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Dressing The Table

By Marsha Fottler –

It’s a fact that we eat with our eyes, so what surrounds food to make it look inviting is important. A good host pays extreme attention to the how the table looks and functions.

In a new book Perfect Table Settings by Denise Vivaldo, the author devotes 193 pages out of 320 (with color photos and detailed instructions) to the many and complicated ways you can fold a napkin. I’m not kidding. Unless you are an origami expert looking for a crazy new challenge, this obsession with napkin architecture seems to me excessive. I admit I skipped most of it.

What’s more pertinent, however, is Vivaldo’s information on choosing the right kind of napkin to dress your table. You want cotton or linen napkins in a light neutral color and the right napkin should be large, about 20 to 24-inches square. You need to iron napkins to make them look right, but don’t starch them. Napkin rings add interest to the table the way jewelry adds animation and style to your wardrobe. Invest in a few sets of napkin rings and consider making your own with ribbons, tassels, and trinkets for special occasions.

Part two of the book zeros in on selecting the right tablecloth, chargers placemats and such. Vivaldo’s advice on using a “silence cloth” is valuable. Here it is: “a thick layer of fabric placed underneath the tablecloth softens the sound of dishes being set down and gives the tablecloth itself a more sumptuous look. If your table came with a custom pad, consider yourself lucky and simply use that. otherwise, you can fashion your own silence cloth by cutting a fabric such as thick felt to fit your table…While a silence cloth is definitely optional, it’s handy for masking an ill-fitting table leaf or
minimizing noise in a space that tends to echo.”

I have a custom pad for my dining room table and yet I still use a silence cloth. It just makes the table more substantial and rich looking and it’s the right foundation for layering your table from the cloth up when you want to design an impressive setting. (It’s all about layering). A silence cloth also helps absorbs heat from a hot casserole dish and spills that are bound to occur when lots of people sit down together to have a good time.

Vivaldo also has useful tips for washing, ironing and storing table linens and she advices that you store large tablecloths by wrapping them around a large tube (like the ones in fabric stores) to avoid wrinkles. Of course, then you need someplace to store a large tube. Since I don’t have that storage space luxury, I iron and fold my cloth. Then when I spread it on the table, I iron it right on the table (pad underneath, of course) to freshen it up.

For additional information and tips on centerpieces, flowers, silverware, place cards, party favors and the importance of the RSVP when you’re invited to an event, invest in this book. It’s a useful manual on entertaining to keep with your cookbooks. You’ll refer to it often and who knows, you might get hooked on napkin folding too.

(Perfect Table Settings by Denise Vivaldo. Robert Rose Inc., publisher. Softcover. $29.95).

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