Napkin folding is a great way to add a touch of elegance to your dining table. In this article, we’ll explore the history of napkin folding, provide step-by-step instructions for some popular designs, share some fun facts about the art form, and answer some frequently asked questions.

The art of napkin folding - article feature image
The art of napkin folding. Photo by Istvan Hernek on Unsplash

Whether you’re planning a fancy dinner party or just want to spruce up your everyday table setting, napkin folding is a simple yet impressive way to do it.

History of napkin folding

Napkin folding is an ancient art form dating back to civilizations such as the Egyptians and Greeks. Historically, it was a symbol of status and wealth for the host or hostess. Today, it has become a popular hobby and important element of event planning, with napkin folding now achievable with a variety of napkin types. Here are the key evolution periods of the art of napkin folding.

Ancient Origins
Napkin folding can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome, where napkins were often made of expensive materials and used as a symbol of wealth and status.

Medieval Period
During the medieval period, elaborate napkin folding was common in European courts and was used to signify the importance of the occasion or the status of the host.

16th and 17th Centuries
In the 16th and 17th centuries, napkin folding became more intricate and decorative, with designs inspired by nature and animals.

18th and 19th Centuries
In the 18th and 19th centuries, napkin folding was considered an important aspect of etiquette and hospitality, with elaborate designs used to impress guests.

20th Century
In the 20th century, napkin folding became less formal, with simpler designs used for casual gatherings and more intricate designs reserved for formal occasions.

Napkin folding instructions

With a little practice and patience, anyone can master the art of napkin folding. In this section, we will provide step-by-step instructions for several napkin folding techniques, each accompanied by a video and a set of instructions. Here are 10 napkin folds and instructions on how to create them.

Opera House Fan

  1. Fold napkin in half.
  2. Fold the bottom edge of the halved napkin up about one inch and hold in place.
  3. Fold it back under the napkin in the opposite direction another inch. Continue this pattern until you are within four inches of the top of the napkin, finish with the last fold down away from you rather than up.
  4. Fold accordion pleats in half down the centre with folds facing the outside. A four-inch flat portion of the napkin now sticks out from the center of your folds.
  5. Fold accordion in half with folds on outside; four inch flat will protrude from the center.
  6. Fold the unfolded corners diagonally and tuck them under the accordion folds then open the fan and stand it up.

Bird of Paradise

  1. Fold the napkin in quarters with the four edges toward you.
  2. Fold the edges up to form a triangle.
  3. Fold the left and right points of the triangle to the center and then fold the extended points under.
  4. Lift the center and hold the base – pull the four napkin edges out of the center to create the bloom.


  1. Fold all four corners of a flat napkin into the center: then fold four points again to the center.
  2. Turn the napkin over and fold four points again to the center pressing all folds tightly.
  3. Turn napkin to form a diamond. Using one hand to hold two points at front center of the napkin and with the other hand reach under that point and pull up flap.
  4. Repeat at three other points.
  5. Holding center points, reach between petals and pull out additional flaps.

Cardinal Hat

  1. Fold the napkin in diagonally forming a triangle.
  2. Fold the left and right hand corners of the triangle to the top.
  3. Turn the napkin over so that no folds are visible.
  4. Fold up the bottom tip of the triangle and fold in half.
  5. Fold the right side over the left making a circle.
  6. Tuck one end of the triangle into the other.
  7. Place the Cardinal Hat in an upright position and flare out points slightly.

French Pleat

  1. Fold napkin in quarters.
  2. Roll the first layer of the napkin toward you to the center.
  3. Fold the second layer toward you and under the first – Do not Roll.
  4. Leave the same width of the napkin as the rolled edge.
  5. Fold the next layer of the napkin away from you and under the second leaving the same width as other two folds.
  6. Fold under the right and left side edges to center back.


