04 March 2010

A Cocktail (Napkin) Conundrum

It seems like one of the major changes in my new life as a Madame (not that kind) is to go "old school" with linen .

After impoverishing myself at the Porthault winter sale immediately after our honeymoon, my next adventure in cloth was a set of cocktail napkins, pictured above. Spurred by an upcoming dinner party (as so many of my purchases are), I went on the prowl.

I was mad for these Madeira poodle ones on Gypsie Rosalie, but alas they had been sold. Besides, I needed them in hand within the next 48 hours. So I paid a visit to Janet at William Wayne where I found the pristine, never-been-used set designed by Georges Briard, perhaps better known for his glass and dishware.

This little Briard beauty is on ebay for only $9.99

Dear Reader, I have to confess I was thoroughly flummoxed by their unwieldy rectangular shape. How does one gracefully hand over such a large napkin? Janet suggested maybe wrapping it around the drink, but what if it's a wine glass?

With my guests' arrival looming, it was necessary to consult an expert and I knew just to whom to turn: Jared Miles, a butler and estate professional who has worked for families even the Joneses can't keep up with.

Jared advised, "I think that I would fold them. We never press a fold into napkins, the fold is always just simply done by hand. If the pattern is interrupted by the fold, if a guest wants to see the full design, they'll unfold them to have a look. I think it would look funny to use them unfolded." Aaah - yes, one can fold without a press!

For more of Jared's pearls, visit: http://thebutlerdoesit.blogspot.com/

Next stop on the EEE adventures in linen: guest towels! Any recommendations? The Peak of Chic's still haunt me with their Cecil Beaton lettering seen here....


Mrs. Blandings said...

I do always learn so much here. I'd be remiss not to plug Sharyn Blond; I adore her and her linens. They are even more beautiful in person, I promise.

Penelope Bianchi said...

Having age on my side; I have knowledge of a real treasure. When I was being married; there was a company called Marghab. An American woman married a man from Madeira and commandeered his embroidery company.

She was a powerhouse; and in the years ahead she was responsible for producing the absolute best and most beautiful embroidery on the finest linens in the world. (Her husband's brother did many of the designs) She left a collection to the University of South Dakota? Google her! She was also brilliant at marketing; and she insisted that their linens be in their own "section" of the best department stores. I think she was the first to ever do this!

Now,; is a real opportunity to buy these. Many people who had them "saved" them; and now they are in estate sales!

Only the Best: Perfection Never Less: The Very Way Marghab Story is out of print but available....a helpful guide! If it is expensive; lots of info online at the USD Art Museum website!

I only buy the cocktail napkins.....I am ashamed to own over a hundred. I had a few from my wedding presents; but they come up on ebay. Sometimes there are false claims; but with a little research; you can find them Delightful styles; stories about the styles' and the most gorgeous embroidery you will ever see!

And wonderful stories. Try ebay, of course. If they were new (no one does this quality today) they would be prohibitively expensive. Many of them have never been used at all!

The one pattern I buy for placemats and napkins is "Deer" It is breathtaking. Designed by Vera Marghab's brother-in-law.

All of you would love these. You can hardly tell the back from the front. And some of the finest linen ever made...and no longer made.

Correct, of course, by the butler! Iron upside down on a towel, wash by hand of course, and just fold when handing out.

(I have received quite a few back in a note...husbands put in a pocket. Check all wastebaskets carefully!!!!!!)

Wonderful to carry on civilized social graces!

lindaraxa said...

You do fold them, and as Jared said, you do not press the fold. I have a couple of sets like these from my mother and remember the instructions given to me when I asked!

Karena said...

These are beautiful, who could resist??

Art by Karena

Anonymous said...

To take things to an even higher level, often the cocktail napkins were not folded in half but in thirds depending on the design, so nice to know that you all still care about such things - I only bring out the embroidered linen napkins and monogrammed sheets for people I know will appreciate the difference, then I get many points !

home before dark said...

