One of the most profound things I've learned as a mother is that it's up to me how much value I place upon the often mundane tasks or rituals that make up our daily routines. The extra energy put into a moment or the time taken to pause and reflect helps me salvage something from tiresome chores or repetitive scenarios. It's learning to water the grass on your side of the fence.
Dinner time sometimes falls under the category of things I'd rather not do, thank you very much - especially five days in to the work week when you're almost out of palatable combinations, your husband has to work late again, and EVERYONE IS HUNGRY RIGHT NOW. In those moments I would rather pass the cereal box but sometimes the more memorable thing to do is hand your four-year-old a stack of cloth napkins and ask her to set the table.
She's four so she still loves to help and you've just bought yourself about five minutes of quiet. Even better than that is the message you've just sent to your kids that meal times are special and kind of sacred and worth the effort. Cloth napkins to the rescue! Well, sort of.
They're just an easy way for you to add some beauty to your day, an excuse to either go fabric shopping or repurpose something you already have, and an opportunity to dust off that sewing machine you got three Christmases ago.
You can go the safe route and make eight to ten napkins in the same black gingham or you can get a little bold and mix your patterns. I like to use three to four patterns and prints in similar or tonal colors. I chose to go with yellows and greens because they're cheerful and remind me of summer time but I also mixed in a feminine print with a few stripes. I repurposed two vintage table cloths made from thicker cotton as well as two vintage pillow cases. The table cloths will be used as placemats and the pillow case fabrics will be used as napkins.
No matter what you use you want to make sure it's made from cotton for easy wash and wear. You'll also want to have a few simple tools to make this part easier. A self-healing, cutting mat and rotary cutter are life savers when you're cutting a lot of fabric and a metal or acrylic rule will get you the straight angles and edges you want. Also, a sewing machine, thread to match your fabric, iron, ironing board, scissors, and straight pins.
I placed my pillow case (or sheet) on my cutting mat and cut out a 16" square. If you're feeling proficient in this step I'd say layer 2-3 prints or fold your pillow case in half to cut more than one square at a time.
With the right side of the fabric facing down, fold your first edge in about 1/4" and iron flat. Then fold it again 1/4" and iron flat to make your hem. Pin it as shown.
You can then fold over the next edge twice, iron, and pin. Repeat until all four edges have been ironed and pinned.
Carefully, start in one corner and stitch along the inside of the folded hem all the way around your napkin. Backstitch at the end to secure and trim your thread. Your corners will look a bit more finished doing them all at once instead of sewing down one edge at a time. Iron flat again and fold the way your mama taught you. Or the way you learned on Pinterest.
Make enough for that dinner party you might have some day and then be okay with just mixing and matching them depending on which ones are clean.
Use some as placemats and some as napkins and use them as often as you want. It may not inspire you to serve a four course meal but I guarantee it'll encourage everyone to pause and reflect on how lucky they are to have you at their table.