You hardly see cloth napkins on the family dinner table these days. I still use them on occasion and love how they dress up a table. However, the art of folding the napkins, I haven't learned. Below are directions and illustrations on how to fold various napkin styles. If you're writing about characters who use such napkins or characters that have to fold the napkins, this tidbit is a great choice for you. I realize this is a fairly long tidbit, but worth it, for your historical character's sakes. At the bottom is another tidbit which makes for some interesting reading.imho Enjoy!
ALMOST any amount of fancy or ingenuity can be displayed in folding serviettes or table-napkins. To make them look well, or even to succeed in the more elaborate styles of folding, napkins are required very fine, exactly square, not too large, to be starched, and folded quite damp, every fold creased in place with a clean hot iron. The pantry or housekeeper's room is the place for folding the napkins, which may then be brought to table on a tray; but a lady may place a board covered with flannel on a small, light table, put the iron stand upon it, and shift it down the outside of the dinner-table as she folds, so as to place each napkin as it is done on a plate. A second iron must be heating to exchange with the one in use, for, unless very hot, the napkins will not be stiff enough. The shell and the Victoria Regia and the basket require them very stiff. If at any time the folding of a napkin is unsatisfactory, on no account attempt to refold the same; it is impossible to succeed with one already creased. Throw it aside to be re-damped or re-starched, which will take but a few moments, and meanwhile proceed with fresh ones.
Napkins folded in alternate patterns down a table look well, such as mitres and shells, and there may be flowers placed in the shells. Figs. 31, 13, 4 and 32—the mitre, the cornucopia, the pocket and the shell—are perhaps the best of these designs. The commoner kinds of folding can be achieved without the aid of starch, or even without an iron, although they look much better so assisted. The very simplest folds look extremely pretty if carefully done. They are not folded after they have been once used; when for the family the same are likely to come to table again, a ring is placed beside each person, and the article rolled and slipped into it after use the first time, and brought to table again in the ring, the mark on the ring distinguishing the napkin of each person.
as in Fig. 2, but roll them the reverse way to Fig. 2 —that is, under, not over. When both ends are rolled up as close as E, with a twist of the hard bring the ends of the rolls, D, to the point c, like Fig. 3. Then lay tile part shown in Fig. 3 flat on the table, and set up the diamond -slipped fold at the top with the hands; slip the dinner roll or slice of bread into the hollow. Before the bread is put in, Fig. 4 represents the form of the folded napkin.
Crown Pattern.—This requires the damask to be very stiff. Halve and quarter it each way, like Fig. 6; bring all the corners very exactly to the centre, like Fig. 7; bring the four corners of Fig. 7 also to the centre, and smooth them at the crease; then form it into the crown by folding the corners at A A in Fig. 7, and slipping them into similar folds at B B, bringing the napkin round and upright in the form of a crown (Fig. 8).
The Flower.—To make this way of folding resemble a flower, copy Fig. 6 and then Fig. 7; bring all the corners of Fig. 7 nearly,
The Cornucopia looks very pretty down a long dinner-table. Fold the napkin in a half, lengthways; then fold it like Fig. 10, the hems at the broad end. Take the corners A and B, bring them back again to the corner c, like Fig. 1,1. Double Fig. 11 together down the centre. This represents Fig. 12. At D, in Fig. 12, three folds exist, two outer and one inner. Set Fig. 12 upright, over the dinner roll with three of these folds to one side. Shape it- nicely, keeping the space from E to F close. To carry out the idea of the cornucopia, a few flowers and leaves may be placed in the mannei shown in Fig. 13, the stalks slipped under the edge, but must not be done too profusely. When the napkins are removed by the guests, the flowers will be taken away by the waiter on the plates, and can be transferred to the finger-bowls.
The Cocked Hat is made by folding the napkin first in halt one way, and then in half the other way, and once more in half, lengthways, in the way illustrated by Figs. 14 and 15. Then make
17, first one side and then the other, and iron down the crease; then partly unfold one side, as shown in the diagram, Fig. 18. The dotted lines mark the creases in the unfolded part, and c and c show how the piece marked c, in Fig. IV, is turned down. The piece raised is now folded down again, the dotted line, creased, passed over the other side, and the ends tucked in and creased down flat. The napkin now resembles Fig, 19. Arch it nicely over the dinner roll, and put a spray of flowers at the top to resemble the feather in a cocked hat, in the manner shown in Fig. 20.
The Basket.—Fold a napkin twice, like Figs. 14 and 15, once longways, and the second time across. This is to reduce its size.
