A combination of cloths in different sizes, placed one over the other, is both attractive and practical. Choose fabrics in contrasting textures (white linen over grey wool suiting or tweed) or contrasting colours (shiny silks in deep orange and purple). On a round table a square cloth draped over a circular one provides more visual interest than a single, large area of fabric. Always let the fabric trail on the ground a little. Heavier fabrics, such as chenille (a traditional covering for protecting polished dining tables when they are not in use) in a dark, rich crimson or moss green, can be trimmed with a rope fringe or edged with shimmering taffeta for elegant, candlelit settings. For long, oblong tables, a fitted cloth with pleated corners that falls to the floor ( 336 337) is particularly effective.
A temporary cover, such as a sheet of thick plywood, can help enlarge and make a table more sturdy. A plywood sheet can also be placed over a run of small trestles to make a large enough table for a dinner party.
Every sit-down meal requires a table setting. Even the most informal, impromptu snack calls for plates, cutlery and glasses, arranged in some kind of order. For sophisticated dinner parties, Sunday brunches or children’s tea parties, the table can be set and decorated to create a particular atmosphere or theme. Start with a colour scheme before adding decorative details in the form of flowers, berries, fruit, shells or ribbons. Take care, however, not to overload the table with too many objects. It may be better to provide a focus in the form of a single, striking flower arrangement or a co-ordinated set of coloured glassware.
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Starched white linen napkins, the bigger the better, are hard to beat. Look for them on antique stalls or flea markets they don’t have to match. Roll them into napkin rings (antique silver ones if you’re fortunate enough to own them) or secure them with wide satin ribbons tied into rough knots. Ribbons edged with wire can be twisted into marvellous ornamental bows. To reflect a particular celebration or anniversary, ribbons with printed motifs can be found. Similarly, try to find napkin rings to suit the occasion. For instance, for a glamorous dinner party*, pierce small squares of brightly coloured silk with pieces of wire and twist the wire around plain white napkins. Plain wooden napkin rings can be brightly painted, while inexpensive Perspex ones are available for those who favour the minimalist look.
Candles provide the best light for evening suppers or dinner parties. Use chunky church candles of different heights or tiny night lights, one for each table setting. Homemade candles in small glass jars are attractive, or, for an alfresco table setting on a metal or wooden garden table, substitute terracotta holders or containers look out for old miniature flower pots and group them together for maximum effect. Spiky metal candlesticks of varying shapes look good grouped together, and cast atmospheric shadows on the walls.
A plain wooden table tucked away in a corner of a room can all too easily fade into the background. Lit by incoming sunlight, this snugly fitted blue and white gingham cloth has a fresh, country-style appeal that makes the table a real focus of the room, as well as complementing the chequered china and soft furnishings.
Circular tablecloths are usually decorative, often found covering an occasional table in the corner or at either side of a bed. Because of this they do not have to fulfil a very practical function so you can have fun with choosing different fabrics for the cloths.