Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
Jan 23, 2008 08:46 AM

Linen Napkins

Where can I purchase nice, quality (not cheap) linen (not cotton) napkins online? And what qualities do I look for in good linen?

I looked @ Williams-Sonoma, C&B, Amazon...but are there others online retailers that you can recommend?

Thank you.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Neiman Marcus is currently offering hemstitched linen napkins in their January White Sale at $59 for 12 - monogrammed no less. I haven't bought these before so I have no idea how heavy the linen is. I also haven't had the best success with hemstitching. Sending it to the cleaners is just out of the question - they tear it up. So that mean I do it at home but even then, it doesn't wear very well.

    I've had the best luck buying linens at estate sales. The quality of older linens far surpasses what's available today except at the very, very highest end and then only if you're shopping in Europe or a few places in Asia. I was fortunate enough to inherit a lot of linen as well that I learned to take good care of and it wears much better than the new linens that I've bought over the years. Try auctions and eBay as well.

    11 Replies
    1. re: MakingSense

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for pointing me in that direction, since it would not have occurred to me to check NM! I thought that price (12 for $59) was too good to be true, w/respect to instead, I went for the Sferra linen, monogrammed hemstitched napkins (4 for $39...I got 8 for $78) in white. Still, it sounds too good to be true, but it's worth a try.

      Thank you again!

      1. re: OCAnn

        OCAann, when I was in this store, the variety was mindboggling. It's not the case on their site. But perhaps if you call, you can ask them for what you're seeking?

        1. re: OCAnn

          One thing to watch is that many places use the word "linen" rather loosely as a generic term for all thing of cloth (bed and table.) Linen is a specific fabric as is cotton - two different things - and there are a lot of quality grades of each. You very much get what you pay for, at least until you learn what you're doing and start shopping auctions, estate sales, etc.

          BTW, after I use my white linens, I spot clean them with dishwashing detergent. Gets out grease spots, lipstick, stains and all kinds of mystery markings. Even wine. I can leave the detergent in the linens for a day or so until I have time to wash them. DW detergent actually works well in the washing machine for table linens. Gets your nastiest pots clean w/o ruining your hands, doesn't it?

          1. re: MakingSense

            Good tips - thanks. Always have trouble w/ stains, but still don't like to use anything but white.

            Antique stores/malls are also a great source, esp. if you don't mind monograms.

            1. re: MakingSense

              I would like to recommend an anti-stain spray called Zout. It was recommended to us by a woman who works as a costumer and wardrobe mistress, and she swears it's saved her from having to replace costume items many times. It works on every fabric I've tried it on, including a pair of khakis that I spilled red wine on at the beginning of a three-day camping trip and had to wear anyway.

              I have no connection, financial or otherwise, with whatever company makes this stuff, but if they went out of business I'm one of many people who'd be extremely unhappy!

              1. re: Will Owen

                Will Owen, when I have a really tough stain, I use a combo of Zout + Dawn dishwashing liquid and an old toothbrush. So far, it has never failed me. Dried blood, heavy grease, chocolate, red wine - you name it, all have disappeared.

                Edit: I just read about Dawn Power Disolver and might add this product to my arsenal.

              2. re: MakingSense

                My go-to product for food stains is a product initially with a different purpose. Dawn Power Disolver... pump/spray of a thick substance originally meant to pre-treat those dishes/casseroles that we ALL put in dishwasher, knowing full well... will NOT come out spotless!?! How it works for intended purpose is SO SO... works great of you just spray and use a light scrub instead of into dishwasher.

                I tried it as a spot pre-treater on favorite oven mitts & pot holders... HEAVY-duty, terry-something, and off-white, so always ended up with food schmutz on them. I gave them a liberal spray and just let them hang around till next load of wash. Pretty much EVERY food stain (even OLD ones) were gone.

                1. re: kseiverd

                  +1 here for Dawn Power Dissolver . . . I use it for laundry and things such as roasting pans. If you apply to roasting pans and let soak overnight, you'll get a much better result than using regular Dawn (or similar). Also don't forget the old Fels Naptha laundry bars. They still work great.

              3. re: OCAnn

                I think Sferra is a good brand - hope you are happy with them.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  I had a freind with a lovely antique linen collection. She used them frequently and cleaned them of spots by soaking in denture cleaner !!!

