Napkins are an important element of table decoration to partner tablecloths, and / or to add colour, dimension and texture to the eating surface, whether smooth, shiny or or matte, glass, wood, marble, stone, sand or grass.

* Setting the table with individual napkins, to provide a cloth that will protect clothing and clean sticky finger is just an element of good hospitality. Napkins are placed on the lap or lifted up and etiquette also allows tucking into a shirt front. The paper versions are serviettes.

* Napkins are the most inexpensive way of transforming the atmosphere of the table – especially from informal to formal, daytime to night-time.

* The texture, colour and finish of napkins should relate to the occasion: so striped, checked or floral for picnics and garden use, plain and simple for suppers and dinners, perhaps with initialled embroidery; for parties and special occasions, adorn with a few beads, silver or gold threads ( remembering that they need to be washable), and for Christmas work some simple, theme-related appliqué.

* For elevenses, a slice of cake or biscuit, the napkins should be little 30-35 cm (11.7-13.7”) squares, larger 40-45 cm (15.7-17.7”) squares for breakfast, lunch and tea, and properly covering 50-60 cm (19.7-23.7”) squares for dinner. And of course there is a current fashion for using tea towels, especially the antique hemp ones – no harm in having more protection rather than less.

* Linen and cotton are the best fabrics to use, as both withstand high laundering temperatures, last well despite constant use, are easy to iron and keep their colour. A well-stocked linen cupboard will contain several piles of napkins in varying colours, sizes and patterns to suit every season and occasion.

* Many people aren’t keen on ironing–full stop–but ironing napkins really doesn’t really take that long and the results are definitely worth the effort. A little spray starch works miracles.


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