The first requisite for a well-ordered table is, snowy, fine, damask linen. The napkins and table-cloth should be of good size and the dishes should shine with brightness. Underneath the cloth, padding should be laid. A table, when properly set, is a picture of loveliness - cut glass, silver, dainty dishes, with a background of white, appeal to the eye of the artist and why not to the guest, giving zest to the viands that are spread.
As to the manner of "setting" the table, there are some differences of opinion and greater differences of customs. At the strictest of houses, there are as many knives, forks and spoons placed at the different places, as there are courses to be served. The knives lie on the right of the plate, and a row of forks on the left; the oyster fork on the outside. There are usually four forks and three knives; a steel knife for meat being one of them. The soup spoon lies next to the napkin. The napkin (which, by the way, should never be starched) is placed directly in front of each guest. Individual salt and pepper bottles are at hand, and if butter is needed, individual butter plates are called into use. A goblet is set at every plate.
A certain scheme of color is chosen, and everything on the table harmonizes with it. The flowers adorning the table are delicately scented and pleasant to all. There are many who dislike the heavily-scented tuberoses and syringas, but roses, lilies, carnations and lilacs are always agreeable. The dining-room is carpeted, or if the floor is hardwood, large rugs are used to deaden the foot-steps.
In lighting the table, lamps and gas are the most common method of illumination, but the preference is in favor of wax candles, as they afford good opportunity for decorative effects and make pretty shadows. The shades to the candles match in color the other decorations. In country places, the beautiful old lamps of odd designs with colored globes, are used, with fine effect.
The tables used are various - round, oval, or oblong. Many have large oval tops made which fit over extension tables, when an unusual number, like twenty or thirty, are invited. The advantage of an oval top is that one can get a better view of the company present and the ensemble, as a whole.
To the artistically inclined, an infinite variety of surprises in the way of table decorations is possible. The custom generally in vogue at the present time, is flat center-pieces. If the table be oval, a pretty cut-glass bowl, filled with any low, sweet-scented flowers, is in good taste, keeping ever in mind the fact that all colors should harmonize. Underneath the bowl, an oval, beveled-edge mirror or a round, fancy cut-glass mirror can be placed with good effect. Over the table-cloth, a few carelessly strewn rose petals, yellow and red, or red alone, are pretty and novel - these being appropriate only when roses are used as a center-piece.
The square table is more picturesque looking, when a square doily, either embroidered or of Battenberg lace, is placed in the center. For those who can afford the Battenberg table-cloth, nothing can be more exquisite. They are appropriate for oval, square, or extension tables. For a long table a Battenberg scarf, extending two-thirds the length of the table, is very rich and handsome. On one table, seating twenty or more persons, two or three floral pieces can be used, intertwined with smilax, with fine effect.
For receptions and weddings, medium wide satin ribbons, pink, cream or blue, with or without smilax, fastened to the chandelier or attached to the ceiling and festooned to the four corners of the table, then looped and finished with bows of the same, are gay and charming in effect. The same colored satin ribbons, crossed at the center of the table and fastened at the corners, are also very effective; so, also, is one streamer of ribbon, diagonally crossing the table, with generous handsome bows at either point of attachment.
Ferns of all varieties are very handsome and appropriate, for either special occasions or for ordinary use. Smilax deeply festooned round the chandelier or suspended from the ceiling, reaching well to the table, is ever appropriate for public gatherings and suggestive of freshness, daintiness and beauty. Asparagus in its fragility, suspended in the same way and carried to the four corners of the room, and on it loosely hung fresh roses, pinks, jasmine or lilies, is a sweet bit of luxury. The same is true of autumn leaves strung on a thread lengthwise, and hung fringe-like all around the sides of the room, not forgetting the table on which they should be securely fastened by a blind thread. These are most catchy.
I can conceive how beautiful the country dining-room may be made to appear in spring with a generous use of apple-blossoms, loosely twined and festooned, also made into garlands for the wall, reserving ever a generous supply of the latter, to crown the heads of the guests. Then again, in the fall, there are the pumpkin-vines, corn tied together by the husks, stems of luscious apples, all of which surpass anything made by art. Then there are the wax candles with the pretty colored shades and the lamps with the transparent globes that produce a sense of dreamland, to say nothing about those favored dining-rooms which permit of a good view of the brilliant sunsets of August and September. Subdued lights are always prettier than bright lights, especially so at the opening of the dinner.
Going back a moment to decorations, I believe the country homes are the ones most favored for display. My mind carries me back to girlhood and the Christmas times when grandmother invited all her children and grandchildren for a home gathering and how like fairy-land she made the festal board. The sweet smelling spruce was brought into use, and everywhere were set these trees and branches, sparkling with crystals, converting the old-fashioned home into a veritable ice palace - a fit place for Santa Claus' reception. The secret she told us was this: The spruce was first dipped into a weak solution of glue, then rolled in crushed alum (not powdered). You who have never seen the effect, just try it once and see how like a million dew-drops in the sun it appears.
Then there was the china that sparkled and the glass that shone like jewels. Faded flowers she restored to freshness by first cutting the stems and putting them in very hot, then in very cold water; setting them in the cold storeroom till they were called into use. You would be surprised to see them come on the table, as fresh as though they had never been faded.