towels in the picture by the fresh oranges and grapefruit (yum!) I have pondered whether cloth napkins are a better choice, too. I have many, but we use paper. I tried the cloth napkins, but they did take more time with washing and folding. When we eat lunch, I cut a napkin in half because we hardly need one. My husband puts up with this (he doesn’t think it’s worth it), but I still do it. I do use old napkins immediately after a meal to wipe out dirty pans and dry the sink by the faucet. I also use some norwex micro fiber cloths to cut down on paper towel use. I can use one for several days before having to wash it. I think it’s worth it as paper towels (good ones) are expensive, I think. It is impressive to me that you make these towels and even more so in your RV.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I always buy the paper towels that come in 1/2 sheets, so maybe that cuts down on use of them. And if a paper napkins was hardly used and it is just the 2 of us, I leave them at the table for the next meal.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think the napkins look great, but I understand how you would hesitate to use them, as they probably won’t look so good after a few trips through the washing machine. And I agree, it’s really hard to know what choices are best for the environment these days. It’s like electric cars. They have no emissions, but the batteries that run them are very toxic, not only to the environment but for the people who have to work in the factories that make them. So what’s the lesser of two evils? It’s hard to know for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had not even thought of the problem with the electric car batteries being toxic. My uncle also pointed out that there are certain big farm machines that will be very difficult to adapt to electric power. And then there is the question of cloth vs disposable diapers, and other toss vs wash decisions. It is all very discouraging.

      Liked by 1 person

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