Fold the four points to the centre, like Fig. 7; turn it over on the other side, and again fold the four points to the centre; again turn it face downwards, and, with the other side up, turn back the four corners, Fig. 21; fold it from A to B. Fig. 21, and c to D, both folds to be made keeping the part uppermost outwards. Open the last fold from c to D, and bring the shoulder B to the shoulder D by a fold at the dotted line between E. Repeat the same fold as that at E all round. The napkin will now stand on end as a basket, by standing it on its legs at E and the other three corners, and opening it back at F, in the way shown by Fig. 24. Fill the spaces with a few flowers, or cut the roll in four, put a portion in each, and just a flower or two. This pattern placed the reverse way on the plate also looks well, the dinner roll in the centre outside, Fig. 23; it requires the napkin to be very stiff, and exact in the folding. In Fig. 22 the bread is to be placed underneath.
The Mitre.—First fold the napkin in half; then fold down the corners as shown in Fig. 25; turn these corners down again, to meet in the middle, which is indicated by a dotted line. The napkin now looks like Fig. 20. Fold this in half at the dotted line in the centre, bringing the two points back to back, for the fold is
The Shell.—This is another very pretty and marked device. Lay the napkin flat on a table, and fold two sides to meet in the centre lengthways, like Fig. 36; fold it across the centre, and bring the side A A to meet the side B B. . The hems are kept inside in this fold. The long narrow piece thus formed must be folded in six equal pieces, and pressed close. It now resembles Fig. 44. Partly open it, and turn down the tops of the folds all along where the fold is double, in the manner shown by Fig. 35. Some can turn these down better if the lower end is kept close like a fan. When these corners are turned down, draw the end together, and pinch it firmly as a fan, and then set it upright on the plate, the two end folds level with the plate, like Fig. 32. If properly done,
it stands well. It is a very pretty addition to put alternately in each scallop of the shell a small flower and a leaf. Scarlet geraniums look exceedingly well.
The Victoria Regia.—Fold a napkin in half, and again in half, lengthways, keeping the hems to the edge; fold it a third time, also lengthways; then set it in twelve folds, like Fig. 44, as the shell was made, only the napkin is now only half the width, and there are twice as many folds. The corners are turned down (Fig. 35) as they were for the shell, beginning with the first hem; undo the plaits as little as possible; turn the first hem completely back, to make the first row of petals; turn back the second hem the same way, not quite so far; then turn down the first fold, which comes next, to form petals to meet those already made. The last fold is not turned down (see Fig. 40). Bring the two ends of the napkin together to form a round; the inner edges are thus forced up as a heart. A rosette is the figure formed, and the rosette represents the Victoria Regia (Fig. 33). A few small flowers, or even a small rose, look well arranged in the centre. This shape is difficult
to make, and requires very stiff damask. The petals need to be nicely set with the fingers, to resemble it.
To fold Fig. 58. Fold the napkin four times lengthways. Fold down one end as observed at A in Fig. 34—not to the centre by a couple of inches. Fold again at the dotted line B. Roll the end A as shown at c. Fig. 48 illustrates the process. Fig. 58 shows the complete design.
The Tiara.—Double the napkin four times lengthways. Fold down each corner, as shown in Fig. 39. Then fold by the lines across c D, and represent Fig. 53. Push the folds close together.
Source: The Successful Housekeeper ©1882
One of the accomplishments of an "expert waitress ” has long been the ability to fold a napkin in all manner of curious forms. This fancy doubtless comes from the fashion, at one time prevalent, of folding the napkin for each member of the household or each guest in a different manner. This was a French custom, and at one time napkin etiquette ran so high that they were perfumed with rose water and were changed with each course, at ceremonial dinners. A French work published in 1650, which undertook to teach how properly to wait on tables and to fold napkins, gives the following forms in which the cloths might be folded : “ Square, twisted, folded in bands, and in the forms of a double-and twisted shell, single shell. double melon, cock, hen, hen and chickens, two chickens, pigeon in a basket, partridge, pheasant, two capons in a pie, hare, two rabbits, sucking pig, dog with a collar, pike, carp, turbot, mitre, turkey, tortoise, the holy cross and the Lorraine cross.”
Breakfast napkins are considered of the right size if half a yard square ; but for dinner they should be three-quarters of a yard. They are sometimes made an eighth larger, but those are too large for convenience, and there is no necessity for the extra size.
Source: Good Housekeeping ©1894