                  1. re: capeanne

                    I soak gold jewelry in denture cleaner, also vases. Works great!

            2. I have some beautiful Irish Linen napkins, excellent quality and very durable. I'm sure you can google Irish Linens and come up with some good sources for them. Some of the ones I have (the really heavy ones), are damask. All are very durable. I wash them at home in cold water, and press them while they are still a little damp. Not the kind of thing you want to do everyday, but elegant for company. Good Irish linen is fairly expensive, but I promise it will hold up. My mother has napkins that belonged to her mother, and they still look as if they were recent purchases.
              Have you considered Horchow? Looks like they have a sale going on for linens.

              This pattern is similar to some of the napkins I have. The double damask is very heavy, but the hand of the linens is beautiful.

              1. Regarding caring for linen napkins and tablecloths, I wash them at home (the dishwashing detergent tip is welcome - thanks, Makingsense!). I hate the smell and implications of dry cleaning, and even wash cashmere sweaters at home. Anyway, for linens, I wash them in the machine, smooth them out, and hang them folded to dry. I forget where I saw this suggestion, but by smoothing them out wet, and folding them, you *don't have to iron them!* This also saves the wear and tear they endure in the dryer. I'm lucky enough to have inherited linens from 2 different grandmothers, and that's how I do all linen now.

                2 Replies
                1. re: vickib

                  Thomas Ferguson Irish Linen offers packs of 12 for about $47. This is the real thing, and their tableclothes are very reasonable, too.


                2. For everyday linen napkins - waaaay different from Grandmothers - I bought several yards of checkered fabric and fringed the edges. Into the washing machine daily and they fold with no visible wrinkles.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Sherri

                    This works extremely well, Sherri! Good for casual.

                    Also, with access to a sewing maching, one can purchase very high end linen cloth and simply do a rolled hem on the machine. Worthty of a formal table. Good linen napkins will last a long, long time. Worth it if you have to buy them. Worth making if you need to pinch pennies. I like the homemade ones best, frankly, for the relative quality of the fabric I was able to get.

                    15 years and going strong for the linen clothes I described.


                    1. re: cayjohan

                      That's very clever - and would also work well with an antique linen table cloth.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        That's where some of my napkins came from! Great re-use!

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          ..... not to mention the side edges and bottom of linen sheets that have seen their best day. I've done this quite successfully with my sheets when they begin to fray at the top edge. The rarely used bits are great for napkins.

                      2. re: Sherri

                        When you say you fringed the edges do you mean that you just cut them out and fringed them like we used to do the bottoms of our jeans? Or is there something else to that? Any sewing involved?

                        1. re: fern

                          Fern, I just replied but somehow the post disappeared. I'm sorry. I have no idea what you used to do with your jeans, but the "fringing" process is quite simple. Time-consuming and easy. I cut big squares, 15X15 because I like big napkins. It is important to cut them square. Take a horizontal thread and pull it through all the vertical threads. Discard. Repeat until you have about one inch of fringe on that side. Repeat for the next three sides. I have found, that after several washings, I need to snip some loose threads. After some time, the 15X15 become smaller, 12X12. Eventually, they'll be cocktail size and it's time to buy more material.

                          1. re: Sherri

                            Great, thank you. I can do this. Pardon the jeans reference, I guess I think everyone is my age... We used to pull a thread, as you describe, and then even use a fine-toothed comb to create more and more frindge at the end of our cut-offs. Seems quite goofy now but ooh, we were stylin' then. ;)

                            Thanks for the very clear instruction.

                          2. re: fern

                            Just that! So simple. You can easily do it with any cotton fabrics as well. No sewing necessary. NB: Ripping works better than cutting is such cases, as the tear tends to go along the grain, whereas the cut can wander. Make a first snip with shears, then rip the fabric. No harm, no foul if you intend to fringe the edges. (Caveat: if you have old damask/jacquard tablecloths to work with, this is NOT the best method. The weave is too complex. Cut carefully and roll hems.)

                            Glad to hear other like the civility/greenness of cloth napkins. Makes meals more of an event, I think.


                            1. re: cayjohan

                              Yes, good point Cayjohan about the civility of cloth napkins. Somehow it makes the dinner experience softer and warmer in a certain way.

                        2. And, if you are going to go the distance, also care for them well: don't use fabric softener or dryer sheets on them (those make them more water resistant). And like sterling flatware, they benefit from being used.