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Wedding Registry: Table Linens 101

Table linens can turn your home into a gourmet French restaurant. Read our article for linen basics.

Photo: Monica Buck

Okay, your tablecloths, napkins, and place mats are probably things you don't think about very often. But if you're giving a dinner party or just having a special meal for two, nice table linens make your table go from blah to brilliant in seconds.

What Pieces?

Tablecloths: You'll probably want two to four types of tablecloths on hand. Choose one that's formal, made of damask, linen, or lace, in a neutral color like white or ivory; this set might be monogrammed or embroidered. The rest of your linens can be a combination of whatever styles and fabrics you like, in bright or pastel colors and/or patterns. It's also a good idea to splurge on a pad to use underneath tablecloths, to protect the table from stains and heat, and also to keep the tablecloth in place.

Generally, the tablecloth should extend at least eight inches down from the table's edge.

It's important to buy the right size tablecloths for your table -- generally, the tablecloth should extend at least eight inches down from the table's edge. Any longer, and it will gather in people's laps; shorter, and it may not cover the table completely.

Napkins: Standard napkins are 20" square, and are often available in sets of four. Monograms are an option for your formal napkins. Along with napkins that match your tablecloth, you might also want to pick up some solid napkins to complement a patterned or solid tablecloth, or patterned napkins that go well with a solid-colored cloth.

Napkins are a great way to quickly update your linens anytime -- they're an easy, inexpensive table freshener. Besides standard napkin materials like linen and cotton, check out new fabrics like organza and organdy, as well as cool trims -- in fabrics, rings of thread, metals, even miniature shells!

Place Mats: Place mats are another table transformer. Whether made of fabric (linen, cotton), plastic, or cork, they're a perfect (and often really cheap) way to perk things up and they also protect any tablecloth under the place setting from spills.

Napkin Art

There are two basic ways to fold a napkin.

Formal Fold:

1. Fold the napkin bottom to top, then side to side, into a small square.

2. Fold the open-ended corner back diagonally to about an inch from the opposite corner.

3. Repeat with the next three layers, folding each about an inch from the previous layer.

4. Fold the corners at the sides back behind the napkin, and place it in the center of the dinner plate.

Informal "Pocket" Fold

1. Fold the napkin bottom to top, then side to side, making a smaller square.

2. Fold the top open corner back, about three quarters of the way down.

3. Fold the side corners back behind the napkin.

4. Fold the bottom corner back, to make a straight bottom. Place it next to the plate, with flatware inside the pouch.

Washing and Storing

Of course, you should always follow the manufacturers' washing directions, but most table linens are machine washable. Always wash them immediately after you use them; if you don't, stains may set into the linens. Store them in sets -- the tablecloths, napkins, and place mats used together should be kept together.

-- Tracy Guth

See More: Registering for Wedding Gifts