Bishop's Hat, Fan, Bird of Paradise, Crown
October 14, 2017 9:02 PM   Subscribe

Napkin folding is an old art, which reached its height between 1600 and 1850. But you probably just want to know how to fold fancy napkins, in which case check Buzzfeed, Bumblebee Linens, or the Napkin Folding Guide. (Previously)
posted by Eyebrows McGee (14 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
This reminds me of going out to eat at a fancy restaurant back in the 70s and being intrigued by the napkin folding. The childhood entertainment was carefully unfolding the lightly starched linen napkin and then refolding it back to its previous glory.

The only place I see this type folding nowadays is in everyone's cruise pictures showing the cute towels folded into critters with the vacationer's sunglasses perched atop.
posted by mightshould at 4:04 AM on October 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes! I was also a child napkin folding fan, so to speak, to my father's complete bafflement.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:47 AM on October 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

My mom was a banquet waitress when I was a kid, so we still do the standing-up fan folds for Thanksgiving dinner. We all just agreed that one was the best one, so don’t really bother with any others.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 7:31 AM on October 15, 2017

I was looking for a way to fold utensils in a napkin that wouldn't fall out last night, and fell down a rabbit hole of fancy napkin folding. Which I totally want to do but it looks like you need to be the kind of person who irons things!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:00 AM on October 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Austria being Austria, there's an imperial napkin fold that used to only be allowed to be used at dinners where the emperor/empress was present.
posted by frimble at 9:01 AM on October 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid my favorite napkin fold was the dead chicken, illustrated here.
posted by TheCoug at 9:04 AM on October 15, 2017

I love this post! I’d totally forgotten that I used to do fancy napkin folds for my parents’ supper club. I’m having a little dinner party next month; think it’s time to brush up on my napkin origami skills.
posted by katie at 9:30 AM on October 15, 2017

I learned a few working as a caterer, but my brain doesn't work very well with remembering the steps, so the only I can reproduce with any regularity is the "V" fold.
posted by codacorolla at 10:17 AM on October 15, 2017

Which is apparently called the pyramid.
posted by codacorolla at 10:19 AM on October 15, 2017

Joan Sallas ( the napkin folding guy ) is a friend of mine, and his knowledge of this back history is just terrifyingly impressive.

also: as an origami artist, we like to think all our fancy new techniques are new (it's generally understood that modern origami has developed dramatically in the last 40 years) but in fact many of the advanced complex concepts were well understood and used in extravagant folded linen creations in the 1600s. Mind-blowing.

Joan was telling me that they made huge centerpieces for royal tables with live rabbits that would exit from drawbridges that would lower, and doors would open and birds would fly out. truly insane stuff.
posted by EricGjerde at 7:41 PM on October 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Which I totally want to do but it looks like you need to be the kind of person who irons things!

That or you use heavily starched and mainly polyester, rayon or other not cotton napkins provided to you in perfectly flat bundles by a linen service. Those restaurant and catering grade napkins fold and hold shapes better and tend to be a bit larger and thicker than the cloth napkins people tend to have at home.

I've helped set up banquets and stuff for catering, and trying to get, say, 500+ places set with fancy folded napkins is kind of insane. It's one thing to roll up like 50-100 silverware and napkin rolls for a restaurant, but doing 500 stand ups on plates or in goblets with just a couple of people gets a bit tedious after a while.

And doing that many standups takes a ton of space, so you either have to go around with a cart from table to table and fold them as you go, or you set up a station for folding and have runners deliver and deploy them from trays.

One of the other behind the scenes secrets when you see a whole lot of perfectly crisp folded napkins at a banquet or reception, the people folding them reject any napkins in the stacks that are wrinkled, frayed or sub par for folding. Depending on the bundle of napkins from the linen service this can be as many as half of them if it's a bad bundle or it wasn't transported well. (They tend to be delivered either flat or as a whole stack folded in half and then rolled/wrapped in plastic wrap.)

Banquet/catering workers definitely don't have time to be iron napkins. They do use irons for things like table cloths and runners and other larger fabric decorations, and sometimes they'll iron them right on the tables or furniture. If you ever see really old banquet tables being set up before they're covered, look for scorch marks. It's not always from a chafing dish or something, often they're from irons being used right over plastic or laminate covered tables.

Also, banquet glass and silver polishing tip: Fill a large, deep pan or bowl with boiling hot water. Hold glass or silver in the steam to give it a light, dry coat of steam and polish with a good low lint napkin.
posted by loquacious at 6:14 AM on October 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Actually, no, I take that back. I've seen napkins being ironed but it's usually a last minute emergency that means someone didn't order enough linens for the event or the linen service really messed up the order and most of them were wrinkled or something.
posted by loquacious at 6:22 AM on October 16, 2017

I just want to say that Matthia Geiger, professional meat carver by day, professor of napkin folding at the University of Padua by night, is my new favorite renaissance figure. I hope someone has the already pitched the movie.
posted by mark k at 7:18 AM on October 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

The post title brought to mind shaolin monks dveloping the world’s most compicated version of rock paper scissors. There would be no winning nor desire to win. Just the forms: Bishops’s Hat, Fan, Bird of Paradise, and Crown. Eventually this would become the title of the worst WuTang Clan album.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 8:27 AM on October 16, 2017

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