Wednesday, 3 December 2014


Long sets of fine linen damask table napkins, circa 1900 in diaper and geometric patterns.
  If you are really interested in the laying of tables and have had a go at a 'tablescape' (very popular in the States where it is considered a refined art involving fruit, flowers and objects), you could amuse yourself by looking at examples of  Napery as this domestic art was called - in Medieval times there were Masters of Napery who skillfully 'sculpted' table dressings with linen and accessories for the centres of the long refectory tables.  If you look at old master paintings of domestic scenes you will see that the tablecloths are skillfully pleated and folded .  Sometimes the corners are knotted in a ball to hang clear of the floor (in the Last Supper) and of course the folding can vary from just a few creases to lots of narrower ones - you can see how linenfold panelling got its name.  Originally the napkin was a shared long communal cloth which stretched over all the knees of the diners - later this was chopped up so that each one had their own. Mrs. Beaton gives exact drawings and directions for many classic designs, water lilies, etc., and as a child I used to practice these shapes in my mother's old-fashioned kitchen and dream of giving grand dinner parties with all the trimmings.
   If you love linen, I think you will always prefer to use fine linen for special occasions rather than the very clever paper reproductions, and think it worth the extra trouble.  I have many large sets of 8 and over for sale, all in perfect condition, often with red embroidered initials and very large sizes from 1900 or so and they work out about £9 each.  If you use candles, the silky damask patterns woven in the linen will give an extra bit of glamour to the table setting, and the hand embroidered initials will impress and intrigue your guests.

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