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How to Use Napkin Rings

Napkin rings are convenient when folding napkins for an occasion is impractical because of a lack of time or resources. Napkin rings can be made from a variety of materials, wood, metal, plastic, glass, or just about anything that can be formed into a ring. Most napkin rings are about two inches (about 5 centimeters) in diameter so that they can accomodate fairly thick napkins.

Glass Napkin Holders

There are several ways to insert a napkin into a ring. Probably the easiest is to unfold the napkin and stuff the very middle into the ring with the forefinger. Then pull the middle through until about half of the length extends above the napkin and half extends below.

The napkin may also be neatly folded into a rectangle, rolled, and pushed through a ring (as in the photograph). This takes more time than the basic push-and-pull method, but does make a neater presentation. Napkin rings can also be used in conjunction with various folds, especially fan style folds.

The Sentinel Napkin Ring Fold
Sentinel Napkin Ring Fold

Napkin etiquette dictates, when having dinner where napkin rings are used, at the end of the meal, be sure to put the napkin back into the ring. This is a way to help the host keep track of napkins and rings, so nothing gets lost.

Napkin rings have been around for a long time, the earliest being manufactured in the 1830s. John Bains points out that their origins are relatively humble:

The original purpose of napkin rings was to identify the particular user of a given napkin, so the rings were all different in appearance. In the “good old days” when laundry was only done on Mondays, the family diners used the same napkin every day of the week (unless they barfed on it or something, which would require an immediate replacement), and put it back into their own distinctive napkin ring to identify it as their own for the next meal.1

They can be purchased as a set on their own, but in the past have been made to coordinate with a particular dinnerware place-setting. Some people collect antique napkin rings. Like anything collectible, some can be quite valuable, especially those that are made from precious metals, or that have association with famous figures in history.

Ceramic napkin rings have a quality appeal, and can be molded or sculpted by anyone having access to sculptured clay and a kiln. This is a great way to personalize a set of napkin rings, or indulge in a special art project.

  1. Mr. Bain goes on to make a scathing comment about their current popularity: "The use of “sets” of identical napkin rings is a lower-middle class affectation (the lower classes use paper napkins or – even worse – paper towels) which shows that they have no idea what the original function of the rings was. Matching napkins are okay, I suppose, but having matching napkin “rings” is a sign of cultural ignorance."

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