I never thought I’d see the day that I would be stood over my kitchen sink starching my linen… it’s a task that I now very much enjoy as a guilty pleasure from time to time. There, I admitted it, much to my own mum’s amusement!
From the wringing of the wet napkin to get as much of the cloudy water out of them as possible through to the ironing of the damp material right down to the satisfying sound that a lightly starched & ironed napkin makes as you shake it & listen to it’s gentle wobble. Geeky? Yes, I know, I know, but you are reading this, so you obviously want to indulge your inner nerd too!
It’s a satisfying task and one that I learnt early last year in brief whilst training in household management. We didn’t do too much of the practical element at the time, so it’s taken me a little while to perfect it with my afternoon tea and lunch napkins, but I’m finally there!
Now I am going to teach you how to perfectly starch your own napkins so that you too can have a simple, elegant, yet practical talking piece at your very own table.
You don’t want to be able to cut your lips on these when using them, so lightly starched does it for napkins.
You will want to be able to shape these or potentially fold them into an impressive cutlery holder or a decorative display of some sort, so starching them will allow them to stand or stay in place when doing so.
Starch can be found in your local hardware shop or in good old Lakeland in the UK, failing that, a little online shopping should come up trumps. I use “Kershaw’s Traditional Laundry Starch”, a small bag lasts me ages and it doesn’t cost very much at all.
It’s so simple to starch a napkin and can be done in advance, ready for folding and laying out when needed. It is a nice task to take your time with and it’s less stressful than doing it in a rush whilst trying to remember everything else for your table. White napkins are traditional and look great in most folds (should you wish to shape your material into elaborate swans or flowers) but coloured or patterned napkins also look fab for less formal dining events and make certain folds look pretty whilst using them.
Napkins also come in different sizes, so the larger your napkin, the (ever so slightly) more starch you may need for a stiffer feel.
Traditionally, napkin sizes are as follows:
Cocktail Napkins – Approx. 9 inches square (normally a paper napkin nowadays)
Afternoon Tea Napkins – Approx. 12 inches square (more tricky to find than others)
Lunch Napkins – Approx. 18 – 24 inches square
Dinner Napkins – Approx. 22 – 26 inches square
How To Starch Napkins:
Firstly, wash your napkins as you normally would, but do not use fabric softener or tumble dry.
Once you have clean linen, you are ready to starch. I use my kitchen sink and a clean washing up bowl to do this, but a bucket will do just as well.
Place 2 level scoops (if you don’t have a scoop, go for 2 level tablespoons) of starching powder into the bowl & a little cold water to dissolve it.
You then pour in 2 pints of freshly boiled water, followed by 2 pints of cold water – 4 pints in total.
Mix the starch and water well to make a cloudy bowlful, then add your napkins, one at a time.
Ensure each napkin gets a good soaking and wring it out as much as you possibly can.
Hang to dry on a washing line or over a radiator for a few hours, but don’t allow them to dry fully, you want a little dampness left in them to iron.
Place on an ironing board whilst still damp and iron out all creases. Store flat until needed or fold once dry and crisp at once, should you need them right away.
You will have a satisfyingly stiff (but not too stiff!) napkin ready to show of to your next set of guests.
I keep my starched napkins out flat until I am ready to fold, but I do cover them with tissue paper to protect from dust, just as a tip. If you fold them, then wish to fold them into another shape later on, they will look odd with creases in the wrong places.
I plan to write a few posts on different napkin folds, so watch this space…
Everything from the “Bishop’s Mitre” to pocket folds to hold your cutlery, through to pretty folds incorporating your best napkin rings, I’m having fun experimenting at my HQ!