Napkin Styles, Colors, and Materials
Cloth napkins can be purchased or made in a wide variety of styles, colors and materials. Top quality, traditional napkins are made from linen, are white, and are perfectly square. Starched and ironed they can be folded into myriad shapes. Good napkins can also be made from cotton and even nylon. Paper napkins come in an even wider array of styles, weight, and quality. A damask cotton-linen blend with high thread count is thought to be best.
Napkins come in a wide variety of sizes. Small five-inch cloths may be used for beverages. Eight to twelve-inch napkins are excellent for lunch or a light supper, while dinner napkins generally run 18 to 24 inches. The larger size generally reflects the extent of the meal as well as the formality of the occasion.
Napkins can come in any style or pattern. White is still considered to exude the most quality. However, other colors can be used to good effect, especially if they can be coordinated with the available dinnerware. Monograms can be sewn into them to further distinquish them. Other than plain colors, checks are popular, especially red checks which remind diners of intimate Italian and French restaurants. Other patterns may be attempted, but simple seems to be best.
Paper napkins are another option. Paper has many advantages, especially the fact that after one use they can be thrown away. Ultimately, paper is less expensive, considering labor costs and the trouble entailed in washing and maintaining cloth napkins. Very nice quality paper napkins are available, and can be put to use on even formal occasions such as weddings and funerals. Paper napkins tend to be harder to fold because once they become creased (and they often come prefolded) it is difficult to achieve a desired effect. In desperate circumstances paper-towels, or better yet, shop-towels on a roll can be used to some effect.