The year's most anticipated home-cooked meal deserves a table that surpasses expectations. This Thanksgiving, arrange for your napkins to receive as much praise as your turkey.
The History of Artful Napkins
In 1639, a book on entertaining, published in Padua, Italy, revealed some of the taggeringly artful folded napkins then in vogue. They included a fish with open mouth, back fin, and swishy tail; a galleon rigged with four buxom sails; and a fortress topped by five turrets. More than 350 years later, Emily Post declared in Etiquette that "very fancy foldings are not in good taste."
Today, between the extremes of high napkin art and puritan napkin restraint, plenty of pleasing folds have survived to give you the chance to add an unexpected flourish to your holiday table. If you are expecting a sizable crowd for Thanksgiving dinner, you will need to start your folding early.
Folds to Try
Our classic folds work best with square napkins, preferably linen or cotton. Be sure to starch them, and press each fold as you work. The result will be the snappiest-looking napkins you've ever laid at table – and your guests' best oohs and aahs.
Crease the napkin with the iron along both of its bias lines. Fold the first corner from tip to center to make a 45-degree angle. Fold the second corner the same way, bringing it an inch away from the first corner. Press the napkin. Repeat these steps for the third and fourth corner, pressing after each fold. Fold the bottom third of the napkin up to the middle, roll it into a cone shape, and insert it into a glass.
Fold all four corners of the napkin to the center, and press. Flip the napkin over, and fold the corners to the center. Press the napkin. With one finger pressing down on the napkin's center, reach underneath, and pull the flap at each corner partially out to create a lotus flower.
Fold the napkin in half with the folded edge facing away from you. Bring the top flap two thirds of the way toward the folded edge, and press. Bring the bottom flap one third of the way toward the first folded edge; you should have a rectangle that appears to be evenly spaced into thirds. Fold the length of the napkin into thirds. Bring the right and left edges back to the sides, and press.
Fold the napkin in half both ways. Press the napkin to create creases. Open the napkin, and fold each of the corners to the center, creating a smaller square. Repeat one more time. Flip the napkin over, and fold the four corners into the center. Use your finger to press against the center, reach underneath, and tug on the flap at each corner to form a cupped edge. Pull the remaining corners from underneath into cupped petal shapes. Place the napkin on a plate. This is an especially good fold for holding individual dinner rolls.
Fold a square napkin diagonally in half, and press. The folded edge should be facing you. Fold the right and left points to the bottom center, and press. Fold right and left sides to the center, and press. Fold the outward-facing point toward you to finish making the envelope.