About cost-effectiveness–is it worth it to make your own?


Yesterday I mentioned that I had questioned the cost-effectiveness of making your own table linens. I keep kicking this idea around, more because that is where my pre-coffee brain has landed than anything. Of course, I also have the theme song from “WKRP in Cincinnati,” stuck in there this morning, so take it as you will.

But seriously, assuming you pay full price for fabric, and that you are just making simple reversible placemats and unlined napkins, I figure that each napkin/placemat set costs $6.25 each. Here’s how I figured it:

You need a bare minimum of two yards of fabric, that is, one yard each of two fabrics (front and back) for placemats. These are┬ácut into six mats, 14 x 18″ or less, depending on the width of the fabric and whether or not the print is directional. At $10 per yard, that equals$20.

For napkins, you’ll buy 0ne and 3/4 yard (you really only need a yard and 2/3, but most fabric stores I know don’t cut in 1/3 yard increments). You’ll cut this into six 20″ squares for napkins with a 1/4″ double hem, these will finish at 19″ square, I like to do a 3/4″ hem because it’s less fussy, so mine finish around 18-1/2″). At $10 per yard these, then, cost $17.50.

Add these together and you get $37.50. If you choose to line or interface the mats, obviously, the cost will be higher. If I line mine, and I like to for the weight, I usually dig out some old stash flannel. But lately, I have skipped that step. Then divide $37.50 by six for a per set cost of $6.25.

WalMart Pioneer Woman placemats
Matching napkins

Looking at similar pieces at WalMart, I found these Pioneer Woman print placemats for $13.88 for four, and they are quilted and bound. Napkins┬ácost $9.92 for a set of eight. I won’t bore you with the math, but dividing these out gives a total per set cost of $4.71.

So the per set cost is less at WalMart by $1.54. And they are already made. We can argue all sorts of points here. As I said, the WalMart ones are done. They are cute, if the Pioneer Woman style suits your decor. They are quilted and bound too, and my version in this case is not.

We can also argue against the ready-made version. The fabric is probably not quilt shop quality. The person making them probably earned a dollar for their portion of the making. They aren’t custom-matched to your decor (or someone else, if you’re giving a gift). And lastly, you (or I) did not have the fun of making them.

This discussion could go on and on, I’m afraid. There are obviously ways that the linens you make could be even more expensive: you might choose to piece, interface, line, bind, quilt, and so on. They could also be slightly less expensive if you used sale or thrifted fabric. I heard someone say that she uses thrifted sheets to make them. Sorry, but I draw the line at using fabric that someone has slept on. The ick-factor is waaaaay too high for me there. If it doesn’t bother you, you can definitely save a lot by doing that.

I’ve made a lot of assumptions here, I know. Do you even use placemats and napkins? Do you prefer the wipe-clean vinyl mats? Paper napkins? How do you set your table? I really find it interesting to learn how other people do things, so ‘fess up!

The coffee has kicked in now, so I am off to my workroom. I will keep thinking about this, though. I am thinking there are other ways to cut the cost of table linens, they just haven’t hit me yet. Do you have any suggestions?




  • Virginia Berger

    Got to value your own time! And whether or not you enjoy the process.

    • Lori East

      I agree, time is valuable! Sometimes it’s good to get a quick make under your belt, though. I don’t make all of ours, by any means, but I do enjoy an easy finish once in a while.

  • Wendy Tuma

    I do use cloth napkins. At first I didn’t think I’d like them, but so much easier than all that paper, plastic wrapping, garbage. I don’t make my own, I watch for sales and I’m cheap, so I’m fussy. I’m also fussy about the weight of the napkins. It makes finding a good deal a bit of a challenge. I bought some cotton weight napkins on clearance; they work okay, but after washing them I can’t fold them square because they are so skewed. Thanks for doing the math on this, it’s helpful in considering when purchasing.

    • Lori East

      I know exactly what you mean. I have some that I bought years ago that were almost free and they are pitiful. The fabric is icky, they are far from square, and now they are terribly faded. I am not sure why I keep them, but they still show up on the table often.

      I do like the restaurant-weight white ones I pick up at Sam’s Club from time to time. It can be hard to find the right size tablecloth, but the napkins are about $8 for a pack of 8. St that price, when they get stained, you can toss them.