Dress Up Your Dining Table

Dress Up Your Dining Table

Elegant Napkin Folding Ideas for Entertaining

The history of ordinary things is fascinating. Take napkins, for example. People have needed an easy way to wipe the postprandial greasiness from their hands ever since Eve first bit the apple. In countries across Africa and the Middle East, handwashing rituals were incorporated into dining etiquette to keep hands sanitary. The Spartans of ancient Greece rolled small pieces of soft dough called apomagdalies between their hands to clean sticky fingers. In ancient China, paper napkins were folded into squares and used to serve tea.

There’s even a too-crazy-to-be-true, apocryphal story about Leonardo da Vinci inventing napkins in 15th century while working for the Duke of Milan. For his dinner guests’ convenience, the duke tethered live rabbits to chairs with ribbons. Throughout the meal, guests wiped their hands on the rabbits’ fur. This extremely weird hand cleaning method allegedly inspired Leo to invent the first napkin, thus saving future generations from bunny wipes.

Four men in historical attire seated at a dinner table smiling, drinking wine, eating fruit, woman fanning herself in background, candles lit on table

Once people started using cutlery to eat, hands didn’t get as messy and, for a time, napkins seemed poised to go the way of oldfangled dinnerware like butter picks and jelly spoons. Paper napkins were met with skepticism from posh diners, but in 1948, none other than Emily Post, doyenne of all things etiquette related, proclaimed paper napkins sanitarily superior to their cloth counterparts.

But in a world where, according to the Washington Post, 86 percent of Americans buy paper towels (vs. 56 percent who purchase napkins), does the napkin still have a place at the dining room table? Yes! When it comes to making an elegant statement while entertaining, an artfully folded napkin is second to none. Let’s take a look at some classic folds.

The Bishop’s Hat

The Bishop’s Hat is a host’s best friend. Placed in the center of the plate, this stately fold lets guests know they’re in for an exquisite dining experience. A 20” x 20” square cloth napkin sprayed with a little bit of starch works best.

  • Fold the napkin in half so the open end faces you
  • Fold the upper right corner towards you
  • Fold the lower left corner away from you
  • You should have a left-leaning parallelogram at this point; Flip the napkin over so that the top edge is now the bottom edge
  • Fold the bottom half of the napkin up— make sure the top edges line up
  • From underneath, pull out the right flap—it should look like two downward facing triangles
  • Lift the right triangle
  • Fold the left triangle so it lines up with the crease
  • Fold the right triangle back down
  • Flip the napkin back over, so the fold is at the bottom
  • Fold the right triangle to the left and tuck the end in
  • Open the hat and press down the excess cloth in the center

Tuck place cards in front or in the bowl of the hat to complete your place setting. Here’s a video for visual learners:


The Angled Silverware Pouch

This napkin fold is as functional as it is fashionable. It holds a knife, fork, and spoon, and dresses up an informal meal.

  • Fold a square cloth napkin in half, then in quarters; keep folded edge on the right
  • Fold open corner’s top layer so it meets the opposite corner
  • Flip napkin over so folded edge is on left, then fold the right side a third of the way over
  • Fold left section over the right and tuck the bottom right corner in
  • Flip the napkin over and insert silverware in the pocket

Ta da!
Add a sprig of lavender for a finishing touch.
Here’s a video:


The Fan Fold

This fold is elegant, easy to do, and it lets you add a little bling with a napkin ring. We like mDesign’s Rustic Metal Napkin Rings; their smooth interior allows you to slide them over napkins without snagging delicately woven table linens. Or try these Decorative Plastic Napkin Rings, made of durable, shatter-resistant plastic; they come in a selection of décor-friendly colors that’ll make your tablescape pop.

  • Fold a square napkin in half so you make a crease in the exact center of the cloth
  • Accordion-fold the napkin up to the center crease—this keeps the edges of your fan even
  • Continue accordion-folding the napkin to the end
  • Fold the fan in half and slide your napkin ring over the folded end of the napkin
  • Open the pleated napkin into a fan

Slip autumnal flowers into the napkin ring to add a seasonal accent.
Here’s a super easy to follow video:


These folds are fun to practice with plain old paper towels. There are tons of more intricate folds to try once you get the hang of it, like the Lotus, the Fleur de Lis, and the perfect Thanksgiving fold, the Turkey.

If your napkin-folding skills aren’t quite there yet, or you simply don’t have time to do fancy folds for forty people, you can still add elegance to you table. Try mDesign’s Modern Napkin Holder; it’s generously sized and the die-cut botanical design will get your guests in a festive mood. Or consider the Metal Woven Napkin Holder; its rustic texture and autumnal color are designed to add Thanksgiving vibes to any table.

Elaborately folded napkins are sure to impress your dinner guests; but as fun as it is to add something new to your entertaining repertoire, don’t forget: what’s on your table isn’t as important as who’s around it.

Lisa Langford is the Senior Copywriter at mDesign

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Posted: Nov 22, 2021