How did the napkin originate and how does one of our most needed dining tools play its most role in etiquette today? How did it become so creatively folded, and beautifully embroidered?
The napkin has a variety of contributions from different cultures. The word originates from Middle English, and nappe from French meaning a cloth to cover a table and the completion of the word with kin meaning family and relatives.
- The first origination began with the Spartans in Greece. They used dough to clean their fingers.
- The Romans were the first to use small cloth napkins to wipe one’s face. When guests were invited for dinner they would bring colorfully embroidered linens and silks to the host to place leftovers.
- In the Middle Ages, the cloth napkin vanished and people began wiping their faces and fingers on their cuffs and jackets.
- During the Renaissance, everyone used the table cloth to wipe their hands. In time, the cloth napkin made the way from the table cloth to a single small cloth, one for everyone.
- England, in The 16th century, used fine linen fabric or diaper (an English term) folded in the shape of a diamond and the size would depend on the special event.
- In 1729 the gentlemen in the French Court would tie their cloth napkins around their necks to protect their collars. The highest ranked person’s napkin had their initials embroidered on the cloth and placed to the left of their plate. This person would open their napkin first, allowing the others to do the same.
- The 18th century the fork was accepted and reduced the napkin in size to 30’ x 36’. Today we use the cloth napkin folded in large sizes for multicourse dining, medium for smaller menus and smallest for afternoon tea and drinks.
- Upon sitting at the table unfold your napkin and place folded in half on your lap
- Use the napkin to blot carefully your lips and before you take a drink
- During a meal if you leave place the napkin on your chair
- Do not tuck in your collar
- Do not wipe your face, teeth or nose with your napkin
When the meal is concluded place your napkin loosely to the left of your plate or if your plate has been cleared, place in the middle of your own place setting