Start with men's shirts. I like to scour Salvation Army on 50% off Wednesdays as well as yard sales - go toward the end of the day when shirts go for a quarter! Here's what to look for:
1. Look for quality fabric and interesting prints. Stains will happen! So prints and stripes are your friend. Put your hand inside and see if you can see it through the fabric. If yes, pass on it. A light weight denim, or tightly woven cotton works well. Think bandana, not hanky type material. Should feel heavy for its size.
2. Check the labels. I find the manly man designers always work: Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, Faded Glory, Gap, etc. And if you find that occasional superstar like a Ralph Lauren or better, by all means get it, but consider if you might not want to use it for something better than face toilet paper!
3. Avoid polyester. No more than 20%. It doesn't abosorb. Whenever possible, cotton or linen is best.
4. The larger the better. A men's size small or even medium isn't going to make a lot of napkins, but if it's good quality and a great price, get it and mix it with a sister fabric to complete a napkin set. I like at least 5 in a set - one for every weekday at school or the office.
5. Look for stains in key places and sniff for BO. I'm not kidding. Check the inside of the shirt for a yellowish stain. If it's there, walk away- you're putting these napkins into your face.
6. Check for rips and holes. If they are in the button area, it won't matter, if they are on the back where the most fabric lives, you're not going to have many napkins.
I like to look at fashion sites and magazines for inspiration on color. This season seems to be showing a lot of citrus colors - bright orange, yellows, and greens. But these colors aren't often found in menswear, so consider tropical print shirts in fun designs. Consider who'll be using the napkins - conservative man or woman, child, teen, youself, gift, to sell.
You can also use women's skirts or shirts for napkins. There isn't always much yardage, but it depends on the find. Again, check the label for fabric type - cotton and linen are what you want.
Come home and admire your treasures! And note the money you still have in your pocket - these babies are everywhere and they are cheap. We Americans seem to think we need to keep hundreds of these shirts in our closets at one time. Good for you for repurposing them into new life and keeping them out of the landfill.
Wash everything and dry it in the dryer - if this is how you'll be washing the napkins.
And now, we cut.