When I was young I lived and worked in London for a while.  I worked in a small Hotel in Kensington.  It is still there, refurbished and reinvented and very swish but in the 1970's it was slightly faded, had definitely seen better days and boasted being the first hotel in London to get a lift.  I doubted that, but the lift was old, it required a member of staff (suitably uniformed) to operate it.

I worked as a housekeeper and as such I had keys to various store rooms and linen closets that all seemed to be stuck in a Victorian time warp.  One was full of table oil lamps, with beautiful green glass shades.  When they were last used I didn't know and I couldn't imagine that they would ever be used again but there they sat.  Anyway, while I worked there the dining room had a bit of a refit and about a hundred white damask table cloths were consigned to the linen cupboard, ostensibly never to be used again.  I spoke with the manager of the hotel and asked if I could buy one.  He said yes and the princely sum of £5 (not cheap in 1976) was exchanged for a banquet sized damask table cloth.

Now I didn't even own a table.  I lived in staff accommodation in the hotel.  But I just wanted to own a damask tablecloth.  It was far from new but it was snowy white and felt luxurious.  Forty years on that table cloth has adorned most of my Christmas dinner tables as well as being used for almost every significant dinner or food related event of my entire married life.  It has been washed on the hottest machine setting umpty umpty times and always came out pristine until now.

A huge red wine stain - even though it was soaked almost immediately (or as quickly as we could get the dishes off the table) has left a purple stain smack bang in the middle.  I kept it in the drawer for several months while I decided what to do about it.  Finally I made up my mind.

I cut it (oooh that was a hard moment) into napkin sized pieces and hemmed the edges.

 It was tough to sew.  What on earth is it made of?  As far as I can tell its cotton or linen but it could be blended with silk.  I don't know.  I don't even know how old the tablecloth was when I first got it.  I actually broke two needles (needles designed for sewing jeans I might add) trying to sew a turned edge on the side, until I decided to turn it over just the once and then do a semi overlocked edge stitch on it.  That worked better. (Bless the new sewing machine).

Now.  Which is more ecologically friendly?  The new damask napkins or paper serviettes?  My guess would be the damask napkins but then I do have to wash them, which means washing detergent, hot water, electricity.

The paper serviettes cost money each time and although in theory paper can be composted, I never put used serviettes on the compost heap because they have been used to wipe grease or perhaps meat juices from sticky fingers and lips - not really what I want on the compost heap.  But I do wonder sometimes if in trying to be ecologically friendly I am in fact just giving myself extra work for a miniscule gain.

My normal take on things is usually centred around saving money.  I don't like wasting money if I can help it.  So it feels to me like its cheaper to use the cloth ones.  But it might not be.  But certainly the damask has a very decadent feel to it and it will add to the enjoyment of my meal I am sure.  And I don't feel quite so sad at the demise of my tablecloth knowing that I can still use it in some fashion.  Life moves on, things change and even though sometimes that can be sad, it's what happens.  Re-using, re-purposing and re-fashioning old stuff dulls the pain just a little.


  1. It certainly does Jane. And the napkins will be lovely, but I think I would only use them for special occasions...all that washing and ironing....

    I had a similar problem in that a white tablecloth (too big for my current table) has a stain in the middle. It's only a mixed fabric fake damask, but it was my mother's 'high days and holidays' cloth and I can't bring myself to part with it. Instead I use a runner or small tablecloth on top if ever we have company.
    All my paper towels/napkins go in the compost bin unless they have been used on meat. Grease is fine. They go in a small bin in the kitchen first with coffee grounds and dregs, bashed eggshells and veg peelings, plus any whey we don't use. All helps with composting and the paper is well soggy by the time it hits the heap.

    1. Perhaps I should be composting the paper serviettes after all. I always look at the smears of ketchup and stuff and think 'oh no' but it would be easy enough to put them in the bucket with the eggshells and veg peelings. And I think you are right, the napkins will be for best, although we hardly ever iron anything here... we do what we call 'smoothing'... it works, the picture of the finished napkins folded - they are unironed and yet look like they might have been.

  2. I would use the damask just for the sheer pleasure of it. But I do not hesitate either to compost grease and even bits of meat. Our composting may be a bit different from yours. Here we have ants, little land crabs, and birds dining in the compost heap which is in an uncovered ring of palmetto fence posts. It is far enough away from the cabana so that any odors or flies don't bother us. Our sandy soil, more sand than soil, needs all the organic matter it can get.

    1. Mmm I am starting to think that I should be composting the serviettes after all. We have loads of ants too and our compost heap is also far enough away from the house to not cause any unsociable odors or flies. We also have very sandy soil and after two years of adding compost and various types of animal poo to the ground it still isn't really growing great veggies. You have certainly given me food for thought. Thank you for your helpful comments.

  3. I've been using cloth napkins exclusively for at least 20 years. They last us for several meals, living in napkin rings between meals. I don't feel that it adds much to the laundry, although there is the ironing part. But many of our napkins look fine without ironing, but not the damask or linen. We also have a large stack of men's handkerchiefs that we use instead of kleenex. Most of those just get folded without ironing.


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