Years ago, we used to scour flea markets for oversize damask napkins that were once a mainstay of early 20th century tables. They’d range anywhere from 20-to-36-inches square. Putting one across your lap at table felt incredibly luxurious: like being tucked into bed while sitting at a wonderful feast.
Over the years, the look of table linens has become seriously deconstructed: we’ve woken up to the beauty of unironed linen, and linens with unfinished hems, because few fabrics look better in their natural state than linen. Now we like to make our own oversized napkins by ripping or cutting big swaths of heavy linen (often bought on sale). The method is simple:
-wash and dry the linen to shrink it before cutting
-figure out how many napkins you can get out of the fabric so there are no leftovers, for example, from a 60″ wide piece you might get two 28″-30″ squares, or three 20″ squares
-with a scissors, make cuts in the fabric where you want to rip the fabric; hold each side firmly to rip (if it doesn’t rip easily, just cut it all the way)
-pull off hanging threads so that the edges of the napkins are slightly frayed
An inexpensive — though not nearly as luxurious — alternative to linen is muslin. Since it usually comes in a murky beige color, we like to bleach it white by throwing it in the washing machine with about 1 1/2 cups of bleach; rinse twice to remove the chlorine smell, then dry in a dryer. Smooth out and rip napkins as directed above.
Related posts: kraft paper table “cloths” and place settings
chic’d-up paper towel napkins in a fab minimalist setting
unhemmed (ripped) linen with yarn stitching
the joys of unorthodox tableclothes