  1. Fold the napkin in half diagonally forming a triangle.
  2. Fold the left and right triangle to the top forming a square.
  3. Turn napkin to form a diamond. Fold the bottom point 2/3 of the way to the top point and fold the bottom point back again to the base line.
  4. Turn napkin over and tuck the far corners into one another forming a round base.
  5. Stand a napkin upright and flair out the two top corners to form a Crown.


  1. Fold tall four corners of a flat napkin to the center.
  2. Fold the bottom half under the top half.
  3. Fold the right half over the left half.
  4. Turn the napkin clockwise to create a diamond.
  5. Roll the top layer toward center forming a band.
  6. Turn the second layer under to form a second band.
  7. Fold the left and right hand edges under.


  1. Fold the napkin in half diagonally form a triangle with the long point facing you.
  2. Fold the far left and right had corners of the triangle toward you to the bottom point.
  3. Fold the napkin in half bringing the bottom point under to meet the top point.
  4. Lift the napkin at the center to stand upright on the two side edges.


  1. Fold the napkin toward on end into quarters.
  2. Fold the right and left edge under and towards you creating a triangle at the top of the napkin.
  3. Roll the right and left edges up into the base edges of the triangle.
  4. Turn the fold over standing the triangle point up with the open edge facing you.


  1. Fold napkin in half diagonally forming a triangle.
  2. Fold one-quarter of napkin’s base edges, forming a cuff.
  3. Turn napkin over. Carefully roll from left to right.
  4. Tuck the remaining corner inside the cuff to hold the Candle firm.
  5. Position the Candle with the highest point of the napkin facing you.

When it comes to the art of napkin folding, remember that each napkin fold will suit different themes and styles. For best results use square napkins when creating napkin folds. Well-starched napkins form the cleanest folds.

Interesting facts about napkin folding

The largest napkin folding festival in the world is held annually in Spain, where thousands of people come together to fold napkins in various shapes and designs.

In some cultures, certain napkin folds have specific meanings. For example, in Japanese culture, a crane-shaped napkin is folded to symbolize peace and happiness.

In 2011, an exhibition called “Napkinism” was held in London, featuring over 60 napkin designs created by artists and designers.

The art of napkin folding is also known as “napery” or “napkin origami”.

Some napkin folds are named after famous people, such as the “Napoleon hat” and the “Bishop’s mitre”.

The Guinness World Record for the largest napkin fold was set in 2015 in Japan, where a team of 10 people created a 75-meter long napkin in the shape of a dragon.

Napkin folding has been used in marketing campaigns to showcase their attention to detail.

The 1965 movie “The Great Race” features a scene where characters use napkin folding to distract their opponents during a dinner party.

Frequently asked questions

Is napkin folding difficult?

Napkin folding can take some practice and patience, but most designs are not difficult to master. Start with simple designs and work your way up to more complex patterns.

What kind of napkins are best for folding?

Linen or cotton napkins are the easiest to fold and hold their shape well. However, paper napkins can also be used for folding and are more convenient for casual events.

Do I need special tools to fold napkins?

No, special tools are not necessary for napkin folding. However, having a flat surface to work on and a good set of instructions or tutorial can be helpful.

Can I wash folded napkins?

Yes, folded napkins can be washed like regular napkins. However, some designs may require a bit more care when washing to maintain their shape.

What are some popular napkin folding designs?

Popular designs include the basic triangle fold, the fan fold, the pocket fold, the bishop’s hat fold, and the rose fold.

Can napkin folding be used for everyday meals or is it only for special occasions?

Napkin folding can be used for both special occasions and everyday meals. Simple folds can add a nice touch to any table setting, while more intricate designs can be reserved for special events.

Is napkin folding just for decorative purposes?

Napkin folding can be both decorative and functional. In addition to creating decorative designs, napkin folding can also be used to create napkin rings, utensil holders, and other practical items.

Are there any health or safety concerns with folded napkins?

Folded napkins themselves do not pose any health or safety concerns. However, it is important to ensure that the napkins and any tools used for folding are clean and sanitized to prevent the spread of germs.