What fun this is for you! So impressed again by PB's encyclopedic reference for materials and sources. And speaking of sources, how delightful to have the erudite Jared in your file of friends in the know (and don't you think he should write a book!). His third daughter is adorable. His telling of loving diaper duty, priceless. I am rather seeing a personal monogram of the EEE/Mr. EEE. It may be impossible to replicate the past, so why not have your own made?

I do hope you continue to blog about the journey the Madame is taking. Much happiness your way.

Shandell's said...

In another life, when I was a vintage textile dealer, Cocktail napkins were always such a huge seller. My favorites were the one embroidered with a Cock on them, wonderful white little squares of linen, sometimes hemmed and sometimes not. With a small Cock on them, always with a bright red tail, these seem to fit in all occasions.

Seems like a collection for you is brewing.

Lynne Rutter said...

i have this enormous collection of linens from my grandmother. i love getting them out and pressing them up for company.
but oh, how i wish i had a butler!

Janet said...

I love linen cocktail napkins! I just don't like having to wash and iron them afterwards...but I do it. Oh, and if you can advise me on how to get guests to actually USE the guest towels, rather than finding something else to wipe their hands on, I would be endlessly grateful. Why are people so hisitant to use guest towels? (I have tried taking all the bath towels out...but then someone just used the shower curtain rather than muss the guest towel!!!).

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Mrs. B - I will definitely check out Sharyn Blond - while my life won't be complete without some Marghab (thank you, Penny, for helping me understand the distinction between Madeira and Marghab), it would be fun to have monogrammed versions as well as Home suggests...

Anonymous, thirds?! I might need Jared to do a youtube for us in that case!

Susan - there is something quite smart about a cock/hen, isn't there? makes me think of Adrian and his barnyard dresses which are most definitely smart...

Janet, the shower curtain???

Lynne, I love the idea of laundering and pressing, but when it comes time to put metal to cotton.... in fact, sometimes I've had to buy more sets because I've fallen so woefully behind....

DMC said...

Great post and wonderful comments. I love a real cocktail napkin. Nice to hear that others do too.

Anonymous said...

I don't like a butler who reveals so much about his employer; you might look for a source more discrete than Jared Miles.

Porthault cocktail napkins are still the prettiest: they charm the pants off any guest, never go out of style, and are easy to iron - thus good value...even at full price.

home before dark said...

Dear Madame:

You thought you could sneak that cover of MC on your sidebar and no one would notice? A coming out in October! Congratulations. This will be my favorite birthday present.

Janet said...

Yes...the shower curtain. I had to take the whole thing down and wash it.

Anonymous said...

Here I am 4 years later! (who knows why this showed up tonight on my computer (must be my mother again!!) ANYWAY; the reason for the "rooster" on the cocktail napkins....was for the "cock" "tail" (not that!!"...the "cock meaning rooster"!!!!)

Vera Marghab never allowed that...so don't believe any claim of a rooster on an embroidered cocktail napkin....to be Marghab!

anyone who can buy anything Marghab...you will never see embroidery like this again! Simply doesn't exist. Even if you are a sheik!!!

Lovely post....so happy to see it...even 4 years later! I think everyone should repost old posts....we all had more time!



Anonymous said...

Oh how funny! How on earth did this suddenly show up in my email?

A ghost!!!


to all of you!!

Anonymous said...

OMIGOD I went to an "antique show" with many vendors....in Sant Barbara...and I found an amazing Marghab "set)!!!

A "Jacaranda Tree" with 8 placemats....8 napkins.....and a "runner"!!!

in perfect condition!

Tears sprang to my eyes! I am giving them to my daughter (who still loves to have formal dinner parties) for Christmas!

I will tell her; if she tires of that...make "pillows" of these beautiful placemats and napkins...) we will never see embroidery like this again! It is simply,....."extinct"!!

Anonymous said...

I forgot! Here is how to get guests to use linen towels! It is in a very funny and useful book! (101 things I hate about your house..) or something!

take one linen towel.....use it.....crinkle it...and leave it on the counter. Leave the other linen towels nearby.

(just make sure everyone who works there checks the waste baskets...we have rescued so many it would make your head spin!!)

That will help. I hope I will not have to resort to paper in my lifetime. I am getting old.