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Any meal may be transformed into a celebration when dressed up with fancifully folded napkins. This delightful touch is one of the easiest and least expensive ways of creating an attractive table because almost any napkin-even paper-will do for most of the folds. What makes napkin folding so intriguing is the great variety of shapes that can be created for all sorts of different effects. Fans, crowns, and swans, for example, are elegant, pyramids are casual, artichokes are lovely as well as practical, and animal faces and airplanes are just plain fun.
More than three centuries ago, napkin folding was developed into an art, but the practice has drifted in and out of favor following the vicissitudes of table-setting style. The illustration below, taken from a 1639 Italian book on meat carving and other entertaining arts, demonstrates the incredible intricacy with which stiffly starched napkins were once turned into such elaborate shapes as rigged sailing ships and turreted fortresses. Intricate folds like those are rarely, if ever, seen today, but even less ornate forms can cause a sensation at a dinner party. Try some or all of the folds illustrated on the following pages and see what a welcome reception they will get from your family and friends. You will soon discover how one fold leads to another, even to one of your own creation.