Table Linens {Napkins}

Last night I hosted a seated dinner for twelve, and I had a “practically elegant” moment concerning napkins that I wanted to share with you.

Since this was a seated dinner party, I used real dinner plates, real dinner forks, real beverage glasses, and real napkins.   As I was setting up for the event early in the day, I also pulled out real dessert plates, real dessert forks, real coffee cups, and real dessert napkins.  And then I looked around at the piles of dishes and linens, decided no one was going to enjoy dessert any less if I served it on paper plates…

…so I put half of my dishes back in the cabinet, and pulled out paper partyware instead.

The practical part of this scenario is obvious.  Paper is easier to clean up.

I made a decision based solely on practicality and served coffee and dessert in the living room using paper plates, paper napkins, plastic forks, and styrofoam coffee cups.  And when we were finished, everyone tossed their dishes into the trash.

Clean up was a cinch.


On the flip side, I feel strongly about elegance.  Real dishes and table linens are more elegant than paper ones, especially in a seated-dinner scenario.

So I made a decision based on elegance and served dinner on real plates with real forks and real napkins.  I wanted to honor the people who were spending an evening in our home, and one way I chose to do this was to use real dishes and linens at dinner.  It was a way for me to say to each person seated at our table, “You are special, and I prepared this place especially for you.”

Enough elegance.  Let’s switch back to practical matters.

{Groan} “Who has time to wash and iron real napkins?”

{Eye roll} “But if I use my real napkins won’t they get dirty?”

{Shrug}  “I don’t even own real napkins.”

I hear you.

Napkins are used to wipe food off of people’s hands and faces.  They are going to get dirty.  They are meant to get dirty.  They will not last forever.  I own two sets of solid white cotton napkins.  One was a gift from my dear aunt, and one I bought at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $20.  They start out looking beautiful.  As you use them they start to look like this…

Then after a lot of red wine and delicious tomato-based sauces, they start to look like this…

Eventually with enough use, it will be time for them to go to that place where all good napkins go after they have served their purpose…Napkin Heaven {aka the trash}.  I just recently tossed two of mine that were really bad, so I don’t have a picture of the worst ones.  But keep in mind, I have had some of these napkins for ten years!  It’s time for me to revamp my white napkins with a fresh set and rotate out some of the older ones.  Though I own a set of blue gingham and a set of creamy yellow napkins, I prefer white.  White napkins look good all the time.  They work in any setting.  And you can bleach them.

As for ironing, here’s my advice.  There have been a lot of seasons where I have not ironed my napkins {i.e., life with a newborn, or life with multiple toddlers, etc.}.  Especially if I am not finding the time to even iron my own clothes , I certainly am not going to make the time to iron a napkin so that someone else can wipe their mouth with a wrinkle-free  piece of fabric.  {Oops.  That was tacky, wasn’t it?  I’m sorry.}  But it doesn’t keep me from using my real napkins, if occasion requires it.  Un-ironed napkins work beautifully with a napkin ring.

See?  You don’t even notice the wrinkles.

Or, if you grab your napkins out of the dryer while they are still hot, and if you fold them immediately, they will be wrinkle-free-ish…

Keep in mind, unless you entertain on a very formal level, people are not going to judge you based on whether or not your napkins are perfectly starched.  They will love the fact that you put forth the effort to offer them a cloth napkin at all.  Plus, in the context of a fully set table, the fact that your napkins are wrinkled really fades into the background.  {Remember the napkins in this post?  They were not ironed, but the table was still lovely.}

But what if you do find the time to iron your napkins?  Then I have a practical short cut for you.

Instead of ironing the entire napkin while it is open and flat,

then ironing the first crease,

and then ironing the second crease {that’s a lot of steps, no?}…

…just fold the napkin,

and iron the top.

Can you tell the difference?  My point exactly.  Elegant?  Absolutely.  Practical?  Duh.

Happy Mother’s Day weekend.  See you next week!


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5 Responses to Table Linens {Napkins}

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  4. Wendy says:

    I’m still stuck on a seated dinner for 12…on a Thursday!
    Good thinking with the paper plates, etc. Especially when they’re that cute.

  5. Sarah Wolfe says:

    This is helpful. Thank you!

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