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A Little History of Table Setting

May 7, 2019

Weddings and celebrations are an integral part of human history. The act of gathering for a meal is a fundamental component in every culture of the world since antiquity. The décor and setting is an immediate reflection of each ceremony's purpose and theme. The visual composition of a table within a room sets the mood and invites the guests to the anticipation of the celebration and meal. The creative combination and selection of china, glass, cutlery, table linens, and flowers all play a vital part in defining the ambience of the event. Interestingly, the formal table setting is a relatively modern invention. As early as the 15th century, the options for handling food at the table were rather crude since utensils were not yet common. Upon the arrival of forks in the 16th century, a variety of utensils were invented to accommodate the different elements of the meal from soup spoons to cake knives. While imagination takes precedent in setting a table and rules can often be altered to fit one's particular occasion, the formal and traditional way of setting the table has been historically established.

Forks are placed on the left for fish, meat, and salad. The soup spoon is on the right along with the knives for fish, meat, and cheese. Above the plate are the dessert spoon and fork. The placement of each utensil follows a natural sequence of the meal that allows one to work inwards towards the plate and allows for the orderly flow of the dining experience.

While there are no written rules to designing a table setting, the decorative elements that are chosen determine the overall results. Designs that are selected can complement the style of the room whether it be classical or modern.

China selections should be meticulously chosen since they are the dominant framework around which other decorative elements are built upon. The arrangement of dishes, bowls and plates can be combine in a way to accentuate form and pattern. During formal dining events, most components of a china set are matched in style and color. In nontraditional settings, different materials of crockery such as ceramics, metal, clay, stoneware, porcelain, or glass can also be explored in innovative ways to add variety to one's table. In modern times, cutlery is available in a myriad of shapes and sizes to accommodate virtually every food variety. Historically, cutlery was constructed of silver and could be intricately crafted with bone, horn, or wood for the handle. Today in contrast, most utensils are made of stainless steel. The formal etiquette is to place cutlery on either side of the plate in a strict and straight line. In more informal settings, placement of utensils can be more adventurous such as wrapping silverware in cloth napkins or ribbons and arranging them in baskets or even glass jars. Regardless of the choices, cutlery can add a monumental element to one's table setting in both beautiful and imaginative ways.

Glassware adds an elegant dimension to the dining table with its glistening and reflective properties. Traditionally, a single or a group of glass is placed on the right hand side of the dinner plate directly above the tip of the knife blade. Since glass is already a beautiful element, minimal decoration is needed to enhance it's appeal.
From cut or uncut , fine crystal or hand blown, engraved or painted, glass comes in all colors, shapes, and sizes.

Linens offer an exceptional opportunity for creative ideas due to the variety of materials available and the ability to fold or cut it into numerous forms and shapes. For formal occasions, linens frequently white are an essential decorative element and add a soft, elegant comfort to a table setting. The length can either drape halfway to the floor or touch the ground. The array of materials are broad, ranging from embroidered cottons, woven designed damask, or silk. Organza overlays of intricate designs or subdued colors can add another dimension to the traditional plain tablecloth. Matching napkins can also enhance the tablecloth or accentuate the setting with splashes of accent colors. The different possibilities that napkins can be folded are endless with the mitre and lotus flower style being the most common.