How Big Should Your Napkin Be?

Christina discusses the different types of napkins and their sizes.

Christina Garton Jan 10, 2022 - 5 min read

How Big Should Your Napkin Be? Primary Image

Subtle and classic, Yvonne Ellsworth’s Zakka Embroidered Napkins from Little Looms Holiday 2021 might be my favorite project of the year. Photos by Matt Graves

What size napkin is the best size to weave? That answer is (as with many weaving questions) “it depends.” How wide is your loom? Do you want to weave more than just napkins on the same warp? Who is the intended recipient of the napkins, and what is their purpose? Are these everyday napkins, or will they be for a special dinner?

While there isn’t a Grand Napkin Council out there making decrees about napkins sizes (that we know of), there are a few accepted guidelines for napkin sizes. Generally speaking, the more formal the occasion, the larger the napkin. Cocktail napkins, for example, like the kind you’d have with a nosh board at a party, need only be 6 to 9 inches square—small enough to dab the mouth while chatting, but not so large that you can’t easily hold it in the same hand as your drink or plate.

Elisabeth Hill Post-Woe Napkin

Elisabeth Hill’s Post-Woe Napkins from the Spring 2022 Easy Weaving with Little Looms.

Formal dinner napkins, on the other hand, tend to be much larger—anywhere from 21 to 26 inches square. Why so large? My guess is that at a formal dinner, you sit and eat for long periods of time. There’s no need to make napkins dainty enough to hold in the hand. A large napkin also better protects the diner’s lap, and if a meal has multiple courses and therefore more opportunities to get your face dirty, a larger napkin provides a larger usable surface area. One more reason formal napkins tend to be so large has nothing to do with utility; in fact, it’s downright frivolous. Larger napkins allow you to fold them into interesting and complex shapes, so it makes sense that if you’re putting on a big showcase dinner, you’d want the big show-y napkins.

Snappy Napkins by Elisabeth Hill

Snappy Napkins by Elisabeth Hill from the Summer 2021 issue of Easy Weaving with Little Looms.

Many sizes of napkins between cocktail and formal-dinner exist, and typically I’ve found that most weavers tend to stick with napkins around these sizes. A tea napkin, for example, is usually about 12 inches square. An example of this kind of napkin would be Yvonne Ellsworth’s Zakka Embroidered Napkins from the Holiday 2021 issue of Little Looms. Luncheon napkins are slightly larger at about 14 to 16 inches square, and this seems to be the most common woven size of napkin (possibly because it’s also about the same width as your typical handwoven towel). Elisabeth Hill’s Post-Woe Napkins, as seen on the cover of the Spring 2022 Little Looms, and her Snappy Napkins from the Summer 2021 issue of Little Looms would both be considered luncheon napkins.

Boldly Striped Napkins by Angela Tong

Boldly Striped Napkins by Angela Tong from the Summer 2021 Easy Weaving with Little Looms.

An informal dinner napkin, the kind you’d have at your home as a sort of “everyday” napkin is typically 18 to 20 inches square. Finally, there’s the buffet napkin, which tends to be about 18 to 24 inches square. Buffet napkins are sometimes referred to as “casual-dining” napkins and are designed to be large enough to not just fit the average-sized lap, but to fold into simple, elegant shapes. Need a cheat sheet? We've got you covered!

Napkin Sizes at a Glance

Cocktail Napkin: 6"–9"
Tea Napkin: 12"
Luncheon Napkin: 14"–16"
Informal-Dinner Napkin: 18"–20"
Buffet/Casual-Dining Napkin: 18"–24"
Formal-Dinner Napkins: 21"–26"

Just remember: when you weave napkins, your preference matters more than any “official designation.” If you want to weave a rectangular napkin, go ahead! In fact, that’s what Angela Tong did with her Boldly Striped Napkins from the Summer 2021 Little Looms. Measuring 11 inches by 19 inches, these napkins also feature fringe, another non-traditional element, but are so bright and beautiful, I’d be happy to have them on my dining-room table any day.

Happy Weaving!