Manners and social usages,

CHAPTER XLIV.NAPKINS AND TABLE-CLOTHS.


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The elegance of a table depends essentially upon its napery. The plainest of meals is made a banquet if the linen be fresh, fine, and smooth, and the most sumptuous repast can be ruined by a soiled and crumpled table-cloth. The housewife who wishes to conduct her house in elegance must make up her mind to use five or six sets of napkins, and to have several dozens of each ready for possible demands.

A napkin should never be put on the table a second time until it has been rewashed; therefore, napkin-rings should be abandoned–relegated to the nursery tea-table.

Breakfast napkins are of a smaller size than dinner napkins, and are very pretty if they bear the initial letter of the family in the centre. Those of fine, double damask, with a simple design, such as a snow-drop or a mathematical figure, to match the table-cloth, are also pretty. In the end, the economy in the wear pays a young house-keeper to invest well in the best of napery–double damask, good Irish linen. Never buy poor or cheap napkins; they are worn out almost immediately by washing.

Coarse, heavy napkins are perhaps proper for the nursery and children’s table. If children dine with

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their parents, they should have a special set of napkins for their use, and some very careful mammas make these with tapes to tie around the youthful necks. It is better in a large family, where there are children, to have heavy and coarse table-linen for every-day use. It is not an economy to buy colored cloths, for they must be washed as often as if they were white, and no color stands the hard usage of the laundry as well as pure white.

Colored napery is, therefore, the luxury of a well-appointed country house, and has its use in making the breakfast and luncheon table look a little unlike the dinner. Never use a parti-colored damask for the dinner-table.

Those breakfast cloths of pink, or yellow, or light-blue and white, or drab, are very pretty with napkins to match; but after having been washed a few times they become very dull in tint, and are not as agreeable to the eye as white, which grows whiter with every summer’s bleaching. Ladies who live in the city should try to send all their napery to the country at least once a year, and let it lie on the grass for a good bleaching. It seems to keep cleaner afterwards.

For dinner, large and handsome napkins, carefully ironed and folded simply, with a piece of bread inside, should lie at each plate. These should be removed when the fruit course is brought, and with each finger-bowl should be a colored napkin, with which to dry the fingers.

Pretty little fanciful doyleys are now also put under the finger-bowl, merely to be looked at. Embroidered

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with quaint designs, these little three-inch things are very ornamental; but the real and serviceable doyley should not be forgotten, and may be laid either beside or over the top of the finger-bowl.

Many ladies are so extravagant that they have a second napkin of small size put on for that part of the dessert which precedes the fruit, but this involves so much trouble to both the guest and the waiter that it is not ordinarily done.

The napkins made at Berlin, with drawn thread and knotted fringe and lace effects, are very handsome. They are also made at the South Kensington schools, and in Paris, and by the Decorative Art Society in New York, and are beautifully wrought with monogram and crest in red, white, and blue thread. But no napkin is ever more thoroughly elegant than the very thick, fine, and substantial plain damask, which becomes more pure and smooth every time that it is cleansed.

However, as one of our great dinner-givers in New York has ordered twenty-four dozen of the handsome, drawn-thread napkins from one establishment at Berlin, we must conclude that they will become the fashion.

When breakfast is made a formal meal–that is, when company is invited to come at a stated hour–serviettes, or large dinner-napkins, must be placed at each plate, as for a dinner. But they are never used at a “stand-up” breakfast, nor are doyleys or finger-bowls.

If any accident happens, such as the spilling of a glass of wine or the upsetting of a plate, the débris should be carefully cleared away, and the waiter should spread a clean napkin over the desecrated

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table-cloth. Large, white napkins are invariably used at luncheon, and the smaller ones kept for breakfast and tea. Some ladies like the little, fringed napkins for tea, but to look well these must be very carefully washed and ironed.

Never fasten your napkin around your neck; lay it across your knees, convenient to the hand, and lift one corner only to wipe the mouth. Men who wear a mustache are permitted to “saw” the mouth with the napkin, as if it were a bearing-rein, but for ladies this would look too masculine.

Napkins at hotels are now folded, in a half-wet condition, into all sorts of shapes: a goose, a swan, a ship, a high boot, are all favorite and fanciful designs; but this is a dirty fashion, requiring the manipulation of hands which are not always fresh, and as the napkin must be damp at the folding, it is not always dry when shaken out. Nothing is so unhealthy as a damp napkin; it causes agony to a delicate and nervous lady, a man with the rose-cold, a person with neuralgia or rheumatism, and is offensive to every one. Never allow a napkin to be placed on the table until it has been well aired. There is often a conspiracy between the waiter and the laundress in great houses, both wishing to shirk work, the result of which is that the napkins, not prepared at the proper time, are put on the table damp.

A house-keeper should have a large chest to contain napery which is not to be used every day. This reserved linen should be washed and aired once a year at least, to keep it from moulding and becoming yellow.

Our Dutch ancestors were very fond of enriching

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a chest of this kind, and many housewives in New York and Albany are to-day using linen brought from Holland three hundred years ago.

The napery made in Ireland has, however, in our day taken the place of that manufactured in other countries. It is good, cheap, and sometimes very handsome, and if it can be bought unadulterated with cotton it will last many years.

Very little starch should be put in napkins. No one wishes to wipe a delicate lip on a board, and a stiff napkin is very like that commodity.

At dinner-parties in England, in the days of William the Fourth, a napkin was handed with each plate. As the guest took his plate and new napkin, he allowed the one which he had used to fall to the floor, and when he went away from the table he left a snowy pile of napery behind him.

The use of linen for the table is one of the oldest of fashions, The early Italian tables were served with such beautiful lace-worked napkins that we cannot equal them to-day. Queen Elizabeth’s napkins were edged with lace made in Flanders, and were an important item of expense in her day-book.

Fringed, embroidered, and colored napkins made of silk are used by Chinese and Japanese magnates. These articles may be washed, and are restored to their original purity by detergent agents that are unknown to us. The Chinese also use little napkins of paper, which are very convenient for luncheon baskets and picnics.

One of our correspondents asks us if she should fold her napkin before leaving the table.

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At a fashionable meal, no. At a social tea or breakfast, yes, if her hostess does so. There is no absolute law on this subject.

At a fashionable dinner no one folds his napkin. He lets it drop to the floor, or lays it by the side of his plate unfolded. When the fruit napkin is brought he takes it from the glass plate on which it is laid, and either places it at his right hand or across his knee, and the “illuminated rag,” as some wit called the little embroidered doyley, which is not meant for use, is, after having been examined and admired, laid on the table, beside the finger-bowl. These pretty little trifles can serve several times the purpose of ornamenting the finger-bowl.

Napkins, when laid away in a chest or drawer, should have some pleasant, cleanly herb like lavender or sweet-grass, or the old-fashioned clover, or bags of Oriental orris-root, put between them, that they may come to the table smelling of these delicious scents.

Nothing is more certain to destroy the appetite of a nervous dyspeptic than a napkin that smells of greasy soap. There is a laundry soap now in use which leaves a very unpleasant odor in the linen, and napkins often smell so strongly of it as to take away the desire for food.

Perhaps the influence of Delmonico upon the public has been in nothing more strongly shown than in the effect produced by his always immaculate napery. It was not common in American eating-houses, when he began, to offer clean table-cloths and clean napkins. Now no decent diner will submit to any other than a clean napkin.
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Every lady, therefore, who aspires to elegant housekeeping, should remember that she must never allow the same napkin to be put on her table twice. Once used, it must be sent to the laundry before it is put on the table again.

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