x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

French antique linen napkins

Object of desire While the elegance of white-on-white is indisputable, there is so much more to these napkins than their classical good looks.

Nineteenth-century napkins, £20 (Dh115 each) at Guinevere Antiques, www.guinevere.co.uk
Nineteenth-century napkins, £20 (Dh115 each) at Guinevere Antiques, www.guinevere.co.uk

While the elegance of white-on-white is indisputable, there is so much more to these napkins - from Guinevere Antiques in London - than the classical good looks that will work with any table setting in any style. It's when you pick one up and shake it out onto your lap that you truly appreciate it. Measuring almost a metre square, it is wonderfully generous and absolutely fit for purpose. The weight of the fabric feels so good between your hands: heavy but not too heavy, satisfyingly thick yet surprisingly delicate. More than a century old, the intricately woven linen damask fabric has been softened by generations of use. It falls into beautiful folds as you pick it up and lay it down.

Look closely and the refinement of the hand-embroidered monograms - raised letters in a flowing script that the French called lettres anglaises - is astonishing: beautiful needlework that is as neat on the back as it is on the front. But it's not just the look and feel that make these so special. They are imbued with romance, connecting us to a lost time when, soon after her First Communion, every French girl would begin to prepare her trousseau in anticipation of marriage. The first pieces to be made would bear only the girl's initials; later the prospective bride's and groom's initials would be intertwined. Each family had its own special design.

It is our good fortune that these items, which represented a family's treasure, were made to last a lifetime - or more. With the pleasure they bring to any mealtime, from al fresco lunch to solo supper or formal dinner party, they beg to be bought by the dozen - and used often, rather than being stashed away just for "best".
@email:slane@thenational.ae