With the appropriate napkin fold you can give a totally new image to your table setting and bring a touch of class and distinction to the experience of dining. Here is some basic advice and a list of do's and don'ts to help you on your way. You may call them recommendations, but I like to call them “tricks of the trade”.
To start you need the right napkin. Add a touch of inspiration, a certain amount of flair, some enthusiasm and, above all, the desire to create something in which to take pride. There are many basic but important requirements to successful napkin folding. Some of them are elementary, others are just common sense but once you start on a design they will become evident.
- Don't expect instant results. It takes time.
- Don't give up easily. If it is not working for you, simply change design.
- Don't raise your expectations beyond your means. Take it slowly.
- Don't hide any napkin motif or logos within the fold. They should be prominent.
- Don't use elaborate or complicated folds for large functions — you will never finish on time.
- Don't use 2 or 3 ply paper napkins on folds designed for linen napkins.
- Do the square test before you start; in some folds it is essential.
- Do practice for a while first; paper napkins are best for this.
- Do allocate time to do a fold — rushing at the last minute is not recommended.
- Do think of a napkin fold as a form of relaxation for your mind and body.
- Do keep a sample or better still a photo of your creations as a record.
The Square Test:
In some napkin folds, the better the square the better and easier the results. Not all paper and airlaid napkins are as square as they ought to be. Linen napkins, unless they are new, can experience the same problem. As a general rule, most napkin designs that require a diagonal fold at the first stage could do with a square test. The Arum Lily for instance (on page 124 of the book) is a prime example. A similar test also applies to any design that, at the first stage of its construction, requires that the four points be brought together to the centre, as in the Water Lily, page 170. Do not totally despair or be too fussy on doing a particular fold, the nearest to a square will do.
Napkins that fail the square test are actually better on a number of other folds. The Princess, page 182 and Oriental Fan on page 190 of the book are some of them.
What Type of Napkin?
This aspect has been outlined in the Disposable Napkins page as well as in the Linen Napkins page. Linen is regarded as the supreme material that will give credit to any sumptuous table — but not in every case or in all situations. The Disposable Napkins page of this website explains this. Linen is totally wrong in certain situations such as a standing buffet. The type of event and your budget will determine the napkin that is best for you.
Practical Napkin Folds:
Years in the hospitality industry have taught me that it is not always practical or advisable to make elaborate napkin folds when time is not on your side. My recommendation is to prepare your table ahead of time. When this is not possible, at least fold your elaborate napkin design well in advance and store it in a suitable container. Some napkin folds are better than others for storage purposes as they can be folded flat then opened when required — a good example is the Bishop’s Mitre, on page 122 of the book. Furthermore, some napkin folds actually benefit from the pressing and storage process — the Oriental Fan on page 190 is the best example. The use of a not too tight elastic band as a retainer will prevent the fold coming apart during the storage process.
How Much Starch?
When do you know you have the right amount of starch? if a linen napkin is heavily starched, you can do the most beautiful folds but it will feel like sandpaper to use. On the other hand, don’t even try to do any fold with flimsy napkins — you will not be happy with the result. The secret is a happy medium to have the correct amount of starch to create an most attractive napkin fold. If the napkins are your own, a small amount of starch at the washing or ironing stage is recommended. However if you are dealing with a commercial laundry, ask to increase the starch level to a degree with which you feel comfortable.
Napkin folds designed for display purposes only should have a much greater degree of starch than is intended for the table napkin in order to obtain a more stable and long lasting display. The Wing of Peace, page 84, is actually my first Linen Sculpture designed for a buffet display which can be used time and time again.
What Colour Napkins?
Colours of napkins and tablecloths play a major part in any celebration. One does not need to be an interior designer to determine the best colour co-ordination for your table setting. As a general rule, light colours give a sense of space. In contrast, darker colours, although they make the space appear restricted, create a more intimate atmosphere.
The decor of the dining room and the type of celebration taking place have a bearing on the choice of colour to obtain the desired ambience. If you own the linen, do invest in a complete change of colour; you will be overwhelmed by the fresh look. If, on the other hand, you hire the linen, you have a wider choice to change the colour more frequently thus giving your establishment that new seasonal look that makes all the difference.
Combination Napkin Folds:
One of the major advantages of paper napkins is the flexibility to combine different colour napkins in order to create a theme for special occasions or events. National identity symbols, such as flags, are examples of combination napkins that require a multitude of colours. Linen napkins are not exempt from this. The Maestro, page 36 of the book, which combines a standing tail jacket with a Dress Shirt (page 72) is one example of an attractive napkin combination. In this case the shirt is made with a smaller paper napkin to achieve the correct proportions.
There is tremendous scope in creating any combination of colours and features that is appropriate for your celebration…
Don't forget, Rome was not built in a day, come to think not in a week either