Have you amassed an embarrassing number of paper napkins? If you're like me, you have a mountain of them, all with a different theme: maybe some holiday napkins, striped ones, napkins featuring cartoonish slices of watermelon? My collection once fit in a large bowl in our pantry, and having outgrown that container, they're now overflowing from an extra-large shopping bag in our living room closet.
I know that my love of napkins, like so many of my home-making tendencies, comes from my mother. Over the years, she has proven to be a magnificent hostess and table artiste - she was crafting great "table-scapes" long before the phrase was coined. Her own napkin cache takes up an entire, overstuffed kitchen cupboard. Well-organized as this cupboard is, it's a good thing napkins are light and soft, because when you open this door (looking, perhaps, for some honey or salt) a few packages are bound to topple onto your head. So it of course shocked me, when, a few years ago, she politely requested that I stop giving her napkins for Christmas and her birthday. She asked, in other words, that I stop enabling her. And I respectfully complied. For the most part.
I'm not sure that I have the strength to kick the napkin habit like she did. In fact, I suspect that I am becoming a napkin hoarder, and not just because I buy new ones but mostly because I don't want to use up the old ones. Here's a weird confession: if you come over to my house, I will secretly hope that you don't have the good manners to use, or even touch the napkin I put at your place setting. Why? So that I can re-use it! So that I never run out of that specific pattern.
I'd hate, for example, to run out of the ones depicting a map of Cape Cod we got on a trip there. Or the napkins with the hula dancer I used a lot leading up to our wedding and subsequent honeymoon in Hawaii. Someone gave us an adorable set of napkins for our housewarming party featuring a home with flowers coming out of the chimney. Likewise, I love the lime green ones I purchased for a book launch party this past summer: they match the cover perfectly. Oh, the sentimental pull of material objects.
This is the point where you might understandably wonder, why not just use cloth or linen napkins, since they last longer? I do also have a lot of these in my collection - but they require laundering, de-staining, and ironing, all skills I did not inherit from my mother.
The good news is that I know I have a problem. And I believe that even the silliest of problems have solutions. The even better news is that I recently came up with a way to save and covet my beloved paper napkins - behind glass and encased in a frame as a piece of colorful kitchen art. We had a new IKEA frame in our basement that we never ended up using after we first moved into our house. I dusted that off the other day and pulled out some of my favorite napkins. I arranged and re-arranged until I had the napkins configured the way I wanted then attached them to the paper backing that came with the frame with some double-sided tape. The whole process took less than 40 minutes.
Photo by Jocelyn Cox
Now, I hope that I can more freely use these beauties without worrying about them running out. After all, they're preserved. This collage, of sorts, turned out to be a pretty cheerful nod to parties gone by (and parties yet to come.) Hopefully, when I offer napkins to my guests it will now come from a more genuine place, in other words without a cringe. And I hope that if you have any of these same "unique" concerns or pseudo-problems surrounding paper napkins, you'll consider whipping up some quick kitchen art with them. As a matter of fact, even if you don't have any quirky issues in the area, it's a fun project to try.