Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Green Living: Everyday Cloth Napkins

I started this post a week ago, but I got distracted by an invitation to the beach with sister-in-law. Story of my life summer.

So it looks like I'm failing miserably at my goal to post at least twice a week over the summer, but there's so many other fun things to do that I'm not too worried about. I am making progress on my other goals, though, so I think I'll be able to say it was a productive summer.

Today I want to talk about something very important to us: living a green life. Like we must take care of bodies because they are our temples, we must take care of our world because we were only given one. Just because we can use all kinds of chemicals that are toxic to our bodies and the earth, eat foods that are killing us, and create massive amounts of waste, does not mean we should do it. Now, I realize that eliminating all toxins and living with minimal amounts of waste is almost impossible in today's world. You can't go to the "healthy" grocery store to buy all your groceries without also buying packing, which even if you recycle, still in some ways becomes waste. And let's talk about toxins in our homes. I won't belabor everything that is toxic to you because far more educated people have already done it. I hear all the time from people that "everything can give you cancer, so I'm not even going to try."

PEOPLE. For reals. Yes, there are a lot of hazards and a lot of work needs to be done, but taking two or three small steps in the right direction still makes a difference. If everyone in the United States made three positive changes toward removing toxins from their daily lives, that would be over 600 million steps in the right direction (according to the 2012 United States population count). I'm not calling for everyone to try and live off the grid. I'm asking you to set out all those boxes from the gifts from your recent wedding shower on recycle day instead of trash day (ahem, lady down the street).

And yeah, living a green life does in some ways require a little more effort. I mean, we have to walk seven steps to the garage to put the recycling in the garage instead of the trash can in the kitchen because we don't have room for both in the kitchen. And it takes me five minutes to whip up a batch of my homemade all-purpose cleaner every two or three months instead of going to the store and picking it up off the shelf. But it all comes back to this: we each must do our part. It's like this quote:

We each have a responsibility to take care of this beautiful gift God has given us so that generations to come can also enjoy it. I will be sharing some of the small steps we've taken in our home to be more responsible to the environment.

This is one thing we've been doing since we got married (well, when we've been in our own home) and not only is it green, but it has saved us a ton of cash and we all know how tight money is when you first get married. And if you think about all the money we'll save in our lifetime by not buying paper napkins and paper towels, that might just change you mind to switch, too.

I first saw the idea to make some cloth napkins when I babysat for a coworker in college. She was the first vegetarian I met, and after spending some time getting to know her I would definitely say she was crunchy. Or hippy. Whatever phrase is less offensive, because she really was pretty cool. Being from a small town in the conservative Texas Panhandle, there really weren't too many of us crunchy people floating around several years ago. Anyhow, I babysat for her a few times and when I was feeding the kids dinner, I noticed a basket of brightly colored and patterned cloths, which I later realized were napkins.

The idea stuck with me and when Will and I got our first apartment, I decided to make some for us. I got some fat quarters from JoAnn's fabric when they were on sale for 99 cents and used my mother's-in-law sewing machine. I think everyone thought I was crazy at first, but when we moved in with my in-laws I brought some of the napkins and my MIL liked them so much she requested some for Christmas. After we got married I spent a few of our Bed Bath and Beyond gift cards on some bar rags, which I also really like for this purpose. We use them as napkins while eating, rags for wiping down the counters, mopping up spills, etc.

All our napkins stay in a basket on the shelves in the kitchen for easy access.
We needed some more since the ones I made a few years ago are kind of getting ragged and the bar mops are all pretty much stained. I still had some fat quarters left over from my original purchase a few years ago so those were all I used.

Please note that I am a super novice sewer. Not just novice, but super novice. My mom taught me to sew when I was a wee kid, but I really haven't sewed much since then. If I can do this, so can you. I don't really have any detailed instructions, but this is basically what I did:

1. Pick some fat quarters out of the quilting section when they're on sale. I suppose you could do cutesy matching ones, but I kind of liked the idea of all completely different ones.
2. Wash them.
3. They may end of up being all different sizes, and for me, that was okay. If you're more OCD than I am, you can trim them up to be the same size. I figured that nobody would care if they were exactly the same size, and if they did they could go eat at someone else's house :)
4. Fold them in half hamburger-style with right-sides together and iron your fold.
5. Sew around the edges, leaving about 1.5- 2 inches open so you can fold them back with right sides out.
5. Snip of the corners to the stitch so that when you turn it inside out it doesn't bunch up in the corners.
6. Stuff the napkin through the hole you left, using a pencil or something to push out the corners.

7. Fold the remaining 1.5-2 inches of side into itself so it looks like the rest of the seams. Iron everything flat.

8. Sew around the outside to finish everything off.

9. Repeat for remaining napkins.

As you can see, all of mine ended up being different sizes. Since they're not my "good" napkins, but rather my everyday napkins, I didn't care enough to trim them all to the same size.

Also, don't knock my sewing skills. You shouldn't care about everything being perfect, and most people will be so impressed by the very fact that you use cloth napkins on a daily basis that they won't notice the crooked seams.

My pile of homemade napkins and the bar mops. To be honest, the bar mops are a little better for messy foods since they have more absorbency. However, they stain really easily and I know that kind of freaks out our guests to use what looks like a "dirty" cloth napkin. The patterned ones work really well for hiding stains and with foods that are a little less messy.

A few notes:

  • We do use these to wipe us spills or clean the counters, but these are not really cleaning rags. We have specifically designated rags for the true cleaning, so these don't see nasty jobs that would make me hesitant to later use to wipe my face. I would say the bar mops work a little better by virtue of their design to wipe up spills and such. 
  • It's kind of hard to say how much these add to our laundry. I feel like Will and I go through a ton of laundry between our work clothes, workout clothes, hangout clothes, sheets, towels, and utility rags on a weekly basis. We don't really have enough rags to last a whole week without washing these, so I would say we probably throw all the currently dirty ones in the wash twice a week with other things. We keep a basket on the floor in the laundry room for the rags and other utility items we dirty up frequently. 
  • I mentioned stains earlier, but know that I took a really lax route when it comes to those. Very rarely do I spray these with a pretreatment. I mean, they are napkins and they're going to stain. If we had a clothesline outside for drying that would probably help, but my best advice is to embrace the stains and let it go.
  • Obviously, these are not the best option for every situation. We had seven adults in our house for almost a week last Christmas, so there's no way we would have had enough for everyone. Plus, it was Christmas and my SIL's wedding week, so we wanted as little stress as possible. We bought a package of napkins and paper towels and didn't feel too bad about all the waste. 
Questions? Thoughts? What small steps have you taken to be green in your home? 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...