A Brief History of Napkin Folding

The use of the napkin in Europe began in 1400 on the tables of royalty, where they started to use napkins made from warm or even perfumed cloth.

At the beginning of the 1800s, napkins became part of the bourgeois lifestyle, mostly to protect the sumptuous dresses of the period during meals. This is the era when the folding of napkins as decoration for dining tables began. The art really took off around 1880 with the incoming prosperity of the Industrial Revolution.

Mrs Beeton’s book of Household Management, published in 1861, had an extensive reference section on napkin folding. These designs have now become classics and are still used today. Some of them, with modified instruction are featured in Luigi's book.

The First and Second World Wars were periods of interlude in terms of the development of these decorations.

At the beginning of the 1950s, with the war over, decorations and creativity flowed again reviving the art of folded napkins as a means of expression. This is when the development of very elaborate and complex napkin folds took place.

The James Ginder book on Napkin Folding, first published in 1978 by Virtue in over 54 languages, has been my inspiration and my guide through my career — not always very easy to follow but the only one available at the time.

Since the early 1980s we have become more reluctant to use napkin folding as part of the table preparation on the grounds of hygiene. With no practice there is no training and napkin folding has seen a decline in application in favour of a new style of table setting.

A new trend of minimalism has been embraced. Elaborate napkin folding went out of favour and a new term “simplicity in style” has been has adopted. This new minimalist trend is very popular today with many fine dining operations.

Even so, we still use fancy napkin folds — particularly for weddings and special occasions where the “Fare la bella figura”1 is of great importance and considered a valuable asset.

There is no doubt that the development of napkin folding has been greatly influenced by Origami, the ancient Japanese art of paper folding. I would go as far as saying that it is an extension of this noble art, after all it does give the same pleasure and satisfaction to the creator.

Napkin Rings

We must not overlook the Napkin Ring although it has no bearing to the Art of Napkin Folding but it has played a considerable part in table enhancement.

The usage of a napkin ring or a serviette holder started in Europe during the Napoleonic period. Mostly used by bourgeoisie’s family as a mean to identify who each napkin belonged to. The practical use of the napkin ring soon spread throughout the western world and it is still widely used today and well integrated as part of the table setting — a good alternative to napkin folding.

There is nothing retro about Napkin Folding, like Origami it is a creative art form.

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