by Flora Rose
When an attempt is made to formalize any household practice, there is always the danger of red tape. Yet some formalities, if based on a strong foundation of common sense, make life more unselfish and delightful. A safeguard against useless formality is to keep constantly in mind this fact - every good rule should have a good reason. When the rule is being applied, the reason should be made to appear. If in any household no good reason is forthcoming for the formal rule imposed, the rule should be discarded. This is particularly true in table setting and serving where mere formality may have developed to such an extent as to obscure original good reasons for doing things. Yet most of the fundamental rules in good table setting are built on a sound foundation of reason.
For each person, 20 to 30 inches of lengthwise space should be allowed, unless the table is round or square and seats only four or eight persons. Less than 20 inches means uncomfortable crowding; more than 30 inches means difficulty in talking across the distance.
The reasons for covering a table with tablecloth, table-square, runners, doilies, or napkins are: (1) to protect the surface of the table; (2) to hide the surface of the table; (3) to insure quieter service; (4) to reflect the light; (5) to improve the appearance of the table. If any covering is used, it should be clean. A rough, bare, clean table is better than soiled, rumpled linen, no matter how fine and expensive.
A tablecloth may make a more homogeneous picture than either doilies or runners, and its unbroken white surface reflects more light than a partly bare, dark table. There is no other good reason, however, why doilies or runners may not always be used in place of the larger cloth to protect the table. Any rule such as using only a tablecloth at a formal dinner is pure form. Doilies and runners have some great advantages. Small pieces of linen are easy to wash, and if one is spotted it alone may be washed. Furthermore, the table is easier to set with doilies, particularly for a small family.
If a tablecloth is to be used.
A tablecloth keeps clean and unmussed longer if a heavy cotton or padded cloth, called a silencer or protection cloth or "husher," is used under it, than if it is placed next to the table. An old clean sheet may serve this purpose if no other cloth is available. The table should first be covered with the silence cloth, care being taken to arrange it so that it will not hang below the tablecloth. The tablecloth is then stretched on the table so that the center fold is uppermost and so that the cloth hangs evenly on both sides and at both ends of the table. Care should be taken to see that the cloth is straight. If possible to prevent it, a cloth should not hang over the sides and ends much more than 12 or 14 inches, since otherwise it will not clear the seats of the chairs and will spoil the appearance of the table. Furthermore, it is in the way at mealtime.
Doilies that are rectangular are better than round or square ones, since they give a wider space for the arrangement of silver and glasses on the table and are a better protection to it. The doilies should first be arranged at one end and on one side of the table. On the side one should try to space the doilies so that they are equally distant from each other. Then, exactly opposite these doilies, those to be used at the other end and on the other side of the table should be placed. Doilies should be placed so that one edge is about at the edge of the table.
The place arranged for each individual at the table is called the cover. After the cloth or doilies have been placed, each individual cover should be arranged. It is desirable, as a rule, to place at the individual cover as much of the silver and china as may add to the convenience of the meal. If, for example, spoons are placed at the individual covers instead of in a holder, considerable confusion may be prevented at mealtime.
Knives are placed at the right of the cover with the sharp edge of the blade toward the plate. This is because the knife is usually lifted with the right hand.
Forks are placed at the left of the cover with the tines up. This is because the fork is lifted in the left hand when something is being cut with the knife and fork. If only a fork is to be used, a very good reason may be found for placing it at the right of the plate. It is in general a good rule to try to keep a balance between the silver on each side of the cover, since all the silver on one side makes a heavy-looking design.
Spoons may be placed at the right of the knife or in front of the plate with handles toward the right hand. The knife and fork nearest the plate should be far enough apart to permit the largest plate used at the meal to be set between them without pushing them out of place. They should not be spread unnecessarily far apart. All the silver in one group should be compactly placed.
The glass may be placed at the tip of the knife and slightly to the right. There is no reason why it should not be placed at the tip of the fork and slightly to the left if preferred in that place. The butter-plate may be placed at the tip of the fork and slightly to the left. Butter-plate and glass may be made to change places if preferred.
The napkin may be placed at the left of the forks, at the right of the knives, in the center of the cover, or in front of the cover, according to convenience. The napkins should be so placed that the corners of each face the same way, if they have been so ironed that this is possible.
If a plate is set at the individual cover before the meal begins, it should be placed 1/2 to 1 inch from the edge of the table. This is to prevent danger of tipping through any thoughtless movement of the individual.
All the glasses on one side of the table should be in a straight line. The same is true for butter-plates, silver, and napkins or other utensils. On looking down the table, a straight line running from the center of one utensil should strike the center of the next utensil of the same kind. This makes a well-ordered, trim table. If each side of the table has the same number of covers, the center of each cover on one side should be exactly opposite the center of the cover on the other side. The ends of the handles of all the silver used at the covers should be 1/2 to 3/4 inch from the edge of the table and should be in a straight line. This is a basic principle of good design.