Cloth Napkins - 6 Ways

You may remember from previous posts that Nick and I have been trying to stop purchasing single-use items in an effort to save money and be less wasteful. We can go through a LOT of napkins, especially when it's beard-growing (aka messy eating) season for Nick, so we really want to eliminate napkin use and only keep paper towels on hand for cleaning, etc.

We decided to purchase cloth napkins that we can wash and reuse in place of paper napkins. Cloth napkins can be found in a variety of styles, colors, and patterns, but we thought it would be fun to buy plain napkins and decorate them ourselves. We found a pack of 12 sturdy, white cotton napkins from Homegoods for $15.00 (that we got with a gift card!) and we agreed on making 6 different sets.

First we washed and dried all of the napkins before decorating. We used three different mediums for our napkins: fabric paint, Sharpie, and dye.

Fabric Paint

1. We used leftover yellow fabric paint to create kind of an oblong polka dot pattern. I was inspired by the napkins seen here that A Beautiful Mess uses frequently. To make these, all I did was use a paint brush to cover the napkin in dots. So easy!

2. We've had success creating and using our own stamps before, so we decided to try this again and hand stamp our next set. Nick created this donut shape out of foam sheets that we glued together to create our stamp. We brushed the paint onto the stamp and then pressed it firmly on the napkin.

Notes about fabric paint: We let the napkins dry flat for 24 hours. Because the napkins will be washed over and over, we used our iron to heat set the paint to avoid having it come off in the wash. To do this, we used a medium to high heat setting on the iron and moved it across the wrong (unpainted) side of the napkins. You have to move constantly so you don't scorch the fabric. We always wash our napkins in cold water and have not had any paint removal.


3. I thought it would be fun to create a set of napkins that is completely covered in black, cursive handwriting. From a distance you wouldn't really know what these napkins say, but if you examine them closely, you could actually read every word. Because we're big Harry Potter fans, I decided to write the first few pages of the first book on one napkin and the last few pages of the last book on the other. It's a fun and subtle way to pay tribute to something we love in an unexpected place. But let me tell you... writing on napkins is easier said than done. My hands were cramping terribly from pulling the napkin tight enough to write. Ouch.

4. For this set we went with my go-to pattern. We used gold Sharpie, though it looks a little gray instead of gold. I used a ruler to make straight lines down the length of the napkin and then free-handed alternating angled lines in between the straight lines.

Notes about Sharpie: We washed (in cold water) and dried our napkins as usual. Sharpie doesn't really need to be set before washing. They may fade over time, but I have t-shirts that get washed regularly and still have Sharpie writing on them from 1996, so I'm not too concerned.


5. We used leftover purple dye to dye a set of solid napkins. With all of the other patterns we were creating, we thought it would be a good idea to have one solid set. We soaked the napkins in our dye/hot water mix until we were pleased with the color. We wanted these to be super dark so they will better hide hard to remove food stains.

6. For our last set, we used orange dye to create somewhat of an ombre set, where two sides are white and the color gets darker as you move into the middle. To do this, we folded each napkin in half and dipped 2/3 of the folded napkin into the dye. After two minutes, we pulled out 1/3 and left the remaining 1/3 in the dye for about 90 more minutes. (Don't worry, we didn't torture our arms by holding the napkins in the dye, we just clipped them to the sides of our bucket!)

Notes about dye: After dyeing the napkins, we rinsed them thoroughly in cold water. For the orange set, we had to be extra careful when rinsing. We left them folded and rinsed from top to bottom so that the orange dye wouldn't bleed up into the white portion. We let the napkins dry overnight and ran them for 1 cycle in the dryer to help set the dye. Again, we always wash them in cold water and have not experienced any issues.

What do you guys think? Any ideas on how you would decorate your napkins? I think I'd like to make some tea towels next...

Sarah & Nick


  1. Hi! I am totally obsessed with these napkins! I think I might make some this weekend for a friend's birthday. One way I've done napkins before is with bleach and different sized dots to make flowers. They turned out pretty cool, minus the bleeding of the bleach in some of the test ones. Can I ask what you wrote out for the sharpie napkin? They are all so awesome. Thanks!

    1. Hi there! Thanks so much! We thought about using a bleach pen on the dyed purple napkins, but we've never used one before so I didn't want to risk it turning out poorly. But I'm sure we'll try using a bleach pen soon! On the Sharpie napkins we wrote a few pages from the first Harry Potter book on one and a few pages from the last book on the other. I'm glad you like them! xo, sarah

  2. Oh my gosh. I love these sooo much. Great idea!

  3. Wow, you guys definitely had fun with decorating your napkins, and I think that's so cool! The handwritten ones definitely look like they took the most work! (And are probably the coolest). We never use napkins over here, Not really sure why. Maybe we're excessively clean when eating? :P

    1. Haha, you're lucky! It's napkin city over here. Thanks for the kind words, we appreciate it! :)